Mia Wasikowska takes on the eponymous lead, Emma Bovary, as she marries a small-town doctor, Charles (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), falling only in to a life of tedium and monotony. To keep her engaged and occupied, she begins to collect a series of antiques and somewhat surplus items, mounting up a hefty bill with the local merchant Monsieur Lheureux (Rhys Ifans). In the meantime, she enters into impassioned, sexual affairs with Leon Dupuis (Ezra Miller) and The Marquis (Logan Marshall-Green), to take her away from her seemingly loveless marriage, and the banality of this undesired, provincial livelihood.
Madame Bovary, as anybody who has read the novel can attest to, is an emotive, profound tale, rich in social commentary. What adds to the realism that exists, is how endearing Charles is – particularly in this production. It would be so easy to make him out to be a monster, to loathe, resent and fear his presence, and yet, while he may be somewhat prude and uncultured, he has a good heart, and we empathise with his plight as well as his wife’s. This paints an even more poignant picture, as Emma Bovary’s actions are not so black and white, muddied somewhat, enriched by imperfection. Her infidelities and at times manipulative nature, makes her a more well rounded, intricately crafted role that we can adhere to. She’s flawed, granted, but that seeks only in making her all the more human.
It can often be a struggle to connect with that intimate, emotional core when a film takes place in such grandiose surroundings, as filmmakers can so often get lost within the period drama setting, conforming to the tropes of the genre, and losing sight of what truly matters; the narrative. Thankfully director Sophie Barthes has presented a piece that manages to get into the head of our protagonist – a feat predominantly achieved thanks to the performance by Wasikowska. She evidently understands this renowned literary figure, and while the screenplay may not do such a role justice, this nuanced turn most certainly does, which is about as high a compliment as can be paid where Flaubert’s heroine is concerned.
Nonetheless, when adapting one of the greatest ever pieces of fiction, it’s inevitable that a piece of cinema will struggle to truly do it justice – and that is undoubtedly the case in this instance, as in spite of the impressive performances, at times tedium does kick in, and you begin to long for the closing scenes, rather than be entirely compelled and entranced by this tale, as you would when reading the original novel. But hey, Paul Giamatti is in it, so it’s definitely worth watching for that very reason alone.