Transplanted from its Russian literary setting, this adaptation of ‘Lady MacBeth’ tells the story of Katherine sold into a loveless marriage in the north of England. Set in the repressed era of the industrial revolution Katherine’s life is commuted to the interior of the house and the provision of heirs as a fulfilment to the bargain she was sold on. Slowly, twisting at the chains of deportment and expectation, Katherine’s life changes when her husband is called away. Alone, with the exception of her handmaid and house servants, Katherine pushes at the limits of her expected confinement and steps outside. From that very moment, her life and those around will never be the same.
…subtexts are delivered with scorn and thinly veiled contempt always threatens burst through the bodice of Katherine’s corsets.
As a BBC / BFI co-production, ‘Lady MacBeth’ reflects the experienced dramatic stables it comes from. With British stalwarts such as Christopher Fairbank as her father in law, subtexts are delivered with scorn and thinly veiled contempt always threatens burst through the bodice of Katherine’s corsets as she chokes on the expectations put upon her.
Directed by William Oldroyd, the film reflects his theatre production path to that of film director. More caustic than cinematic, his big screen adaptation hangs on the delivery of its speeches, the furrowing of brows and spat indignations rather than fluid camerawork or symbolic juxtapositions. As a piece of cinema, ‘Lady MacBeth’ can occasionally feel leaden, especially given the past heritage of BBC’s historical canon of quality adaptations and the film’s murderous title.
Neither as dramatic as the classic ‘La Reine Margot’ or as visually impressive as the recent ‘MacBeth’ starting Marion Cotillard, ‘Lady MacBeth’ will sadly only satisfy those already hooked on British historical drama. Those seeking richer fare will find ‘Lady MacBeth’s frigid charms better suited to the frame of a television set rather than a cinema screen.