sound of Lady Macbeth
I talked recently, on Wirral Radio’s 'Film
Friday', about how impressed I had been with A Dog’s Purpose for not going
overboard with its score. Instead of the rising and falling strings you would
expect from such an emotive film, what we got was a jukebox of hits from the
five decades of the film’s time span.
As someone who hates to be told by the
music how I am supposed to feel at any given time, I very much admired this
aspect of, what I have to admit, was a surprisingly good film.
So you can imagine how much more impressed
I was when I came across the virtually scoreless Lady Macbeth. Despite the
trailer suggesting that this film is what it would be like ‘if Alfred Hitchcock
directed Wuthering Heights’, there were no screaming Psycho strings and no
tension building kettle drums.
Instead, you hear every step on the bare
floorboards of the house, every drop of the pointedly poured tea, and every
squeak of the perfidious bedsprings, which together created far more of an
atmosphere than any orchestra ever could have.
The score was not the only way in which
this mesmerizing film is pared back. The setting feels very bleak and
rudimentary, with no grand Merchant Ivory style exterior shots of the country
house. Inside, the rooms are sparse and barely furnished, with neither carpets
nor curtains to soften their edges. Perhaps most impressively of all, Florence
Pugh’s performance is equally understated, with no outbursts or hystrionics,
just a cold, calculated sense of purpose, shared with the Shakespearian
character of the title.
That’s not to say that she doesn’t shine in
this remarkable film. She is quite simply delicious as she quietly moves from
victim to manipulator, oozing self-serving malevolence, while managing to play
the innocent throughout. The chilling final, forth-wall breaking scene – a rare
occasion where music does appear – leaves you feeling quite disturbed, as if
you have somehow been complicit in what you have just witnessed.
It is no surprise to find that director
William Oldroyd comes from the theatre. Lady
Macbeth feels very theatrical in its presentation, yet it’s none the worse for
that. Its claustrophobic interior scenes make you share the leading lady’s
sense of entrapment, while its sparse dialogue respects the audience, and
trusts you to work things out for yourself, without needing the characters to
explain the plot to each other in that clumsy way that spoils so many modern
It’s fair to say that Lady Macbeth will not
be everyone’s perfectly poured cup of tea, and it may well be the case that the
Shakespearian title will put off some filmgoers who would otherwise have given
it a chance. But if you’re looking for a break from the CGI superheroes and the
adrenaline fuelled action movies, you’ll do a lot worse than giving this subtle
story an hour and a half of your time.
If nothing else, you’ll be able to nod
knowingly when Florence Pugh inevitably becomes a mega-mega-star, and say that
you knew it would happen all along.