2.5 stars
Including TV movies and a mini-series, there have been nine versions of Gustave Flaubert's controversial novel Madame Bovary. Quite why director Sophie Barthes (Cold Souls) thought it was time for a tenth is anyone's guess, nor why she amassed such a global cast for this quintessentially French story of over-reach.
Recently married to a country doctor, Bovary (Mia Wasikowska - Tracks) overcomes her boredom with rural life through rampant consumerism. Aided by a rogue shop-keeper (Rhys Ifans - The Amazing Spiderman), she amasses considerable goods and considerable debt before turning to not one but two lovers – Leon Dupuis (Ezra Miller - We Need To Talk About Kevin) and the local Marquis (Logan Marshall-Green - Across The Universe) – for help, both of whom eventually spurn the undisciplined woman. The 150 year old novel is a story for our times, and one that ends badly for Bovary.

It doesn't end so well for Barthes either whose critical production choices – the use of queasy-cam, employing a dark, sombre palate and the distracting blend of English, 'European' and American accents – distance viewers from the deeper intricacies of this period drama. Although the novel's storyline is not complicated, the pleasure of Flaubert is in the detail and his determination to find le mot juste, something Barthes does not translate well.

Wasikowska brings a temperate, measured tone to Bovary, leaving any temptation for hysteria to Ifans who is two paces away from pantomime villain. Less intrusive are Marshall-Green and Miller who both sit well against Wasikowska yet are both less compelling than their roles might suggest. You're never quite sure how you should feel about any of these characters and, as a consequence, the production as a whole. As Dr Bovary's guiding hand, Paul Giamatti (Love & Mercy) is a solid presence yet underlines how the melting pot of accents simply doesn't help. As these troubling layers amass, any fire in the text is soon dampened.

While Madame Bovary never set out to be a Merchant-Ivory production, this lo-fi vision is not a good match for the subtleties of the source material. It brings nothing new to the story, nor the story-telling, and earns the most wretched of labels – watchable.


Previewed at Paramount Theatre, Sydney, on 31 March 2015


Mia Wasikowska
Ezra Miller
Rhys Ifans
Paul Giamatti

Sophie Barthes

Felipe Marino


Germany / Belgium / USA


118 minutes

July 9, 2015
Madame Bovary (2014) on IMDb
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