I don’t know if there has ever been a Golden Age of Cinematic Period Pieces, but we sure have received many period piece films over the years. Now that we live in an era where films can be consumed in any way imaginable, period pieces are all over the place. This overabundance ultimately seems like a case of quantity over quality so no matter when the Golden Age for this genre was we are long past it now. Madame Bovary, one of this year’s additions to the genre, just further proves this. Everything about this film just seems on autopilot from the acting, despite a very talented cast, all the way to the costumes, which are normally the one thing you can reliably depend on being a standout from any film in this genre.
Madame Bovary is another adaptation in a long line of the famous French book of the same name. It follows the young Madame Bovary (played by Mia Wasikowska in this film) as she tries to adapt to a boring and confined life with her new husband (Henry Lloyd-Hughes). I have never seen an adaptation of Madame Bovary nor read the book before, but it is clear that this material has not aged well in the 150 or so years since its release. The material is dry as can be and most of the storyline is so clichéd it’s hard to get through it while maintaining interest.
To make matters worse for the film is that the direction from Sophie Barthes is almost as dry as the storyline. There is absolutely no visual flair to the film, which really causes problems considering the storyline centered around it. The dark palate in place for the film just feels out of place and causes a claustrophobic feeling that would feel more at home for a thriller rather than the elegant piece that this is supposed to be.
The actors try their best to save this film but there really isn’t much to work with. Mia Wasikowska is barely able to keep the film afloat with a quiet but layered lead performance while Rhys Ifans and Paul Giamatti add the occasional touch of energy as a rich loan dealer and a local storeowner. Other than these few performances there really is nothing to take away from Madame Bovary. There really isn’t much left to say in the period piece genre, and the film really suffers because of that.