It’s Lady Macbeth but not as we know her.
A new film about a deadly woman with all the gall of her Shakespearean namesake has been shot on location in Wearside.
The secretive Lambton Estate, near Bournmoor, and Seaham Beach were used as the primary filming locations for Lady Macbeth, which is released in cinemas nationwide this Friday.
It’s been brought to the big screen by director William Oldroyd and writer Alice Birch whose imaginations were captured by the 1865 Russian novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov.
The story was most famously adapted into a Russian opera by Shostakovich in the early 1930s and, due to its theme of a merciless woman seizing her independence in a male-dominated world, was banned by Stalin for being too subversive.
William says although the film has no link to The Bard, this Lady Macbeth is an equally-compelling tale.
“The first thing I make clear to people is that this is not Shakespeare, so they are in no doubt,” explained the director. “People in the UK have mixed feelings about Shakespeare because they are force fed it at school. So those with a terrible relationship with Shakespeare shouldn’t worry about seeing this film.”
He added: “Lady Macbeth, however, is a useful name, because it sets the tone. The writer, in 1865, couldn’t understand how a young woman could do such a despicable deed without being like that character, so he gave her that nickname. The central character of Katherine is so compelling, so complex and riveting that I felt we had to get her on film.
“There are so few films with such a strong female character.”
Though it is loosely-based on the original 1865 Russian story, the setting has been moved from a provincial estate in tsarist Russia to North East England and tells the tale of Katherine who, stifled by her loveless marriage to a man twice her age, embarks on a passionate affair with a young worker on her husband’s estate, with tragic consequences.
Starring Florence Pugh as Katherine, the film was launched at the Toronto International Film Festival and has played at festivals all around the world, racking up a clutch of rave reviews ahead of its general release this weekend.
It was filmed from September to October 2015 with a local crew of 35 people who were given free reign of the Lambton Estate, which is closed to the public.
It’s the latest production to be filmed at the ancestral home of the Earls of Durham, which was also used for BBC period drama The Paradise.
Speaking about filming at Lambton Castle, William said: “A lot of people seem to remember the safari park that used to be there and the Lambton Worm, but few people know of the actual estate.
“We were so lucky to be able to use it. Because it’s in the middle of Durham, Newcastle and Sunderland, it was easy for the crew to get to and, because it’s closed to the public, we were able to set up a small studio there for the 24 days of filming.
“The entire film was shot there, aside from a day on location at Seaham Beach, Gibside and Cow Green Reservoir in the North Pennines.”
Due to the film’s setting, the actors had to learn North East dialects for their roles.
“There was a certain amount of pressure because the last major period drama people remember being shot in the North East with local accents is Catherine Cookson,” he said. “You think all North East accents are the same and then you get up there and realise how different they are depending on your location. We relied on our sound recordist who listened very carefully as he was recording and gave feedback when needed.
“We’ve held previews at the Forum Cinema, Hexham, and the Tyneside Cinema and the feedback from audiences in the area has been great so far.”
•Lady Macbeth is in cinemas from Friday, April 28.