EMMA Bovary is regarded by many literary critics, and these days by a number of film writers, as one of the first modern heroines.
Mind you when Gustave Flaubert’s novel about Madame Bovary was published in the mid-1850s he had to face not only critics, but also a quite sensational court trial in which the book’s language was raked over.
Flaubert was acquitted, but his disdain for romanticism remains clear.
Emma (Mia Wasikowska) reads the popular romantic novels of her time and becomes passionate about wanting a more exciting life.
She has a kind although dull husband, country doctor Charles (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), yet their life in rural Normandy isn’t what she hankers for.
Emma craves a metropolitan life crammed with art and literature and music.
Director Sophie Barthes briefly introduces us to Emma in her final year at convent school. A few scenes later and we’re at her modest wedding ceremony and it’s not long after that she’s pitched into a life of boredom and loneliness.
Charles is out visiting patients until quite late in the evenings so when Monsieur Lhereux (Rhys Ifans) entreats her to visit his boutique in the local village she’s hooked.
That’s her first temptation with the lavish dresses, decorations and furnishings. Yet there’s more exciting ones on the horizon.
Emma meets young notary clerk Leon (Ezra Miller) with whom she finds another burst of excitement.
Nonetheless, she manages to scare Leon off with the force of her emotion and passion. And her ongoing patronage of Monsieur Lhereux’s boutique, with its latest Paris fashions, catapults Emma and Charles into deeper and deeper debt.
She then embarks on a passionate affair with the local Marquis (Logan Marshall-Green) but ultimately is spurned by him.
Charles’ pharmacist friend Monsieur Homais (Paul Giamatti) is full of theories about progress but no matter how he couches his language, they’re not always well received.
Giamatti is unfailingly good in his silver screen roles and he’s great, again, albeit in a small-ish role.
Remember him as the shonky psychologist in the recent film about the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson?
There’s also one other point which must be made about Barthes’ film. There’s a marvellously filmed stag hunt arranged by the Marquis – a sequence which doesn’t appear in Flaubert’s book – and it forms the movie’s set piece.
The director is clearly commenting on the brutality and barbarity of the hunt and, of course, the hunters.
And as Emma rushes to her ultimate demise like most viewers you’ll probably be sitting there thinking: no, no. Don’t do it.
Don’t be surprised at your reaction. Film audiences all over the planet have silently had the same thoughts spinning through their heads as they watch on helplessly.