William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth has had a barnstorming run since it premiered at Toronto last year. It hit San Sebastian, Zurich and London Film Festivals, as well as a handful of others, before making its US premiere at Sundance this week. Not bad for a film from a first-time feature filmmaker, starring a brilliant young actress making her debut in the lead role.
In fact, Lady Macbeth is only Florence Pugh’s second film ever, after 2014’s The Falling from director Carol Morley, which paired her with Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams, and announced her arrival as a major talent in her native UK. With Lady Macbeth, she is ready for international recognition.
Adapted by Alice Birch, from the 19th Century novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov (and not directly centered on the character of Shakespeare’s Scottish Play), the film follows Pugh as Katherine, a young bride sold into marriage to a middle-aged man, whose innocence is slowly corrupted by her circumstance and her yearning to rebel.
Stopping by Deadline’s Sundance Studio, Oldroyd told me that Katherine’s character through-line was what attracted him to the book. “She felt provocative, she felt really, really dynamic, charasmatic. I thought, if she’s at the heard of it, we should definitely make this as a film.”
The director, whose short Best played Sundance in 2014, then faced the challenge of trying to find an actress who could pull off the many dark roads Katherine is forced to travel. “There were certain people we were meeting where you looked at them and thought, you could definitely kill somebody,” Oldroyd told me. “I thought it would be much more interesting to meet someone who is young, hopeful, innocent and then gets there eventually. But at her core she had to be able to do those things, and Florence could do that, and what she did was try to hide it.”
Pugh was effusive about Oldroyd’s approach to tracking Katherine’s trajectory. “There was a very clever way of following her story, which was in ADR we basically did the whole film in her breaths. We went from the first to the last scene of me breathing and trying to match what I was doing on camera.”
“It brings us closer to her,” explained Oldroyd. “If you listen to her breath up close, it immediately puts you in her mind.”
Roadside Attractions releases Lady Macbeth in June.
Actors, directors, filmmakers and special guests visiting the Deadline Studio at Sundance 2017 enjoyed sweet and savory treats, custom cocktails and more at Applegate’s REEL FOOD CAFE. Find out more about Applegate and their mission to change the meat we eat at www.applegate.com.