William Oldroy sets his new film based on the novel written in 1865 by Nikolai Leskov in the same period but moves the action to countryside in northern England. An opera and a ballet have previously been adapted from the novel Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and not, as many may think by the title, based on Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth. With only a small budget and no money for a film score, he nevertheless produces a film of electrifying power.
The main character, Katherine, played by Florence Pugh, is sold together with the parcel of land by her father to Alexander, whom she marries. She and Alexander move to live in his father's house. Like the two men the house is austere, soulless, silent, and cold. Katherine is told to stay indoors with her prayer book. Her only companions are her maid and cat who observes everything.
Katherine has married a drunken old man and the father is a tyrant and control freak. She can please no one and her actions are criticised on a daily basis by both men. She is expected to spend her time sitting in the parlour, tightly corseted, with nothing to do. She charges outside at full gallop when the two men are called away on business. She seeks the company of the farmhands and spies her future lover. He manages to get to her bedroom and fiercely tries to seduce her. After struggling for a mini second, she happily satisfies her longing for sexual satisfaction, and falls desperately in love with Sebastien. This unleashes a power and passion within this beautiful young girl with the face of an angel that can no longer be controlled.
Boris, the father, arrives home with full knowledge of the affair. He beats Sebastien within an inch of his life and locks him outside in one of the stables. Katherine demands his release, Boris refuses to do so. Katherine poisons his dinner and calmly waits for him to die in the next room while talking to the maid, Anna. Anna is traumatised by the events and is struck mute.
Katherine moves Sebastien into her bed. One night unexpectedly Alexander arrives home. Katherine and Sebastien make love in front of him and then brutally beat him to death. They bury his body in the forest and Katherine shoots his horse.
Katherine has no education or money, and like most women of this time, has very few options to gain control over her life. To this end she chooses murder on a grand scale. She lacks compassion and most importantly unlike Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, feels no sense of guilt. Those who try to control her, pay with their life.
Unexpectedly a woman arrives with a small boy and says that he is Alexander's son. Surprisingly Katherine bonds with this sweet child. Oh but she has plans aplenty, and yet with all this, it is easy to feel sympathy for this amoral woman.
It is left to the audience to build the story and contemplate on the action as the film progresses, somewhat like a silent movie. Very little dialogue, austere surroundings and lack of background music are unexpected accompanying such unbridled passions. This masterpiece is a must see.