|Index||7 reviews in total|
I've got to admit that Madame Bovary isn't my one of my favorite literary
works, but I've watched several adaptations nonetheless. This was a fairly
intelligent attempt at adaptation, with a pretty good script, but it was
ruined for me by some casting misjudgments and a misguided decision to use
nudity and explicit sex.
It takes some doing to make a woman as misguided and blinkered as Emma Bovary truly sympathetic (one of my major problems with the book), and though Frances O'Connor is a good actress, she often comes across seeming merely like a spoiled brat. She seems even more so because the decision was made to have her speak out loud so many things that Emma only thinks in the book. But I think the negative impression I got of this Emma is less due to her, perhaps, then to the other cast. I think it was a major mistake to cast somebody so obviously manly and sympathetic in the role of her husband as Hugh Bonneville (in the book Charles was really a dork) and such lightweights as Greg Wise (who looks stupefied most of the time) and -- well, I've forgotten what is name was -- as Leon. You definitely have to question her preference from them over Charles.
The various explicit nude sex scenes really add nothing, and often lead us in the wrong direction. Is it merely a difference in sexual technique that makes Emma unsatisified by her husband, but satisfied by Rodolphe? You can look at these scenes for hours and never find out. By the way, what is this about Emma apparently liking rough sex (her first time with Rodolphe, when he makes her bleed). Where was THAT in the book??! But most of all it was a mistake, I think, because Emma focuses as much on romance as on sex, and these scenes completely miss that.
I was mainly disappointed in this try at the book. Beautifully photographed, though.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I don't think this really has a spoiler in it but I am just being
careful! This is mostly a comment on commenter Lori's objections to the
nudity in this version (she asks, where is there a reference to sexual
techniques in the novel?), and also her objection to Rodolphe making
Emma bleed during the rough sex. In fact, Flaubert suggests that Emma
loses her virginity (not literally, but figuratively) to Rodolphe, not
her husband Charles. By that I mean that after her wedding night, she
is bored and unimpressed, while Charles is jaunty and energized the
next morning. Then, after Emma has sex with Rodolphe, Flaubert notes
that it is her turn to be newly energized, as she gallops around
jauntily with her horse, and Rodolphe "mends his bridle", a sly
figurative reference to her broken hymen, I believe. I think the
bleeding suggests that Rodolphe has gone places that Charles never
reached before, both sexually and emotionally for Emma.
Flaubert himself was prosecuted for writing explicit (for the day) sex scenes, as one where Emma strips naked for Leon and pounces on him, and another in which she uses words during sex (apparently "Oh God Oh God") that she previously had reserved only for prayer! Making this movie sexually explicit, therefore, is certainly in keeping with what Flaubert did.
Finally, several comments objected that this Emma wasn't very sympathetic. I don't believe Flaubert's Emma was intended to be very sympathetic. She was understandably bored and disappointed with the hand life dealt her being a woman and a peasant who was romantic at heart, and then stuck in a one-horse bourgeois backwater town with a clueless oaf for a husband. But she was selfish, dishonest, shallow, stupid and had God-awful cheesy taste in everything. This is realism, not romanticism, and Flaubert created no heroes --- just a cynic's view of real folks.
Madame Bovary is a European literary classic but also very difficult to
adapt because of the complex situations and characters(which can easily
become skimmed over or one-dimensional). This adaptation is not going
to please everybody and definitely does fall short of the book but it
is a good attempt and has a lot of good aspects to it. It does get off
to a slow start, with the adaptation getting much better quickly
pacing-wise but not fully recovering. The execution of the sex scenes
are also a mixed bag, for this viewer there was no problem with their
necessity, some were sensual but others were a little too gratuitous.
And the adaptation does suffer at times from incompleteness, some
scenes could have had more time dedicated to them like with the Waltz,
a scene that did agreed need more daring tension. Visually though it is
a wonder, really beautifully photographed and the production values are
true to period with rich colours and a great dark atmosphere which was
much appreciated. The dress that Emma wears in the Cathedral is most
envious. The music has an elegance and foreboding, not too satirical.
The script occasionally does plod but is very literate and does capture
the book's dark edge and ironic humour. There is also a real sense of
French provincial life being very suffocated, very important and
captured very well.
The story while not as complete as one would like is at least coherent and has much darkness, pathos and irony. The characters are more complex in the book certainly but they are equally so to pull off on screen because most you don't feel much sympathy for and it is easy to make Emma too bitchy or too sympathetic. But there is eye for characterisation here, Emma and Charles are different and Marie Louise can come across as a caricature to some but everybody else is spot on and generally there does seem to be respect for the source material with the knowledge of its adaptation difficulty. The direction is fluid, at times efficient without rushing and at others languid without lacking pulse. The performances are fine. Frances O'Connor takes a noble stab at possibly one of the most difficult literary characters to portray and does so with pathos and vanity, there is definitely a sense of Emma being a rather insufferable person but with O'Connor you can't help feeling some compassion for her. Hugh Bonneville is a commanding and comparatively mild-mannered Charles, while Greg Wise captures Rudolphe's eroticism, menace and suavity outstandingly well and Hugh Dancy's Leon is gentle without being dull. In support, standouts were the sly L'Hereux of Keith Baron and Eileen Atkins' Marie Louise, who steals her scenes although their roles are not exactly big. All in all, has many great things and a few things that definitely could have been done better, a respectable if comparatively underwhelming adaptation. 7/10 Bethany Cox
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Charles Bovary (Hugh Bonneville), in the French countryside, starts school late, is teased, but manages to become a doctor of the lowest rank. His domineering mother (Eileen Atkins) even arranges a marriage for him to a wealthy widow, who dies a couple of years later. Meanwhile, Emma (Frances O'Connor) grows up nearby but spends years in a convent school. Her mind is filled with books, poetry, and romantic notions and desires. One day, her father breaks his leg and Dr. Bovary, newly widowed, comes to set it. Charles is very taken with the beautiful young lady and Emma, naively, believes that Charles' desire for her indicates romantic days ahead. They marry. All too soon, Emma realizes her husband's interests are simple and he doesn't understand her need for loftier ideas. Not long after, Emma meets a town clerk, Leon (Hugh Dancy), very handsome, who also loves discussing music, poetry and ideas. Although not requited at this time, the two grow to love each other. But, Emma is pregnant and refuses to leave her husband, who, in truth, is very kind and attentive. Leon moves to Paris. Soon, Emma gives birth to a daughter and remains in failing health, due to her grief over her existence. Charles moves the family in an attempt to revive her spirits and Em meets another man, Rodolphe (Greg Wise) who pursues her relentlessly. With mounting debts and a lover on the side, how will Emma's marriage survive? How will she live on when Rodolphe cruelly leaves her? This wonderful adaption of Flaubert's classic should be better known. O'Connor is terrific as the dreamy-eyed Emma while Bonneville excels as the dimwitted but kindly Charles. Dancy, Wise and Atkins are likewise very fine. The sets, costumes, and movie making are beyond measure, resulting in a beautiful movie with hidden riches. Don't miss this rendition of one of the most complex, tragic, but glorious stories of all time.
