Though not based on the Bard, the drama "Lady Macbeth" is Shakespearean in its emotional impact, thanks largely to a powerhouse performance by newcomer Florence Pugh.
Pugh plays Katherine, a young woman whom we meet on her wedding day. It's not a particularly joyous occasion, because this is 1865 in rural England, and her new husband, Alexander (Paul Hilton), is marrying Katherine as part of a land deal brokered by his father, Boris (Christopher Fairbank).
Alexander doesn't even touch Katherine on their wedding night before departing on a long business trip. She is left to dine with the crotchety Boris, who's impatient for a male heir and unlikely to sympathize with the idea that it's his son's fault she's not pregnant.
The only other company on Alexander's estate are the servants, and Katherine's time is occupied by two of them. One, Anna (Naomi Ackie), is her maid, observing her every move and, she suspects, reporting them to Boris. The other is Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), a handsome groomsman with whom Katherine embarks on a torrid love affair that makes "Wuthering Heights" look chaste.
Director William Oldroyd and screenwriter Alice Birch, making their feature debuts, transfer Nikolai Leskov's 19th-century Russian novel "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk" to the English moors — and it feels right at home in the land of the Brontës. The windswept hills and gray skies are a perfect match for Katherine's raw passion and her maniacal drive to get what she wants, even to the point of murder.
The movie has a raw quality, with a minimum of glossy artifice. There's almost no musical score, so you can hear every creak and clomp from the old floorboards. This rough quality extends to the sex scenes, which are unglamorously vital and hungry.
Pugh, in only her second movie, commands the screen, as Katherine schemes to outwit Boris and maneuver her way out of trouble when Alexander reappears unexpectedly. Her quicksilver emotional shifts make Katherine a fascinating, unsettling character and give "Lady Macbeth" an edge that will leave audiences breathless.
A young bride stops at nothing to follow her passion in this unsettling drama set in 19th-century England.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens Friday, July 28.
Rating • R for some disturbing violence, strong sexuality/nudity and language.
Running time • 89 minutes.