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Sometimes actors and directors work with a white hot passion that the
screen almost melts in response. That's what "Thérèse Raquin", an
extraordinary mini series aired in the US around 1980 or 81, has. The
two leads sexual appetites are so openly displayed and animal like that
everything that follows seems absolutely correct and plausible. There's
such a carnality in their sex that it's breathless. When the plot
thickens and murder enters the scene, it's with a sickened heart that
you know all are doomed.
This is not for the faint hearted or easily offended. Yep, it's a "Masterpiece Theater" presentation but DO NOT expect the normally stuffy, stiff upper lipped Brit presented. This is more akin to "Body Heat" or "The Postman Always Rings Twice".
See it. You will not forget it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Perhaps the DVD box should contain a warning that says "ATTENTION: ALAN
RICKMAN FANS: If you are viewing this solely to see Rickman's early
work, because you became a fan of his after the Harry Potter movies
were released, be advised that he has a minor role in this production."
Being disappointed that a film (or television production, in this case)
which does not purport to star Alan Rickman, and in fact, lists his
name pretty far down in the credits, does not contain enough Alan
Rickman, is not a valid criticism of the film.
I first saw this three-part BBC series when it aired in the US, on Masterpiece Theatre, which would have been when I was in high school, so maybe I was innocent and inexperienced enough to receive it the way audiences received the book when it was first published as a series in 1867. Or maybe a public high school student in the US is especially prepared to identify with pathological ennui, and the feeling of being trapped in a life not of your choosing. Or maybe any adolescent is, anywhere, but I loved this show. I sat close to my little black and white TV, just to get as much of it as possible. I didn't have a VCRthey were still new, and very expensiveor I would have taped thisbut I did run eagerly to the first broadcast, and the rerun. It wasn't the sex, really. I was inexperienced enough to accept that it was genuine irresistible passion, but it was a grace note to the story of two people who dig themselves into a hole they can't get out of.
The character of Therese was endlessly fascinating to me, enough to make me run out and buy the book, read it, then two years later, struggle through reading it in French. I don't know that I would ever have read anything by Zola, or been introduced to his ideas of the bête humaine, and several others of his fascinating ideas of human motivation, if this television show had not been so well-made.
I also became a huge fan of Kate Nelligan. She is exquisitely cast here; Therese's decline isn't apparent from her performance in the beginning; she becomes a different person one minute upon the next, as each choice the character makes narrows her path to the future. Among other things, Therese Raquin is a study of how the decisions we make both shape, and are determined by, our personalities, and the power of Nelligan's performance suggests she must have borne this in mind as each event changes her character just a little, and in a way that sets up the next event; but her acting is seamless, and I didn't ever feel that she was working; it all came perfectly naturally.
I've sat through a few less-than-great films since I saw Therese Raquin, just to see Kate Nelligan's performance, and she personally never disappoints (even if the script, director, or other actors do).
I finally got to see Therese Raquin again about four years ago, courtesy of Netflix, who couldn't seem to find the first episode for quite a long time, so I didn't get to watch them in order. On a second viewing, it wasn't so important, though. I worried that as an adult approaching 40, I might be disappointed in something I liked as an adolescent, but I'm happy to say I was not. It was every bit as great as I remembered, and there were wonderful little details that had gone right past me the first time, which I got to enjoy on the second viewing. I'd love to own this, but it doesn't seem to be widely available, with the Region 1 release having been very limited.
I don't know what to say to people who found it slow-paced. It was appropriately paced. It was very faithful to the novel, which meant it contained a lot of small details, sub-plots, and minor characters that are usually written out of television and movie scripts based on novels. I thought a combination of great acting and excellent camera-work, as well as a tight script, overcame the sort of overweight feeling all the extra detail can give to a filmed version of a novel, but maybe other people perceived it differently. If you like your stories over and done with quicklycut to the chasethen maybe this isn't for you. But I think anyone who likes Emile Zola's books will weep over the faithfulness to the book, considering how often any great work of literature is hashed for the screen. If you just want something in front of your face that amuses you, then maybe not this, but if you want something you have to think about while you are watching, in order to fully appreciate it, this is great.
And the sex scenes are hot, too.
why go to the bother, you think? Hey, the looks that old lady could give
even when she was felled by Parkinson's Disease, almost killed: she knew the
couple's horrible secret and was caught in the prison of her body. However,
the wonderful thing that Zola does is to have everything play out in front
of her, so that she actually is given the merciful gift of having justice
However, I couldn't stand that wimpy Camille either, and wonder why the girl
didn't run away, but then that was pre-feminist advances. How lucky we are.
If we don't like it their way, we can take the highway and get along better
You might think that Therese turning into a hussy is far fetched, but I've known women made mad by their husband's adulteries that went mad in the same manner. The old lady's over-solicitous treatment of the son and the 2nd class treatment of the wife makes you ache for her, even as she wildly cavorts on the bed above her mother-in-law. Truly some sexy scenes!!
