“A period drama like none you’ve seen before thanks to a talented trio of
First timers who tell one headstrong woman’s story in a unique way Touted as one of the hottest discoveries of the year Florence Pugh shines assuredly in her first leading role”
Wendy Mitchell - Screen International
Lady Macbeth is the first period drama to be brought to screen through our iFeatures programme. A tale of 19th century tragedy, a young woman battles between her humdrum marriage and an enticing new passion.
The film is one out of the three films green lit through our iFeatures programme last year, supported by the BFI, BBC and Creative Skillset. Along with The Levelling and Apostasy, Lady Macbeth completes the trio with each film encompassing strong central female protagonists with the story fashioned around their journey.
The iFeatures Team
The Lady Macbeth iFeatures team consists of director William Oldroyd, writer Alice Birch and producer Fodhla Cronin O'Reilly. Birch and Oldroyd were brought to high esteem in theatre. He was Director in Residence at the Young Vic Theatre, whilst she made her name as an award-winning playwright (George Devine Most Promising Playwright Award, 2014) with scripts performed at the Royal Court and the RSC. Recently, Oldroyd made his first step into filmmaking with his Sundance London award-winning short film, Best (2013). The pair had been introduced through their mutual agent, which lead to them realising their mutual interest in feature film.
More precisely, they developed a shared love for Lady Macbeth of the Mtsenk District by Nikolai Leskov, of which the film is based. As soon as Birch enthusiastically expressed the themes of subordination of women in society, life in rural communities, and of passionate illicit love to Oldroyd – they both agreed these were all exciting premises for a film adaptation. On discussing female characters of the time, Oldroyd stated, “Women like Katherine (protagonist) traditionally suffer in silence, fade away, or commit suicide” and although they made some large delineations from the novella, they wanted to ensure they did not fit into this archetype.
To complete the team, Fodhla Cronin O'Reilly was brought in as producer, who Oldroyd had previously met through a mutual friend and instantly formed a connection. “Because my background is predominantly in theatre, I relied very heavily on her film experience to make that transition and to understand the specifics of how the process worked” Oldroyd states. Fodhla was awarded the Cartoon d’Or for her animated film Head Over Heels (2013), which was also nominated for an Oscar of the same year.
With the team formed, Alice created an initial draft proposal for why she wanted the story to be told which would draw from Fodhla’s experience producing film and Oldroyd’s experience directing, “As a writer I am drawn, inevitably, to stories, to characters, to landscapes and languages that have the potential to cross into new territories. The trajectory is, initially, one that is not unfamiliar to us. Yet, the film takes new turns, is constantly surprising and urges an audience to keep up.”
The iFeatures Programme
iFeatures is our regional low-budget filmmaking scheme run by us and supported by the BFI, Creative Skillset and BBC Films. This was the third iteration of the scheme, after producing a series of bold features from emerging British filmmakers, including: Guy Myhill’s The Goob, Martin Radich’s Norfolk, and Alex Taylor’s Spaceship.
Initially, Oldroyd heard about our iFeatures programme at Sundance London where he attended one of our iFeatures presentations. Our discussion was a request for more daring, diverse and stimulating project applications akin to our previous iFeatures, which only impelled them to create just that. However, the filmmakers were aware that all of our iFeatures predecessors had all been set in modern day, and their feature, a period drama, noted for their high production and set costs, would need to be produced in under half a million pounds.
“We knew that what we were attempting was incredibly ambitious,” says Cronin O’Reilly, “and we were determined to use the limitations that the budget put on us as a virtue. From the first minute we had to be sure that we could achieve both the artistic vision and the production itself for the money we had. It meant we had to make creative choices about how we would shoot the film – from costume and production design to which rooms we could use in the location.” Oldroyd also saw the virtue of the restricted budget. “I was interested to learn why I hadn’t seen more low-budget period dramas,” he comments. “I thought there must be a way of making one. We couldn’t afford huge exteriors and set pieces with lots of extras, so we focussed right in on the psychology of a group of characters that happened to live in 1865.”
They chose the iFeatures programme as it is beyond merely financing a film whilst addressing a much-needed gap for filmmakers in the form of professional training, up-skilling and key industry mentorship. It allows filmmakers to develop their vision, whilst honing it strategically, allows them to play around with their ideas, whilst consistently driving the pressure to ensure high quality. Mentors included Lizzie Francke from the BFI, Chris Moll from Creative England and Steve Jenkins from BBC Films. Cronin O’Reilly stated “It was very useful for all of us, and particularly for William and Alice, neither of whom had really been exposed to the film business before. It gave them an overview of how development, production and distribution worked, led by some great people. We felt very supported, but also pushed to make the best work we could.”
The script, the themes and the ambition of the team captivated us, which lead them to be selected as one of the 12 teams to attend our workshops. All 12 teams selected each year benefit from the iFeatures workshops; mentoring and project work, which demonstrates that even if a team are not selected as the final 3, they have a huge wealth of experience to take with them to produce their feature film.
Lady Macbeth Production
Lady Macbeth was awarded a micro budget of less than 500k via our co-financed production fund, which was used to film on location in Durham over a short window of 4 weeks, design costumes by Holly Waddington (Lincoln 2012); cinematography by acclaimed Ari Wegner, (Special Jury Prize for Ruin 2013) and design the production set by BAFTA Award-winning Jacqueline Abrahams (The Lobster).
Florence Pugh was cast as the lead, now listed as one of Screen International’s ‘Stars of Tomorrow 2016’ in partnership with the BFI London Film Festival. On casting Florence Pugh as Katherine, Oldroyd stated: “I’d seen her in Carol Morley’s The Falling, and been really impressed with her performance - it was so open and honest. Straight away it was clear we’d found someone with the right spirit for Katherine. Florence gives an incredibly strong and confident performance - she has a great instinct and very good technique.”
It was this transformation, which attracted Pugh to the script. “We see an innocent girl turn into someone capable of doing monstrous things - even though she’s doing wrong, you still want her to succeed, and you feel sympathetic to her.”
Lady Macbeth world premiered at Toronto Film Festival; had their European premiere at San Sebastian Film Festival (2016) and UK premiered at BFI London Film Festival screening (2016) where it is nominated for the First Feature Competition.
We are proud to be part of the inception of this great feature and we wish the team well in their activity this year and beyond.