Madame Bovary


20th Century Fox/Warner Bros.

Mia Wasikowska , Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Ezra Miller,Paul Giamatti, Rhys Ifans, Logan Marshall-Green

Admittedly, I have never read Gustave Flaubert’s classic Madame Bovary so there may be something I am missing.

In mid 1800s France, Emma is first seen in a convent school learning basic home economic skills and practicing to be poised and graceful. Soon she is whisked out of school so she can marry the the man her father has picked out for her, country doctor Charles Bovary. After a simple wedding Emma spends an awkward wedding night with her new husband. He rises early to make his patient rounds leaving Emma with house keeper (Laura Carmichael, Downton Abbey’s Lady Edith) Henrietta. Henrietta is eager to please and agreeable but does not afford Emma much excitement. Emma at first tries to please her husband, making a special dessert, but Charles prefers fruit. She tries to engage her husband in conversation but he gives only clipped one word exchanges. She has suggestions for social outings but her prefers quiet nights at home.

Emma is disappointed that the exciting, passion filled life she dreamed of as a school girl does not come to fruition. Soon, life in the small, provincial town of Yonville  makes her miserable, as she spends her days alone reading or wandering in the garden while Charles tends to patients.

In this mindset of longing, she receives a call from the sly dry goods salesman Monsieur Lheureux. Although tempted, Emma professes she can’t buy new clothes or furniture until she’s discussed it with her husband. Monsieur Lheureux promises her an unlimited supply of credit but Emma still begs off.

As time passes, she meets some of her husbands colleagues, Monsieur Homais, the local pharmacist (Paul Giamatti) and young law student Leon Dupuis (played by the dreamy Ezra Miller, so good in We Need to talk about Kevin). Homais tries to enlist Emma’s help in convincing her husband to do a risky operation on the club-foot of Homais’ servant Hippolyte and become a celebrated surgeon.

Leon is a romantic like Emma. He soon begins calling on Emma when her husband isn’t home to take afternoon strolls. He regales Emma with his dreams of living in Paris and becoming immersed in culture and the arts. It is not long before he professes his love for Emma but she reluctantly turns down his advances saying she is a married woman. Charles loves Emma but he is oblivious to Emma’s melancholy and boredom.

Charles and Emma are invited to a hunting party by the dashing and handsome Marquis d’Andervilliers (Logan Marshall-Green), who had dropped by Doctor Bovary’s house to have one of his servants  treated. He, too, is smitten with Emma but has far more nefarious plans for her. Buoyed by this invitation, Emma summons Monsieur Lheureux to order an expensive outfit for the hunting party–on credit of course. Soon she is in the midst of a passionate affair with the Marquis and buys more and more luxury clothes and items from Monsieur Lheureux all on credit. Dreaming to basque in reflected glory as a famous country surgeon’s wife, she helps to persuade Charles to agree to do the risky surgery on Hippolyte’s club foot, even though Charles has major reservations. Is the surgery a success? Will Emma leave Charles for the Marquis d’Andervilliers? How does Leon Dupuis fit into all of this? And how will Emma pay her astronomical debt to Monsieur Lheureux?

Emma Bovary is supposed to be beautiful and although Mia Wasikowska is attractive she is not beautiful. It’s hard to imagine anyone defying convention for her except as a convenient roll in the hay. It also never seems to occur to her that because she is married she is a convenient and temporary object of desire with no strings. Charles Bovary is supposed to be clumsy and clodding but Henry Lloyd-Hughes is handsome and graceful. Although he is oblivious to Emma’s inner turmoil he is not worthy of the disdain Emma heaps on him. Henrietta is sweet and good company.  So Emma has a handsome, hardworking husband, a nice house, a house keeper and plenty of free time to take up art, cultivate a garden, or any other hobbies she likes, make friends, have babies, etc. It’s hard for me to feel sorry for her or not look on her as an ingrate. This is the problem with the movie. If I read the book I might have a better understanding of Emma and her plight and have more of an appreciation of Wasikowska’s performance. So I just downloaded the book on my kindle.

 Madame Bovary is currently available on Netflix.