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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 novella 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:

  • Anyone Can Die: From Asshole Victims to more surprising choices.
  • 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.
  • Arranged Marriage: Between Alexander and Katherine. It doesn't end well.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Bathtub Scene: Katherine bathes in a tub at one point, with her breast shown on the side.
  • Bitch Slap: Katherine receives these, whether it's from her husband or other men.
  • 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.
  • Dark Action Girl: Katherine. She ends up poisoning her father-in-law, bludgeoning her husband to death and smothering her ward with a pillow.
  • Death by Adaptation: Sebastian’s counterpart in the original novel survives.
  • 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 (a poor white man) and Alice (who's black) when she blames everything on them.
    • More subtly, it's probably also why Alexander couldn't marry Teddy's mother and only provides for him from afar, since she was black.
  • 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.
  • Dumb Struck: Anna, after Old Mr. Lester's death
  • 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.
  • Hand on Womb: Katherine is never stated outright to be pregnant in the last act, but her pregnancy is telegraphed to the audience this way (as well as with some shots with a small bump visible through her nightgown).
  • 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.
  • Jerkass: Old Mr. Lester is a sadistic, sexist, brutal and controlling man. His son and his daughter-in-law hate him.
  • Karma Houdini: Katherine kills three people (including an innocent child) and a horse. Not only does she avoids punishment, two more people might get executed due to being accused of her deeds (only one was involved).
  • 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.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: A catalyst for Katherine's murder of Teddy. After discovering that she is unexpectedly 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.
  • 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 claims that Teddy's death was due to hypothermia, even as the coroner and constable are saying there are clear signs of the child having been suffocated.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Katherine ends up murdering her own husband to cover her affair with Sebastian.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Katherine is shown naked from the back and side multiple times along with from the front briefly, while in some cases having sex with Sebastian.
  • 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.
  • The Peeping Tom: At one point Anna spies on Katherine having sex with Sebastian in her room by peering through the keyhole.
  • Pet the Dog: In spite of her initial reticence, Katherine bonds with Teddy. It doesn't stop her from smothering him to death.
  • Politically Correct History: The film generally doesn't gloss over classism and racism of the time period. In the case of Teddy however, no one reacts at all to the fact that his mother was black. Though it's not impossible, the reaction would far more likely be negative, with his existence considered a scandal that had to be hushed up, rather than having his white father Alexander's family openly care for him. That said it is possible there was much more of an uproar to the father doing so, it’s just with how isolated Katherine was she never heard of it.
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: Outside of two scenes, there isn't any non-diegetic soundtrack.
  • The Scapegoat: Sebastian and Anna become this for Katherine's murders, and are carted off to be hanged while she gets off scot-free.
  • 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.
  • Sideboob: Katherine is shown naked from the side more than once, which shows her breasts this way.
  • "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...
  • Spared By Adaptation: Katherine commits suicide in the original novel.
  • 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.
  • The Stool Pigeon: Sebastian reveals everything about the murder of Teddy and the Lesters.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Katherine, at least in regards to her father-in-law and husband. The sympathy soon fades when she kills Teddy however.
  • Toplessness from the Back: Katherine is shown multiple times fully nude from behind, focusing on her backside.
  • 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.
  • Uptown Girl: Katherine is this to Sebastian.
  • 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...
  • Vorpal Pillow: how Katherine gets rid of Teddy.
  • 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.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Katherine, who smothers Teddy with Sebastian.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Sebastian, at first anyway, refuses to kill Teddy, a little boy. Later though he's convinced to help Katherine do so.
  • Yandere: Katherine eventually becomes this, with Sebastian as her object of affection. downplayed in that she is willing to make him The Scapegoat for the murders to absolve herself of legal consequences.