Director William Oldroyd’s “Lady Macbeth” offers up a stark portrayal of the stifling, restrictive life for even privileged women of Britain’s Golden Years and how, in attempting to break free, a young woman brings destruction down upon herself and her household.
Based on the 1865 novel “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” by Nikolai Leskov but transplanted to Victorian England, the film sees Florence Pugh in the lead role of Katherine, recently married by arrangement into a wealthy, highly controlling family. To escape the soul crushing boredom, Katherine pursues a risky affair, leading to increasingly bloody actions and, eventually, her undoing.
To 19th century readers the character (Katerina in the novel) was a tragic villain, but to modern eyes she appears far more sympathetic, a victim of a misogynistic system with few options and even fewer means of rebelling. That’s an angle Pugh took in her approach to playing Katherine.
“I wanted to play her because she’s awesome, I don’t think that she’s bad at all. She’s incredible,” Pugh told TheWrap. “The main thing that really attracted me was, I loved how you loved her, and even reading on the page, that’s the one thing you do — you love her and you want her to succeed. And that’s such a powerful thing to have.”
Pugh cited the condition of women in the era in particular, further insight she got from her costumes, which were period accurate and in some cases actual antiques.
It was how “the women had to live like,” she says, noting that for Katherine, “what she’s doing is hugely dangerous, especially because she’s in this household that’s not really her house; she’s married into it. For me, that’s where her mind changes, when she decides to enjoy a little bit. And the fact that what she’s enjoying is completely against anything that you’re supposed to be doing.”