But there's nothing remotely romantic about this vividly stark tale about a woman so completely warped by a monstrous society that she becomes a monster herself.
The story, based on the 1865 novel, Lady Macbeth of Mtsesnk, by Russian author Nikolai Leskov, is adapted for the screen by Alice Birch for director William Oldroyd; they retain the mid-Victorian setting, but relocate the action to the forbidding, windswept moors of northern England.
This turns out to be an appropriately rough-and-tumble landscape against which the filmmakers present an astonishingly poised, refined, and chilling gemstone of a performance by 20-year-old Florence Pugh in the central role. Pugh is in almost every scene — the story proceeds form her viewpoint — and she'll have you biting your nails in dread as her character evolves into something wicked, indeed.
|Florence Pugh (R) as Katherine: caged|
With servants to run the household, Katherine is expected to sit primly in the parlor all day, every day, until she fulfills her purpose of producing an heir.
When the men are called away from home, she grasps at rebellion with an unexpected lover. But the movie is never about anything so prosaic as a woman fighting for the man she loves. Instead, she's fighting a suffocating social order in which she has no voice, no power, and no recourse. The grim irony is how horribly she loses herself in her desperation to claim her selfhood.
A conspiracy of lies and deceit, cover-ups, betrayal, and murder most gruesome— often extremely difficult to watch — are all involved. This is not a movie to take to your heart, but as a psychological thriller, it's both grueling and profound.
(Read more in this week's Good Times)