Madame Bovary

The kind of film a teacher might show their class if they were really desperate for an adaptation, Madame Bovary is a lacklustre and all-round disappointing period drama.

Based on the debut novel by French author Gustave Flaubert, Madame (Emma) Bovary (Mia Wasikowska) marries unaspiring yet kindly country surgeon Charles (Henry Lloyd-Hughes). She quickly becomes frustrated with the lack of excitement or intrigue, marred by the dull ruminations of rural life in France.

Enter Leon Dupuis (Ezra Miller) and The Marquis (Logan Marshall-Green), both infatuated with her beauty and not too conscience-ridden about cuckolding Charles. As scandals mount, Madame Bovary proceeds to live beyond her means and the conservative moral confines of society. Paul Giamatti and Rhys Ifans pop into the picture for good measure.

The actors jump between different accents – sometimes British, sometimes American but somehow never seeming to bother with French. Wasikowska is a bland and unimpressive Madame Bovary, displaying less charisma than in her slightly more accomplished period piece Jane Eyre, in which she played the lead role, a character famously described as plain and forgettable. The most talented actors in the film, Giamatti and Ifans, are barely there. Giamatti pops in occasionally to be a sounding board and friend to the hapless Charles, while Ifans comes in and out as a merchant, a regrettably short role for a now-recognised talent.

The task of adapting a large, established and popular novel is not an envious one and aspects of the story are inevitably lost, or forgotten. The film chops and pastes the dramatic and tense sections of the novel, leading to an overly melodramatic, ungrounded narrative lacking discernible acts and plot progression typical of these sorts of stories. As a result, the ending, sad and intendedly impactful, feels tacked on.

An unfortunate pastiche of Madame Bovary’s tribulations, even an extended or more generous allocation of screen time to Giamatti or Ifans could not have salvaged this adaptation. Year 12 English classes – look elsewhere.

Rating: 2 stars out of 5

Madame Bovary
Director: Sophie Barthas
USA, 2014, 118 mins

Sydney Film Festival
3-14 June

On ArtsHub