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This is one of the better BBC historical dramas from the 1970s. Many are stagy and slow, and while this production of MADAME BOVARY is very much constrained to stay indoors, this works to advantage for this story of a woman who feels so trapped by her life and her world.
Emma Bovary is not a very sympathetic creature. She is married to a man who loves her with all his heart, who tries to give her everything she wants, is willing to ruin himself to make her happy, and she still cheats on him and remains miserable. In short, she is selfish and inconsiderate, as ugly inside as she is pretty on the outside.
Francesca Annis plays Emma. She is indeed very beautiful. As an actress she often comes across as bright and hard, flirty and flighty, but cold and self satisfied. These qualities, of course, are perfect for this character. Here she seems to be more in love with the idea of being in love than actually loving. Almost anything to break up the dismal tedium of her life and her disgust with everyone and everything in it.
It is very hard for a modern audience to feel sorry for her. Her daily trial does not include housework or drudgery, she has maids for that. She is bored because she is useless, she is useless because she is too lazy to seek something meaningful to do; she wants life to be a party, and resents it when it is not.
Tom Conti plays her devoted husband, who is completely devoid of ambition, in work or society. As an actor, Conti often seems to have just woken from a nap, and this dampness is just right for Dr. Bovary. He too is very lazy in his way, but his seems to stem from ignorance. When contrasted with Emma's willfulness, her husband seems the infinitely better of the two. Conti is really fine here as a man completely out of his depth with this racehorse of a wife.
In much the same way, while Annis is briskly carrying every scene, Conti just leans into her energy and quietly steals every one of them. A perfect pairing for these roles.
All the actors here are top notch, and the casting a bit off beat (the lovers aren't exactly dashing), which adds to the interest. The costumes, especially Emmas, are a luxurious parade of overindulgence. Absolutely beautiful. While we as an audience enjoy the parade of finery, we can also see how this wardrobe would drive even the richest man into the poorhouse. The production is topped off with a novel and lovely score of predominantly piano compositions; pretty and lilting, but melancholy and dissonant.
Don't let this one get lost in the shuffle, it is worth seeing.
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