Friday, August 17, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #33: Madame Bovary (2000)

We're gettin' both swooningly romantic and "all classy up in here" this week, with the 2000 BBC production of Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary, originally reviewed for dvdsnapshot.

Our Take:

Having never read the classic novel, nor seen the man film productions (including the legendary 1991 Claude Chabrol production with Isabelle Huppert), I can only evaluate the famous story through this version. The main takeaway: Emma Bovary has trouble managing her passions.

Tragedy strikes at the beginning of Madame Bovary, and seems to always hang over the few happy moments in the life of the multi-dimensional main character. The youthful, emotional Emma (a dynamic Frances O'Connor) finds herself out of the convent and back on the farm, marrying Charles, the first dashing man who comes along (Hugh Bonneville, sympathetic and quietly strong even as a cuckold). Bored by the day-to-day realities of marriage to an older, settled man-especially after finding she enjoys the conjugal side of life-romantic Emma finds herself entertaining flights fancy and delusions of grandeur. The young bride married in haste and repents in leisure, suffering beautifully all the while.
She quickly starts affairs with Leon, a man closer to her age and interests (Hugh Dancy) and the
more manipulative Rodolphe (Greg Wise), who sees her as an easy target. She also gets the townspeople talking as she's both emotionally manipulated and financially cornered by a crafty local businessman. Unhappy in love and frustrated by position, Emma also overspends lavishly. Retail therapy is not a new concept, and the beautiful things she buys on credit quickly add up to crushing debt.

Timely in this era of financial crises and disposable loves, the story of a woman who blindly wanders into traps of debt and marriage hits close to every home. Emma Bovary is so well-drawn in this 2000 BBC production that the audience can only empathize with her rise and ruin, even though she only traps herself in snares of her own choosing. (A modern audience may also wonder why her daughter is treated like an afterthought, but this isn't about parenting.) With fascinating leads, a strong script, and the always sumptuous BBC costume drama details, those unfamiliar with Madame Bovary will find this telling a bit unfocused but entertaining. (Supporting players Trevor Peacock as Emma's Father and Eileen Atkins as Charles' mother are delightful, sometimes more interesting than their children.)

Official Synopsis:

Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) and Frances O'Connor (Mansfield Park, The Importance of Being Earnest) star in this splendid adaptation of Gustave Flaubert's dramatic masterpiece.

With dreams of escaping her provincial upbringing, Emma Rouault marries local doctor Charles Bovary. But it's not long before she feels constrained and frustrated by married life. Ignoring her devoted husband and immersing herself in romantic fantasies, Emma begins a string of affairs. First, a young student, Leon, captures her imagination, but when the dashing aristocrat, Rodolphe, shows Emma the alternatives to married life, she enters into the affair with body and soul. Romantic and tragic, Flaubert's story of a woman's quest for fulfillment in love is an enduring classic not to be missed.

Special Features:
  • Trailers
  • A Complex Heart: Gustave Flaubert” - a 34 minute archival BBC documentary on the author
  • English Subtitles

The tragedy of a woman who makes mistakes in love and money, this BBC production of Madame Bovary is a long and lovely bit of Cliff Notes. Handsome and engaging viewing for fans of costume drama, but perhaps too unfocused and “novelistic” for the casual viewer.

Overall Picture:
Movie: B-
Extras: B-

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