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'Lady Macbeth' Turns Sound And Fury Into Victorian Noir

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'Lady Macbeth' Turns Sound And Fury Into Victorian Noir

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'Lady Macbeth' Turns Sound And Fury Into Victorian Noir

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The new movie "Lady Macbeth" doesn't deal with royalty or take place in medieval Scotland. It's not even based on Shakespeare. But our critic Bob Mondello says the leading lady still lives up to the title.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: We first spy Katherine at her wedding as she's looking around during a hymn. The only female voice she hears is her own. It's 1865, rural England, and this teen bride doesn't know the wedding guests or her husband. But she's a forthright gal. When he comes to her bedroom on their wedding night, she makes a stab at getting acquainted.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LADY MACBETH")

FLORENCE PUGH: (As Katherine) I like the fresh air. I like being outside.

PAUL HILTON: (As Alexander) Take it off. Your night dress - take it off.

MONDELLO: He's settled into a chair on the other side of the room.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LADY MACBETH")

HILTON: (As Alexander) Face the wall. Face the wall.

MONDELLO: Katherine may be an innocent, but this is not the way she thinks her wedding night with an older husband should go. She's done nothing to upset him. So what has?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LADY MACBETH")

HILTON: (As Alexander) My father...

MONDELLO: Ah, his father.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LADY MACBETH")

HILTON: (As Alexander) ...Bought you along with a piece of land not fit for a cow to graze upon.

MONDELLO: They're not going to get on, but she said she likes the outdoors. There's still the estate.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LADY MACBETH")

HILTON: (As Alexander) You will remain here, indoors with your prayer book.

MONDELLO: Now, this is dangerous. Close off enough options, and even the most pliant person will rebel. And Katherine is not pliant. Played by a then-19-year-old Florence Pugh, she seethes. She drinks and, when her husband leaves her unattended, embarks on an affair with a handsome stable hand. He seduces her not realizing how fiercely her freshly awakened passion will attach to him.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LADY MACBETH")

PUGH: (As Katherine) You know I shan't be parted from your life, Sebastian. Through hell and high water, I will follow you to the cross, to the...

FLORENCE PUGH AND COSMO JARVIS: (As Katherine and Sebastian) ...Prison, to the grave, to the sky.

PUGH: (As Katherine) I'd rather stop your breathing than have you doubt how I feel.

MONDELLO: His brow furrows as that remark sinks in. Pugh is mesmerizing. Her Katherine is uninhibited went out-of-doors as the rushing wind. Indoors, though, her life is a prison. The air feels close, and everything registers as loud - the tightening of a corset, the scrape of a chair, the clatter of cutlery and crockery. The house is full of sound and then, after a bit, full of sound and fury.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LADY MACBETH")

PUGH: (As Katherine) Sit back down.

NAOMI ACKIE: (As Anna) No.

PUGH: (As Katherine) Sit down.

MONDELLO: Theater director William Oldroyd is working here from a script based loosely on the Russian novel "Lady Macbeth Of Mtsensk." That 19th century book has already been adapted a few times, most famously in 1934 as a Russian opera, one that so outraged Stalin it nearly got composer Dmitri Shostakovich sent to Siberia. This new version, transposed to Victorian England, makes some intriguing alterations to explore not just the strictures 19th century society placed on women but also issues of class and race.

Katherine's lover and her maid are black, which goes entirely unremarked but affects how things play out when the hurly-burly's done, as it were. This young wife may be abused, but she's still privileged. And as Katherine, unnervingly still and chilly, sits at the center of rooms so sparsely furnished they seem entirely devoid of comfort, you understand how a woman so aggrieved could become a Lady Macbeth, the milk of human kindness no longer flowing in her veins. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF SWR STUTTGART RADIO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF SHOSTAKOVICH'S "LADY MACBETH OF THE MTSENSK DISTRICT, OP. 29A")

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