Madame Bovary

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Madame Bovary

Often the hardest part of adapting a novel isn’t figuring out how to transfer the story to the big screen, it’s finding a way to carry across all the subtle nuances that make a novel more than just a collection of events. Or at least, you’d be forgiven for thinking that after watching this adaptation of Madame Bovary, a film that manages to convey the basic thrust of Gustave Falubert’s novel firmly and clearly yet somehow misses out on everything that brings the story to life.
Brought up in a convent after the death of her mother and married off to a country doctor she’s never before met, Emma Bovary (Mia Wasikowska) does her best to be a good wife. But rural France in the 19th century isn’t exactly a hotbed of excitement, and with her husband (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) rapidly revealed to be the dullest man alive, it’s not long before she turns to home decoration to keep herself amused.
A young law clerk (Ezra Miller) professes his love, then leaves town when she rebuffs him. When a local nobleman (Logan Marshall-Green) does the same, she’s learnt enough to return his affections. Meanwhile, her decorating and fondness for fashion has her getting into serious debt with a local store owner (Rhys Ifans); any sense that her life is spiralling out of control is fully justified.
Despite strong performances and a lot of beautiful countryside, this is a surprisingly lifeless effort that rarely evokes the boredom and confinement that motivates Emma Bovary’s actions. Without that, she’s just a wilful woman who can’t see the trap she’s made for herself. There’s passing pleasure to be had in watching her decline and fall, but for all the skill and care that’s gone into this film, it lacks the heart – or even just the basic sympathy – required to bring it to life.