2017 Certificate: 15

Synopsis

In Victorian England, spiky teenager Catherine (Florence Pugh) finds herself married off to the icily boorish son (Paul Hilton) of a Northumberland mining magnate. Sexually inept but poisonously sexist, he regards his self-assured spouse as his possession. However, when he leaves his estate on business, Catherine falls for smouldering groomsman Sebastian (indie singer Cosmo Jarvis), a fiery affair that will end in a very dark place. Director William Oldroyd adapts the Machiavellian Russian novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District to austerely chilling effect.

Director

  • William Oldroyd

Cast

  • Florence Pugh

  • Cosmo Jarvis

  • Naomi Ackie

  • Christopher Fairbank

  • Bill Fellows

  • Golda Rosheuvel

  • Anton Palmer

Review

Director William Oldroyd's icily atmospheric tale of a young woman's ruthless chicanery couldn't be further away from The Bard's Scottish play...although the protagonist displays similar levels of grim determination.

Florence Pugh is electric as Catherine, the seemingly demure teenage bride of a industrialist's son in an an arranged marriage who goes on to show a clinically vicious streak that cuts down anyone in her path.

When we first meet her she's displaying a tight smile of contempt at new husband Alexander (Hilton), an appalling bigot and roaring sexual inadequate and the scion of an equally contemptible mine owner (Fairbank).

Emotional and sexual respite comes quickly when Alexander disappears from the family estate on business and Catherine discovers new groomsman Sebastian tormenting her naked black maid Anna (Ackie) in a stable. After a brief admonishment, Seb is carnally satisfying Catherine in her marital bed.

An intense affair follows (lots of Lady Chatterley-style couplings around the house and in the woods) until Alexander's outraged father confronts his daughter-in-law, a decision he'll won't live to regret.

Adapting Russian author Nikolai Leskov's novel Lady MacBeth of the Mtsensk District, Oldroyd has hit gold with his casting of Pugh as the passionate femme fatale who can duplicitly spin on a sixpence when her own well-being is at risk.

The coldly austere atmosphere of the Northumbrian house - feigning staff and half-furnished rooms - contrasts vividly with Catherine's hot-blooded fling with Sebastian yet she is always completely in control.

Dark and disturbing, it's a tale that benefits from the simplicity of its telling and the frigid economy of the narrative.

Like the appalling actions of her Shakespearean namesake, what's done cannot be undone.

Tim Evans