CREDIT: Laurie Sparham/Roadside Attractions

This review was originally published on News Cult in July 2017.

Starring: Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Naomi Ackie, Paul Hilton, Christopher Fairbank

Director: William Oldroyd

Running Time: 89 Minutes

Rating: R for Unapologetically Passionate Sex and Scarily Desperate Killing

Release Date: July 14, 2017 (Limited)

Sometimes you are knocked out by a supernova of an onscreen performance that you never saw coming. Florence Pugh in Lady Macbeth is the latest stunner to pull it off. Logically, I can understand why I had previously never heard of her and why this film in particular snuck up on me. She is 21 and has only three previous IMDb credits, and Lady Macbeth stars English actors I have never heard of. But emotionally, it feels like her star power exists outside of time and that I should have somehow sensed her talent my whole life.

Director William Oldroyd’s film is not based on Shakespeare, but rather Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District. Still, the central character is a ruthlessly canny power-grabber, so the Bard’s influence is clear and intentional. This adaptation keeps it in the nineteenth century but transfers its setting to England. Katherine (Pugh) is married off to Alexander (Paul Hilton), who is either impotent or uninterested in her, or both. But he offers the security of an estate to live in, and it is not like she has any say in the matter anyway. At first, this appears like it is going to be the bleakest of tough watches. It may be true that English women suffered systemic abuses in this time period, but that does not make it any easier to endure.

Soon enough, though, control of the situation, and the narrative, shifts rapidly. With Alexander away from the estate for weeks to attend to pressing business, Katherine initiates a torrid affair with a groundskeeper (Cosmo Jarvis) and dispatches her father-in-law (Christopher Fairbank), the owner of the estate. Her handmaid (Naomi Ackie) is so shocked that she is rendered mute for the remainder of the film.

Katherine doubles down at every opportunity to procure what she desires to the point that the only possible conclusion is the most lethal of conflicts. Lady Macbeth admirably does not back down from the dangerous requirements it has thus set for itself. At first, you feel sorry for Pugh. Then suddenly you hail her as a new feminist icon. And then in a blink of an eye, you have never been more scared of anybody.

Lady Macbeth is Recommended If You Like: Atonement, Mad Max: Fury Road, You’re Next, Being Aroused and Scared at the Same Time

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Corsets