The year is 1865. Somewhere in rural England Katherine (Florence Pugh) is married off to the son of the man who bought her alongside some land that apparently couldn’t feed a cow. Her husband doesn’t desire her and Katherine is forced to live out her life indoors with nothing to do. When her totalitarian father-in-law and husband take extensive leave from their home Katherine starts to come out of her shell. Coming to the rescue of one of her maids who had been assaulted by male grounds workers, Katherine takes a shine to the leader of the gang, Sebastian. A steamy affair ensues with Katherine’s adultery being her least offending infraction on her way to getting what she wants.
Cosmo Jarvis does a decent job as Sebastian, but it is Naomi Ackie’s maid Anna who is the real counterpoint to Pugh’s Katherine. These two women tear up the screen whenever they’re in a scene together.
The production design and cinematography perfectly underline the bland existence Katherine is forced into. You hardly notice how the visual presentation influences your mood while watching her living her so called life. She is not even a bird in a golden cage. She’s a bird stuck inside an oxygen deprived house with all exits shut. The claustrophobia was so unbearable that I even forgave her falling for a man who assaults women. On the one hand I was grateful we didn’t have to witness this on screen, on the other I feel this was immediately dismissed as it would have influenced the audience more against Sebastian, who ends up being Katherine’s conscience. Conveniently inconsistent. That didn’t sit well with me at all.
Katherine’s story comes full circle as she smothers the last obstacle in her way, as she was smothered by life, her husband and father-in-law. Taking that final leap past her point of no return she emerges out of her cocoon a new woman. A beautiful butterfly. A deadly one.
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