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 films.
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 fueled 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.