If you’re a Janeite (Austen or Eyre), you might be tempted by Lady Macbeth, the tale of a child bride on some desolate heath. But don’t bother. Because while the most disturbing event in Jane Austen’s work typically involves sexist inheritance laws or someone getting pneumonia FROM GOING OUTSIDE, and while Jane Eyre’s weirdness doesn’t extend beyond Mr. Rochester’s inter-ether communication, Lady Macbeth is a bizarro display of sex murder porn. (Is that a thing? I don't want to know.)
Lady Macbeth’s prematurely wifed Katherine (Florence Pugh) seems normal—until a farmhand tries to rape her, and she decides it’s time for a pretty gross extramarital affair. Gross because it upholds the cinematic cliché that rape is fine if you eventually say yes (it isn’t! that’s still rape!), but also because Katherine is bonkers and likes killing for sport. The ensuing scenes of meaningless cruelty are almost unwatchable.
Because Lady Macbeth includes corsets and a mean husband, I’m sure someone is going to call it feminist, but it’s not developed enough to earn that label. Instead, Lady Macbeth is an odd jumble of Gothic romance conventions, a storyline transplanted from a bleak Russian novella, and an attempt to address racial inequity that’s too shallow to go beyond tokenism. Maybe you’ll like this movie if you enjoy talking loudly at parties about your appreciation for “difficult art” (😴 ), but difficulty for its own sake is a banal form of torture.
Besides, Katherine is a cipher, a flatly evil Ted Bundy in a hoopskirt. I like my sinister jerks complicated, in the grand tradition of the original Lady Macbeth or Austen’s scheming society ladies—foremothers to unsettlingly likable creeps like Amy Dunne, Claire Underwood, and Cersei Lannister. Sorry, Lady Macbeth. I’m sticking with them.