How Lady Macbeth Created Her Later Roles
Florence Poug has enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom over the past six years. His combination of a horror film A24, Oscar nomination, and the appearance of the Marvel Cinematic Universe drew eyes from all corners of the film world. However, before his rise to success, Pugh broke out with Lady Macbeth, a stripped-down dramatic thriller about the moral decline of Katherine (Pugh), a neglected housewife in 19th century England. Pugh’s performance is a tour de force, but it also provided an early showcase for the kind of morally ambiguous roles that have defined the start of his career so far.
After being sold to a man twice her age, Katherine grits her teeth over a loveless marriage. Husband, Alexander Lester (Paul Hilton), constantly belittles Katherine for her inability to bear him a son, but, contradictorily, his own sexual interests never seem to go beyond watching her from the opposite corner of the bedroom. One day, Alexandre leaves the estate for a few days to take care of some business. Her trip allows Katherine to finally explore the estate, which she was forbidden to do.
In her exploration, she discovers a taste for freedom and forges an affair with one of the new workers on the estate. Determined never to be shackled as property again, Katherine coldly concocts a plan to escape Alexander’s grasp. As Katherine’s efforts to maintain her freedom become more desperate, she reveals how far she will go to ensure she remains free from her patriarchal bonds. Nothing is on the table. Through lies, deception, and murder, Katherine’s empowerment comes at a price, but a price she’s more than happy to pay.
One of the most impressive parts of the performance is that much of Katherine’s rage is internalized until the moment she snaps. From the start of the film, something is wrong with Katherine and Alexander’s marriage. As for who is expressing this unease, much of the blame rests on Pugh’s shoulders. It helps this cinematographer Ari Wegner and his camera seem to be obsessed with Pugh’s face. As the camera often holds his face in close-up, Pugh’s blank eyes perfectly express his desperation for something more. Even when the camera pulls back for a wider shot, there’s something about Pugh’s presence that signals a sense of modernity, a sense that Katherine is destined for more than 19th-century wifely duties. With the chilling and atmospheric direction of William Oldroyd, Pugh’s breakout performance made her an immediate independent darling. She would go on to reap numerous rising star awards for her performance and win the British Independent Film Award for Best Actress.
Pugh’s next big splash came to star in Midsommara horror movie A24 from Hereditary director Ari Aster. Dani (Pugh) and her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) when they are invited by a friend to participate in a traditional Swedish festival. Struggling with their frayed relationship, their commitment to each other is tested as the idyllic Swedish retreat suddenly turns into a violent, bigoted business. Unlike Pugh’s role in Lady Macbeth, Dani does not wish to be free from an oppressive partner. Dani and Christian’s relationship is much more nuanced, but Dani shares Katherine’s sense of being overlooked. As the Swedish commune continues to shower Dani with the kinds of affection she never felt from Christian, she begins to resent him. All it takes is one fatal misstep by Christian, which he quickly commits, and Dani suddenly feels little remorse for sacrificing him in the Midsummer Festival grand finale.
Similar to Lady MacbethDan in Midsommar suffers a decline in morality. The signs of trouble are under the surface from the start of the film. In both roles, Pugh does a great job of immediately pointing out the internal cracks in his morality. In this way, when the events of the film unfold, Pugh simply makes visible something that was already there. This central idea is something that appears to a lesser extent in Greta Gerwigit is Little womanin which Pugh plays Amy March.
In Gerwig’s film, Amy may not be calculating or even suffer a downward moral spiral, but her futile impulsiveness is shrouded in moral ambivalence. The most notable example of this is the burning of Jo’s (Saoirse Ronan) manuscript. In a petulant act of revenge, Amy knows she wants revenge on Jo but doesn’t understand the gravity of her actions. Years later, once Amy has grown up, she still has some immoral tendencies but shows signs of growing up. An example of this would be his marriage to Laurie (Timothée Chalamet). She acknowledges the pain such a marriage would cause her sister Jo, who has long struggled with her feelings for Laurie, and consults with Jo to make sure she is not hurt. Sure, Amy burned Jo’s possible magnum opus, but she’s growing with age and learning to consider other people’s feelings (most of the time).
Finally, in Black WidowPugh plays Yelena Belova, Natasha Romanoff’s sister (Scarlett Johansson). The film follows the sisters’ upbringing and highlights the moment when their lives diverge. After this moment, Nat loses communication with Yelena but reconnects with her years later when their missions intersect. Upon reconnecting, the two sisters learn of their shared trauma after being trained to be Black Widows in the infamous Red Room. Black Widow explores the bonds of brotherhood as Nat passes the baton to Yelena, but it also highlights the moral differences between the two characters.
While the two women make no apologies in carrying out their missions, Natasha has shown signs of loyalty that sometimes outweighs her duty. The most significant example is in Captain America: Civil War in which Black Widow betrays Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) in order to help Captain America (Chris Evans) to escape. In the case of Yelena’s appearances in the MCU thus far, she’s proven to be a bit more unwavering in her dedication to completing a mission. His appearance in Hawk Eye is the closest to that, but his actions there are more like playing with his food than questioning his loyalties. Overall, so far, Yelena has proven to be the guy who shoots first and asks questions later.
During these early stages of her career, Pugh established a clear pattern in her selected roles. While it may be to varying degrees, Pugh has been able to flex his versatility in a collection of morally opaque roles. In the near future, Pugh looks set to continue this trend. In Olivia Wildeit is don’t worry darling, Pugh is set to reunite with Amy March’s delicate transgression as she plays a ’50s housewife who begins to question her assigned domesticity. Then in Christopher Nolanit is Oppenheimer, the story of those involved in the creation of the atomic bomb will fit in nicely with Pugh’s other morally ambiguous roles. In just over half a decade, Pugh has risen to stardom, and with continued use of the tools she has brought with her to this point in her career, she is sure to only shine brighter.
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