Lady MacbethWilliam Oldroyd (2016 UK)Florence Pugh, Cosmos Jarvis
viewed Empire Cinema Newcastle 2nd May 2017; ticket: £4.00
As in Chazelle’s La La Land the defining shot in William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth is a female faciality.Oldroyd and Chazelle’s through both the camera and the edit indulge long slavering shots of both Emma Stone and Florence Pugh.Both these young actresses are sat nicely preened, motionless on the set, posing for the audience with looks of self satisfied smugness as the lens laps up their faces in an act of optic devouring.
Both films are about desire, and today’s directors, in particular but not exclusively male ones, seem spellbound by the images of the faces of their female protagonists as they play to realise the object of their desire.In the Public relations hand-outs this is called female empowerment. Katherine and Mia are caste as representatives of a rewritten ‘desire’ retro-history, and both heroines achieve the 21st century feminist dream of having it all.These movies might be understood as the consequence of the pact production companies and their directors make out with the juggernaut of pseudo-feminism orthodoxy that rolls over the global arts and political landscape.We are experiencing the implementation of a fake feminist canon of political correctness in which the female presentation, as image, vies with Bolshevik strictures concerning the historic correct destiny of workers and peasants,for the mantle of being the most deadening sterile social paradigm.
Lady Macbeth is adapted from Nikolai Leskov’s Russian novel, Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District.Leskov’s novel seems to have been completely corrupted in its filmic representation. Whereas the novel’s actual back ground of serf culture with its underlying violence,serve Leskov’s plot well and embed the action in a specific culture, Oldroyd’s film is a decontextualized vehicle.Lady Macbeth is set in a narrational black hole.The ‘period look’ setting reminded me of the final sequence of Kubrick’s 2001 in which Bowman finds himself deposited in a neo classical apartment.Lady Macbeth seems likewise beamed up.But Katherine unlike Bowman has not been scripted to die, but rather like Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, been sent to right the wrongs of history and restore a feminist gloss to literature and history.(Leskov’s novel ends with Katherine and her serf lover guilty of murder and sentenced to exile in Siberia).Oldroyd’s land Macbeth has as its final shot Katherine smirking into the camera.
There is an immobility in the sets which together with the acting style and the lines of dialogue, give to Lady Macbeth a theatrical aspect.Both Becket and Pinter as playwrights used decontextualized settings, mannered delivery of dialogue and non naturalistic dialogue to specific dramatic effect. These writers exploited lack of context and freedom from external constraints, to probe explore and evoke metaphysical and psychosocial tension in the characters.Oldroyd’s script doesn’t do metaphysics;it does mechanics, the mechanicality of Katherine’s career of ‘desire achieved’.There is nothing for the audience to see or to understand, other than the script progressing from one event to the other, from one success to another.From Katherine’s romps with Sebastian to her final murder of the young heir.There is no ‘out damn spot’ moment, no moments of irony or self awareness.Only that one reiterated image: Katherine sat facing outwards looking towards camera like the cat that got the cream.
And a cat periodically appears throughout the film, as do landscape shots, both serving the filmic conceit of referencing nature as a transposed states of mind.Visual clichés that at this point have long out served any purpose other than pretension.
As there were no serfs in England, Leskov’s underclass characters in Lady Macbeth are given over to be played by blacks.I think the idea will have been to migrate contemporary racial sensitivities back into a decontextualized 19th century thereby deepening the meanings underscoring social relations in the film.But race relations are always mediated by context, and the interposing of race simply deepens Lady Macbeth’s ontological confusion.In an English setting, race and class issues imaged in lady Macbeth, only blur and confound.A more appropriate background for the film might have been in the Southern States.
By the time the end credits rolled Lady Macbeth had left me without a thought.The truth content of the movie was a void.The assembly of the movie pointed only to external relations of film making as an act of ideological purity.I did wonder if they had filmed a lesbian scene between Katherine and Anna, but wisely left it on the cutting room floor. This idle thought merely underscores the banality of a film that flaunts its credentials as an empowering medium, a piece of junk thought that underlines only that Lady Macbeth is a dishonest disempowering medium.