At the end of Lady Macbeth, I laughed loud enough to scare the people around me. I didn’t do it on purpose. It was a nervous reaction at the film’s major reveal. Other theatergoers were horrified at my laughter, but that’s because they couldn’t identify with what was so nerve-wrackingly funny. The main character gets away with placing the blame on innocent people, and from my perspective, the film makes white women look bad. The lies she creates are no different from the lies that Carolyn Bryant told about Emmett Till. Catch my drift?
It’s a lot to unpack. While the movie attempts to explore themes of gender dynamics, this isn’t a feminist narrative it’s been marketed to be. At its core, Lady Macbeth this is about one woman who weaponizes her whiteness and femininity to violate everyone around her (including Black women), which is all too familiar a concept of modern daily life.
This movie is inspired by Nikolai Leskov’s short novel, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. The story follows Katherine, who lives in a society where women are second-class citizens. Most likely a teenager, she is surprisingly independent and self-aware. However, she isn’t prepared for the life of a housewife and is betrothed to Alexander (Paul Hilton), a man twice her age. As you can expect, they don’t have any chemistry. It’s a marriage of convenience. He’s rich, and she’s fertile, add toxic masculinity, rinse, wash, repeat.
The audience is meant to sympathize with Katherine’s plight as she is trapped in this loveless, abusive marriage. When Alexander leaves home on business, she is confined to the house with Anna (Naomi Ackie), the house slave, to watch over her. Immediately, Anna is wary of her master’s new wife and for good reason.
When Katherine is taking a stroll around the property, she hears a ruckus happening in the stables. When she arrives on the scene, Katherine witnesses the stable hands physically abusing Anna. Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), who is the ringleader of this event, locks eyes with Katherine and they are instantly sexually attracted to one another. What type of woman is attracted to a man who enjoys mistreating others? Red flag, ya’ll.
The appetites of these star-crossed creepers become insatiable as personal agendas take precedence over romance. This causes the chemistry between Katherine and Sebastian to dissipate rapidly. There is a lot of forced sexual energy between the two of them, and their love scenes are harsh on the eyes and perverse in nature. It’s unclear whether this is intentional or unintentional on behalf of screenplay writer Alice Birch, but the foundation of Katherine and Sebastian’s “love affair” is built on abuse.
In the Scottish play, Lady Macbeth shows regret for the transgressions she commits, but Katherine doesn’t give a s**t. She is content with violating others. Its mystifying as to why the script tries to pawn her off as a feminist hero. Yes, she wants autonomy from those who subjugate her, but underneath her angelic look, Katherine is a whiny, little serial killing bitch. She is evil, self-indulgent, and will take what she wants at the expense of whoever is around. Sebastian, Anna, Alexander, no one is safe.
The home Katherine inhabits is as beautiful as it is a prison. There is an eerie haze that hangs over every scene, and the minimalism of the set creates a vacant, almost horror-film-like atmosphere. Each scene is shot with intensity and precision by cinematographer Ari Wegner, and the dynamic editing helps to build tension in this dank environment. However, this movie would be nothing without the magnificent performances from its cast. Florence Pugh is the embodiment of young, white, feminine sexuality, which she balances with an acute amount of subversive rage and maliciousness in her performance. Naomi Ackie manages to manifest every emotion within her body. She is silent for most of the film, but her body language is easy to read. That’s not easy for an actor, but she pulls it off flawlessly.
Without giving too much more away, Lady Macbeth is a timely film. It serves as a warning to never judge an innocent looking white Woman by first appearance because she might just stab you, shoot you, or try to drown you and get away with it–because you know, white privilege is a thing.