The book - I read it one day before I watched the film on DVD - is (as
often) much better. It sounds like a cliché but it's a fact. It's
difficult to understand the motives of Madame Bovary and one simply
needs hundreds of pages to describe what's going on in her mind.
Of course the movie omits many details of the original story. Yet the actors who perform the personages of Bovary, Homais, Lheureux and many minor roles are cast well. However, Frances O'Connor is not a credible Madame Bovary. I think it is difficult to find a actress for this complicated character. I could not help imagining that Emma Thompson might have been a much more sympathetic and understandable Emma Bovary.
Yet I think the BBC deserves a 7 out of 10 for this attempt to represent Flaubert's masterpiece.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Spoiler alert. She seems to have only one lover, once, then was happy to go back with her husband!!?? What?? I see they want 10 lines of text. Well, I never read it or saw it before and it seems this one was made for TV so maybe that is why is was so unrealistic? No, it must be the book. Everywhere I read it says she had "lovers" plural, but in the movie it was only one. Then why is she so happy to just return to her boring husband whom she was bleeding dry financially? Also, frankly I did not think the star was that beautiful, just pretty but rather plain. I am used to being succinct so going on and on is just not my thing but I guess I have to reach 10 lines of text.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
David Lean's RYAN'S DAUGHTER is sublime and a masterpiece, but it is the
film Emma would have made rather than Flaubert. Normally I avoid BBC
costume dramas as the antithesis of everything I hold dear in terms of
literature and film. Because most lassic novels are so long, they are
stripped to their bare bones, like the summaries in York's notes, as if it
is the plot that is important, and not the way it is told.
Further, this skeleton is weighed down by a crazed fetishisation of period detail in a quest for authenticity. As has been pointed out, these bourgeois entertainments, supposedly an antidote to 'generic' Hollywood fare, are actually more generic, in that an undisclosed standard of respectability must be continually adhered to.
Perversely, the most outstanding and inventive films of the year are adoptations of classic novels, Raul Ruiz' LE TEMPS RETROUVE, and Patricia Rozema's MANSFIELD PARK, two works which take thrilling liberties with their sources, which are unashamedly cinematic, daring to be disrespectful when needs be, which emerge from the closed world of the text to become comments on the artistic creation of that text itself, as well as the socio-political pressures that helped that creation. That is not to say they stint on period pleasures - costumes, decor etc - but these are part of the films' meaning and critique, not a stagnant end in themselves.
I only watched MADAME BOVARY because its star is MANSFIELD's beautiful Frances O'Conner, an actress in the process of becoming very great. Robbed of the freedom given to her by Rozema, her stifled sprightliness is appropriate to this story of a bored fantasist stuck in dreary, suffocatingly conventional provincial France (oh, for MOUCHETTE!). In fact, the brooding and muted production is probably appropriate too, as Emma struggles to free herself not only from social mediocrity, but filmic as well.
Too often the stage is set for a grand, moving, emotionally devastating scene - the waltz with the Vicomte (compare this with the heavenly ball in MANSFIELD); the midnight meetings with Rodolphe; the trip to the Opera etc - only to be hobbled by conventionality and a lack of daring. This is MADAME BOVARY made by Charles.
This is not to say that the film is not without merit. The script is comparitively crisp, and there is a lovely vein of humour you'd be hard pushed to find even in Flaubert - my favourite is when an initial Emma daydream is followed by a farcical falling of her father from a tree.
The visual dankness is true enough, and allows for the odd visual epiphany, such as Emma's lilac dress. There is rarely much room for acting in these things, but Hugh Bonneville is a magnificent Charles, so decent, so nice, yet so intolerable, while Eileen Atkins is perfect as the mother-in-law from hell.
What seems most odd is the religious underpinning given to Emma's ecstasies. Maybe, like Bresson, Flaubert's relentless depiction of spiritualless banality is underpinned by imminent transcendence, but if it is, I missed it. This doesn't matter, because it allows for some intriguing effects - the opening ceremony that could be either wedding, christening or funeral; the delirious reading from the Song of Solomon; the burning cross in Leon's carriage as he and Emma are about to make love. In the end, the fumbling attempts at subjective sympathy with Emma culminate in her memories living on after her death, 'realistically' impossible, giving this ending a real force. The barrel-organ leitmotifs are pretty neat too.
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