**** (out of 4)
Of the repressed 19th-century women whose stories have appeared in theaters this past year (e.g. Emily Dickinson of A Quiet Passion, Rachel of My Cousin Rachel, Miss Farnsworth of The Beguiled), Katherine (Florence Pugh) of Lady Macbeth easily proves the most intense in her reaction to her condition. She’s been coerced into becoming a housewife to a womanizing drunkard (Paul Hilton) in an estate run by her domineering father-in-law (Christopher Fairbank) – and understandably, she isn’t too happy about any of that. So when her father-in-law slaps her during a confrontation over her inability to “produce heirs,” she feeds him poisonous mushrooms. When her husband discovers that she’s having an affair with a worker named Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), she beats her husband to death. And when a kid arrives at her estate claiming to be her deceased husband’s out-of-wedlock son, she smothers him with a pillow. Throughout it all, Katherine, contrary to what the title of her movie implies, never even remotely suggests that her actions unsettle her.
From the above description, you might think that Lady Macbeth is just an extra-dramatic rehash of movies like A Quiet Passion and The Beguiled. In fact, however, director William Oldroyd’s take on 19th-century women proves unique in several meaningful ways.