Spoiler Alert: the ending is revealed

Emma Bovary was sure she would identify with the heroine of the recently released film, Lady Macbeth, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and which is based on the Russian novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov; if you’ve never heard of him, that’s ok–neither had Emma. Set on the moors in 1865, the heroine Katherine, portrayed by Florence Pugh, marries an older man. Unlike Charles Bovary, Katherine’s husband does not dote on his bride; in fact, he torments her, as does her new father-in-law. They seem to hate women in general, as well as any softness or beauty. Katherine begins an affair with Sebastian, the hunky groomsman, who is seductive if you like the primitive type. When Katherine’s father-in-law begins to suspect the affair, Katherine poisons him–cooly, cleanly and apparently without conscience. She also brings about the demise of her husband, and an innocent little boy as well. Katherine is all for Sebastian being her consort–she appears to love him in a passionate, willful way–until the groomsman cracks and confesses. Katherine adroitly turns the confession to her own advantage, pinning the murders on Sebastian and a shy, oft-abused black maidservant. Her class and luminous face protect Katherine; she is seen at the end of the film, deserted by her household but rich and free. Lonely as she is, we feel her brilliant career–both as a lover and a murderess–have just begun.

Emma did enjoy the film, especially the performance of Florence Pugh, who plays her part with deft perfection. You always want to watch her; she is a panther in a sky-blue crinoline and you can’t wait for her to pounce. The only issue for Emma was that she expected to be enraptured and instead she was perplexed. None of the characters, except the maid, are remotely likable—-and even the maid is much more pitiable than sympathetic. The father-in-law is coarse, the husband probably a psychopath, Sebastian is gross and maybe just plain stupid. As for Katherine, you either hate her for her willful crimes or admire her aplomb. But you don’t exactly root for her. Then again, why should a movie heroine be likable? Katherine–and perhaps Emma as well–might ultimately prefer to be survivors.

 

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