19 January 2014 | TheLittleSongbird
A little underwhelming but with many great merits
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