Florence Pugh is a scene stealer in director William Oldroyd’s handsome period drama

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Newcomer Florence Pugh makes quite an impression in “Lady Macbeth,” the downright wicked retelling of Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novella.

With quiet menace, Pugh chews through director William Oldroyd’s handsomely composed period thriller like a rat gnawing through a wall. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and her nightmare stare lingers longer than any poor sap who dares to get in her way.

Pugh plays Katherine, who’s stuck in a hopeless, loveless marriage to Alexander (Paul Hilton), who exerts control over his bride and humiliates her for his sexual gain. One day Katherine catches the eye of Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), a worker on the property, and decides he’s going to be hers. A violent encounter yields a wild romp in bed, and the two of them proceed to carry on an affair behind Alexander’s back.

When Alexander’s father, Boris (Christopher Fairbank), learns of the affair, he tries to have it stopped, but Katherine responds by poisoning the old man with the casual calm of someone painting their nails. It’s the first of several bodies that pile up, as Katherine enacts a plot and disposes of pretty much anyone who’s not named Katherine.

Oldroyd, working from a script by Alice Birch, knows to get out of the way of his leading lady — sometimes literally, as one shot, set up from a distance, lingers for an uncomfortable length of time on Katherine suffocating a victim with a pillow.

Pugh is a wrecking crew, communicating pure malevolence with a simple glance, but always keeping her composure. She may be evil, but she’s first and foremost a lady.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘Lady Macbeth’

GRADE: B+

Rated R for some disturbing violence, strong sexuality/nudity, and language

Running time: 89 minutes

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