Actor in Focus: Florence Pugh

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An unhappily married aristocrat with a penchant for pathological lying and murder. One of the first female pro-wrestlers in the WWE. A vulnerable orphan seduced by a Swedish cult. And the third, often unbearable March sister from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. In a short space of time, Florence Pugh has proved above all that she has incredible range, taking roles as varied as one could imagine for an actress only the age of 24. Pugh has been described as both an incredible ‘under-the-skin’ performer and one who ‘uses her face as though she’s not saving it for later’. With some of the most engaging performances of the past few years, she’s sure to be one to watch. 

One of the most exciting newcomers of recent times, Pugh consistently chooses incredible projects – perhaps the only exception being dating Zach Braff. Her breakout role in 2016’s Lady Macbeth demonstrated the near-painful subtlety of her talents, combining lust, rage, and deceit, yet still being largely sympathetic right up until the point of no return. Her character is a young woman isolated in an English manor with only her servants, a husband she hates, and a father-in-law who hates her, to keep her company. She embarks on a dangerous affair… with deadly consequences. Even through all her increasingly repulsive behaviour, Pugh manages to find room for pity, compassion, and horror in what could be a standard femme fatale role.

2019 was certainly Pugh’s year, with lead roles in WWE biopic Fighting with My Family and unsettling cult horror Midsommar, as well as a stunning supporting role in the Oscar-nominated period drama Little Women. Pugh made a name for herself with her subtle, restrained performances as characters who combine sadness, strength and a unique vein of dark comedy. Even in Midsommar, Ari Aster’s horror opening with a prologue depicting the worst thing that could possibly happen to a person, Pugh finds room for nuance and an individuality that a lesser actress might have lacked. In what could have been a depressing marathon, her grounded portrayal of a woman at the end of her tether avoids being one-note and, instead, is a sincere, once-in-a-lifetime depiction of trauma, grief, and recovery.

Anybody familiar with the multiple adaptations of Little Women will know that the role of Amy March is not easily likeable. Vindictive, childish, narcissistic, Amy is an antagonist in a story without villains, especially when pitted against her spirited sister Jo. However, in Greta Gerwig’s 2019 adaptation, Amy is equal parts funny, ambitious, and relatable. Refusing to be relegated to the ‘damsel in distress’ role, and aided by a stellar script from Gerwig, Pugh’s Amy is a worthy foil to Jo as opposed to an antagonist. Half the most quotable lines of Little Women come from her, as well as some of its more comic moments. Pugh’s work in the role makes Amy not only likeable, but indispensable.

Pugh has already been nominated for an Oscar, Best Supporting Actress for Little Women, though I’m sure this won’t be true for much longer. Her next project sees her starring alongside Scarlett Johansson and David Harbour in Marvel’s Black Widow. Hollywood is starting to pay attention, but Pugh has not hit her peak just yet.

Black Widow, directed by Cate Shortland, will be released in the UK via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, release date TBC. Watch the trailer below: 

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