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Film / Lady Macbeth

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"To the cross, to the prison, to the grave, to the sky."

Lady Macbeth (2017) is a British drama film directed by William Oldroyd and written by Alice Birch, based on the short story Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov.

1865, rural England. The young and beautiful Katherine is married off to the much older and bitter Alexander Lester, at the behest of his brutal and domineering father. From the very beginning, her marriage is loveless and devoid of any physical intimacy, as her new husband seems to dislike her just as much as she dislikes him. She feels bored and caged in the drafty Lester manor, especially as she is forbidden from indulging in her favorite pastime, the outdoors. But once her husband and father-in-law go away on business, leaving her on her own for an extended period of time, she begins to explore the surrounding countryside and gradually begins to take other liberties as well...


The film stars Florence Pugh as Katherine Lester, Cosmo Jarvis as Sebastian, Paul Hilton as Alexander Lester, Naomi Ackie as Anna and Christopher Fairbank as Boris Lester.

Lady Macbeth provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Girl: A dark version with Katherine. She ends up poisoning her father-in-law, bludgeoning her husband to death and smothering her ward with a pillow.
  • Anyone Can Die: From Asshole Victims to more surprising choices.
  • Asshole Victim: Given what pricks they were, one can sympathize with Katherine and even cheer her on when she kills her father-in-law and husband.
  • Arcadia: The beautiful English landscape, with the wide fields and moors is set in sharp contrast with the suffocating stillness of the Lester house. Roaming outdoors is Katherine's favorite pastime, and the imagery used is strongly associated with freedom.
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  • Arranged Marriage: Between Alexander and Katherine. It doesn't end well.
  • Baby Factory: Katherine's father-in-law expects this of her and blames her for the fact that she isn't pregnant. Never mind that her husband refuses to have sex with her.
  • Chocolate Baby: Teddy. Unusually, despite the time period, there's no adverse reaction from anyone.
  • Coitus Uninterruptus: Katherine taunts her husband when he demands that she end her affair by bringing Sebastian out of the closet and proceeding to initiate sex right in front of him.
  • Death of a Child: Katherine kills her husband's horse and later his ward Teddy.
  • Determinator: Katherine will be together with Sebastian, no matter who she has to fight or murder. Ironically, it's this determination and the ensuing actions that gradually alienate Sebastian from her, until he breaks down and betrays her.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Katherine clearly knows that their racial and social differences are why SHE will be believed rather than Sebastian and Alice when she blames everything on them.
    • More subtly, it's probably also why Alexander couldn't marry Teddy's mother and only provide for him from afar.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Katherine manages to remain calm in the most unsettling of situations. Including when her lover bursts in the living room and confesses to everything he knows about Katherine's deeds in front of a doctor and a policeman.
  • Domestic Abuse: Of the emotional/verbal variety. Alexander doesn't hit Katherine, but he treats her horribly otherwise.
  • Downer Ending: Katherine's father in law, husband and ward are dead by her hand, her maid and her lover are falsely accused of her deeds and will most likely hang. Katherine sends her servants away and remains alone with her unborn child.
  • Elective Mute: Anna, as a result of witnessing Katherine's murder of Mr. Lester Senior.
  • Evil Patriarch: The controlling, domineering and sadistic elder Mr. Lester is this to both his son and his daughter-in-law. The viewers might be hard-pressed to feel sorry for him when Katherine poisons him.
  • Heel Realization: Sebastian has this when he admits to Katherine that he was seriously contemplating killing Teddy so that he and Katherine could be together, and gets hit with it hard after the two of them DO kill the little boy.
  • Interclass Romance: Katherine and Sebastian.
  • Jerkass: Old Mr. Lester is a sadistic, sexist, brutal and controlling man. His son and his daughter-in-law hate him.
  • Lady Drunk: Tormented by the restrictions imposed upon her by her husband and father-in-law, Katherine turns to alcohol.
  • Lady Macbeth: Unusually, she is this to her lover rather than her husband.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Katherine tries to invoke some version of this with her murders—no one questions her about her father-in-law's death, her husband is assumed to have met with foul play during his travels home, and she offers no explanation for Teddy's death, even as the coroner and constable grill her, saying there are clear signs of the child having been suffocated.
  • Never Found the Body: Katherine and Sebastian dispose of Alexander and his horse's body in the woods, hoping that no one will realize that he made it home and assume that he met with foul play along the way.
  • Pet the Dog: In spite of her initial reticence, Katherine bonds with Teddy. It doesn't stop her from smothering him to death.
  • Sexless Marriage: Alexander never consummates his marriage with Katherine; instead, he makes her strip naked and face the wall while he masturbates. Katherine comes to believe that he's impotent, but then it turns out he fathered an illegitimate child, and Sebastian suggests that he may have simply not been interested in her.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Everything Katherine does is so that she and Sebastian can be together, but when their actions are discovered, she sends him to the hangman without a second thought, making her behavior truly pointless.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Katherine appears to be a Proper Lady, poised and graceful. But she stubbornly resists the attempts of her husband and father-in-law to confine and control her. And she is capable of much darker things than they suspect...
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Katherine and Sebastian have numerous obstacles standing in the way of their happiness. Katherine eliminates all of them, but her string of murders inadvertently drives Sebastian away.
  • Surprise Pregnancy: A catalyst for Katherine's murder of Teddy. After discovering that she is pregnant with Sebastian's child, she tries to tell him, but he's angry at being forced to sleep in the stable because of Teddy's presence and sends her away. This begins a series of events which ends up with Katherine smothering Teddy with a pillow.
  • Villain Protagonist: Katherine. Initially, her murder of her father-in-law and husband seem almost sympathetic, as they were vile and abusive. But then she murders an innocent child and unjustly throws the blame on her lover and maid...
  • Wicked Stepmother: Katherine fills in this role for poor Teddy. Although she is hinted to actually be a little fond of him, his presence stands in the way of her being with Sebastian.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Sebastian. Katherine, on the other hand...
  • Your Cheating Heart: Katherine begins a torrid love affair with a stablehand by the name of Sebastian.
  • Unwanted Spouse: Katherine and Alexander are this for each other. Their marriage was arranged by Alexander's father, who wanted an heir to the Lester name. Katherine tried to bond with her new husband, but her attempt is immediately cut short by Alexander's coldness and verbal aggression. It's implied that he only saw her as just another thing his father had imposed on him.


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