Review: Madame Bovary
Sophie Barthes’ Madame Bovary marks the second adaptation of Flaubert’s masterwork in the past year. The first being Anne Fontaine’s Gemma Bovery, which gave the classic story a modern twist. This is exactly where Barthes’ film runs into a roadblock. Unlike Fontaine’s film, there is nothing to separate Barthes’ adaptation from the countless other Madame Bovary films that have been released over the past century. Making matters worse is Barthes’ star Mia Wasikowska. Actresses who have previously embodied the role include Isabelle Huppert, Frances O’Connor, and Gemma Arterton in Fontaine’s film. Wasikowska is not only a poor choice for the role, but also seems to give the role little effort.
After being married off to Doctor Charles Bovary (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), Emma (Wasikowska) quickly finds herself bored and undervalued. In an attempt to live the high life she once thought promised to her, Emma begins to spend her husband’s money with the conniving Monsieur Lheureux (Rhys Ifans), a fancy peddler selling all things from fabrics to concert invitations. Eventually Emma explores extramarital relations with Leon Dupuis (Ezra Miller) and the Marquis (Logan Marshall-Green), respectively. Her affairs are both acts of rebellion as well as desperate pleas to feel the love and desire that her husband has deprived her of.
It is rather tough to pinpoint exactly where Madame Bovary goes wrong, but Wasikowska is an easy place to start. Her delivery of the text is so dry that she may as well have been reading her lines off cue card. The script is strong, so her performance recalls that of an awful highschool production of Shakespeare, where the performers have great lines but just don’t really know what to do with them. Ezra Miller is equally terrible. Both him and Wasikowska seem to be casted based on their previous work, which is great for both, rather than their proficiency in their respective roles.
Ultimately, there is nothing that truly stands out about Sophie Barthes’ Madame Bovary. The script is fine and it looks pretty, but that is about it. Hopefully the film can serve as a reminder of why we no longer need continuous updates of classic novel adaptations. If one is going to adapt one of these works, they really need to do something different with it. Like the characters in the final act, I’ll pass on Madame Bovary.