But what's this? A review I read of Alan Rickman in this movie indicated you saw the red-headed model. I never did in my DVD set. Somebody get on the forums and let me know why I never say it. Did it just not make it to the DVD set? Rickman at his cutest, with all those silly curls. And you get flashbacks of 'dorian Grey' from the scene in the artist's garret. Watch this one, and switch back and forth to Sharpe's Rifles to see Brian Cox age.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This 1980 3-part version of Zola's novel, Thérèse Raquin, done by the
BBC is dull, boring, and unsuccessful as a film in almost every
Both Kate Nelligan as Thérèse and Brain Cox as her lover, Laurent, are miscast. Neither actor exudes the least bit of sexual heat, nor is there any "chemistry" between them. At no time does Nelligan suggest a woman sexually obsessed with her lover. Indeed, when Cox finally grabbed Nelligan and planted a kiss on her, I burst out laughing; the moment was like one in a Carol Burnet parody comic sketch. And the nude scenes showing Nelligan and Cox in bed are boring, proving that nudity doesn't automatically equate to sexual heat. In fact, here the nudity makes it abundantly clear that Brian Cox should have gone to the gym to get in shape for this part. The foundation of the plot depends on the intense sexual attraction between Therese and Laurent, and this film doesn't have the actors to convey that.
Neither Nelligan nor Cox does a good acting job here, either. Neither one becomes the character s/he is playing. They simply recite their lines. Indeed, for most of the film, I wondered what Alan Bates (whom Cox resembles) would have done with this part--added some fire, I'm sure.
Mona Washbourne is well cast as Madame Raquin and steals this movie. In this version, Madam Raquin becomes a sympathetic character, the one who drew my attention. She plays Madame as a sweet (stereotypical?) grandmother type, and does well at this. But--should Madame Raquin have been this type of sweet woman? The remaining cast members are adequate. Alan Rickman, who plays Laurent's friend, Vidal, a successful artist, is almost unrecognizable under a curly wig.
The film is stage bound. Indeed, I thought perhaps this film was an adaptation of a stage play, but nothing in the credits indicated that. For the most part, the film is confined to Madame Raquin's shop and two rooms above it on a narrow alley in Paris. At the end of the first section, when Thérèse, Camille, and Laurent go into the country for a day, the film receives a much-needed breath of fresh air, as if someone had pushed up a window and let the stuffiness out.
Like a play, the film moves through three neat (too neat?) acts: the first ends with Camille's drowning, the second with Thérèse and Laurent marrying, and the third with the deaths of Thérèse and Laurent.
After marrying, Laurent and Thérèse are immediately haunted by the presence of Camille, whose corpse appears to occupy their bed. The visions of Camille render Laurent impotent and unhinge Thérèse, who is shown dressing gaudily and going to a bar where she is picked up by various men.
The symbolism of Camille representing the lovers' guilt for drowning him is obvious and awkward. In the third section of the film, I never felt the guilt was very real (probably because some of the worst acting from Nelligan and Cox appear here), just a clumsy literary device.
The scenes in the Paris morgue, while laying the groundwork for Laurent's nightmares, seem more appropriate to a horror film than a serious drama; the same is true for showing the ghost of Camille as a rotting corpse in their bed.
Contrast this 1980 version with the 1953 version, starring Simone Signoret and Raf Vallone, and all of the failures of the 1980 version immediately become apparent. Vallone's Laurent is a freedom-loving Italian truck driver who, from his first appearance, telegraphs all of the sexual power that Cox's Laurent doesn't have. Cox's Laurent works in an office and knuckles under to his supervisor; Vallone's Laurent wouldn't put up with that for a moment.
And Nelligan and Signoret aren't even in the same ballpark when it comes to portraying Thérèse. Signoret has a grasp on Thérèse's complexity, the duality of her outward serenity and the inward desire for sexual fulfillment and romance. Signoret BECOMES Thérèse; she doesn't simply say the lines.
In the 1953 version, we see Thérèse and Laurent kiss passionately, but there's more heat in that kiss than in all the nude scenes in the 1980 version.
The 1953 version, influenced by American film noir, has a conclusion that departs significantly from the novel, what with the appearance of Riton, a sailor who blackmails the lovers because the sailor knows they dispatched Camille. Yet, Riton's blackmail plot is a more effective instrument of retribution than Camille's ghost, which might have worked when the novel was published in 1867 but is dated now. And Roland Lesaffre, a Robert Mitchum look-alike, fuses Mitchum-like insouciance and smoldering sexuality to Riton, adding to the film's sensual atmosphere.
While Madame Raquin is a sweet old grandmother in the 1980 version, Sylvie, who plays Madame in the 1953 version, makes her a domineering woman (sort of a wicked stepmother figure) who doesn't like Thérèse very much. After Madame has deduced what Laurent and Thérèse did to Camille, Sylvie is able to convey with her eyes intense hatred beyond anything Mona Washbourne can do. Sylvie's stare of hatred could give a person nightmares.
The 1953 version is a first-rate film, required viewing. This 1980 version is a shambles. Its only virtues are Washbourne and its fidelity to the novel's plot, though the latter "virtue" unhinged the film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I bought this because I'm a huge Alan Rickman fan. Unfortunately he
barely appears in this period piece. While critics in Zola's day found
the novel to be pornographic and offensive, I found this version to
contain long stretches of intense boredom broken by sporadic wild sex
scenes and lots of angst. There are no surprises in this rather
predicable plot, except for Mr. Rickman's wig which gives him a
distinct resemblance to Tom Baker.
With infidelity, murder, and more you would think this would be a riveting potboiler. Unfortunately even the rare blazing sex scene cannot save this soporific snoozer. This serial fails to deliver. Rickman fans - save your money.
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