William Oldroyd’s costume drama has a truly killer line in corsets, while Lone Scherfig offers a very different take on Dunkirk
There are those who associate the words “costume drama” with genteel comfort viewing, as if no act of brutality or subversion could ever be committed in a hoop skirt. It’s a perception that Lady Macbeth (Altitude, 15) upends with stringent, stinging fixity of purpose. An elegantly appointed chamber piece in which toxic masculinity, destructive sexuality and racial exploitation bounce ever more violently off the walls, William Oldroyd’s ice-spined debut straps the viewer in a corset and pulls the laces to suffocation point.
It does the same to its teenage protagonist, headstrong Northumberland child bride Katherine – played with cutting brilliance by Florence Pugh – whose psyche runs obsessively hot and cold in response to abuse at the hands of men. She takes a lover, but carnal release is a complicated freedom here; as she coolly faces down every human obstacle to her desire, the moral burden of her liberation becomes harder and harder to support. If Lady Macbeth is a feminist parable, it’s hardly a rousing one. Inventively adapted from a 19th-century Russian novella, this is a vital Victorian horror story in which oppression becomes a sick game of pass-the-parcel. Even its lovely frocks turn sullied and rancid in the process.