One of the strongest British debuts in a while, William Oldroyd’s searing drama should make his leading lady Florence Pugh into a star.
She’s terrific as Katherine, a young woman (a teenager, we assume) “bought”, along with a plot of land, by a wealthy industrialist for his son to marry. Although the period is left vague, we’re certainly in the mid-19th century, so this is kind of a period movie but one with a cool edge of modernity and a torrent of teen rebellion.
I should mention, too, it’s nothing to do with Shakespeare, other than the lady in question having a burning ambition to survive and succeed, one that grows in intensity throughout the movie until just looking at her face gives you goosebumps.
It’s all set in a creaking house on the moors, where everyone has a Geordie accent. The place is done up like an outpost of Soho House, all heritage colours and locally-sourced objets, floorboards restored in Farrow and Ball.
When her husband can’t consummate their marriage, he disappears, leaving Katherine to live in the house on her own. She quickly takes a shine to the power and to the stable boy Sebastian (rugged Cosmo Jarvis) and begins a passionate affair, drunk on abandon, orgasm and the master’s supply of Fleurie.
The anarchic idyll can’t last long and the insurrection is discovered but Katherine has developed a killer instinct for self-preservation.
Let loose from her corsets, Pugh’s Katherine is a screen animal, quite dazzling in her poise and in masterly control of her face over which she can flutter smirks, smiles and murderous thoughts like a pro.
Oldroyd composes each interior shot like an inky period painting and his smart direction allows the wind, the creaks, the ticks and tocks of the house, the crackle of fires and the pouring of tea, to echo around the soundscape. There are black characters, whose race isn’t mentioned, so beautifully and confidently does the film stride along and sweep us up, so it constantly feels daring, new and edgy but doesn’t force any of its subtle innovations on you. Even a couple of melodramatic plot lurches can’t derail the film not divert Florence Pugh from her bewitching destiny. Great stuff.