To celebrate the last decade 2010-2019 we are counting down the best actresses and discussing some of their most notable and memorable performances of the last decade. With the help of Film Twitter, the ITOL team have selected 30 actresses. Entry No. 10 is Florence Pugh, and writer James Cain discusses Pugh’s career over the last decade.
By James Cain
2019 was one hell of a year for Florence Pugh. Not only did she garner critical acclaim for her turns as the leads in both breakup-horror “Midsommar” and family film “Fighting With My Family”, but her supporting turn in Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of “Little Women” saw the 24 year old bag her first Oscar nomination.
Pugh made her on-screen debut with Carol Morley’s 2014 psychological drama “The Falling”. Despite her character’s mysterious death being the instigating incident that kicks off the story, the English teen haunted proceedings beautifully, being both the lead character’s best friend and another character’s lover. While ultimately the film’s success of course goes to writer / director Morley’s deft hand, Pugh is tremendous in the role, be it during a moment of quiet vulnerability or in a scene of driven intimacy.
But it was her sophomoric feature film “Lady Macbeth” (2016) where she truly introduced herself to cinemagoers. Based on the 1865 novel (and set in the same year) “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” by Nikolai Leskov, Pugh plays Katherine, a young woman sold with some land to a loathsome man twice her age. When he leaves the house to go away on business, Katherine soon begins an affair with the handsome young stable hand.
Though clearly a feminist film, “Lady Macbeth” doesn’t pander to the viewers desires or give easy answers. Katherine is a wronged woman, to be sure; she’s effectively a breeding slave. But unlike George Miller’s (undeniably perfect) “Mad Max: Fury Road”, director William Oldroyd and writer Alice Birch have given us a rebellious sex slave who might actually be evil herself. Thankfully, Florence Pugh is ideal for the role.
In a Kuleshovian performance, Pugh rarely gives us a high range of facial expressions. She’s often inscrutable, she only really tends to become truly animated when fucking or being overcome with rage. In her most chilling moments Katherine barely gives anything away, allowing us to infer a whole wealth of potential emotions. It should be that our protagonist feels nothing whatsoever. After all, misfortune befalls monsters and saints alike.
Though clearly a feminist film, “Lady Macbeth” doesn’t pander to the viewers desires or give easy answers. Katherine is a wronged woman, to be sure; she’s effectively a breeding slave.
For someone so young, Pugh is fiercely committed to the role. While most of it filmed from behind, there’s quite a bit of nudity, though thankfully Oldroyd and Birch do a great job of never making the viewer only feel nervous for Katherine and never Pugh. Speaking to the Evening Standard while promoting “Little Women”, Pugh remarked:
“Katherine changed everything. I loved the fact she was naked all the time. At that point in my life I had been made to feel shit about what I looked like and that film was perfect, there was no room for me to feel insecure.”
While conventionally very good looking, Pugh’s body type isn’t what one might consider the often-dangerous Hollywood norm (Florence discusses the matter well in that linked interview), taking body criticism from the likes of infamous movie dipshit Grace Randolph (the “Black Widow” trailer reaction). No doubt Pugh being real-world-slim is part of why her popularity has skyrocketed: She’s not just one of the finer actors of her generation, she also seems like a real cool lady and regular person. Her 2020 is gonna be bonkers.