Madame Bovary (BBC 2000)

4 Kernels
Like Jane Eyre, it appears there are enough adaptations of Madame Bovary to keep you busy for weeks watching each one with a bag of popcorn and a glass of French wine. Another new version is on the horizon (see trailer below), which will soon be released in the United States in June.

Curious about the story (gasp, yes I hadn’t read the book or watched another version until this one), I tuned in on Hulu (swearing at every commercial, but it’s not streaming on Netflix) and watched the BBC series done in 2000 with quite a few great actors that I like.

The cast includes Frances O’Connor as Emma Bovary (aka Mrs. Selfridge); Greg Wise as one of her lovers (aka Willougby in Sense & Sensibility 1995 movie); Hugh Dancy as another lover (who played in Daniel Deronda); and Hugh Bonneville, who plays her husband (well, you know what Earl that he is).  Fantastic lineup and great acting move this melodramatic story along.

If you haven’t read the book or watched an adaptation before, this one will no doubt be as memorable as Anna Karenina by Tolstoy. Madame Bovary was written by a French author by the name of Gustave Flaubert in 1856.  Emma is the central focus of the story, who is a young lady who is in love with love and hungry to experience the world of passion.  (Hum, sounds like my character Ann Seddon in Blythe Court.)

She marries a kind and fairly good-looking doctor, who gives her a comfortable life. He is a widower and emotionally mature but soon discovers, after his marriage, that Emma has her head in the clouds when it comes to love, life, and reality.  Unable to satisfy her constant yearning to experience something more, she quickly succumbs to the seduction of two men who fall madly in love with her.  Illicit affairs begin, but it’s obvious that Emma has a screw loose somewhere.  As she begins to smother each of her lovers demanding constant attention, they eventually leave.  (Clue – don’t smother men. They tend to run.)

Not only does she crave passionate sexual relations, she also craves things.  She’s the type of woman that in this day and age you definitely don’t want her to have a credit card.  Even in Madame Bovary’s day, purchasing on credit was as easy as signing one’s name. Of course, just like our due dates and bills of the 21st century, there’s a time to pay up.  After losing her second lover and the creditors calling in her debits, things turn bleak, having bankrupted her husband.  Arsenic is the answer to her problems, and a young, vibrant woman comes to a tragic end.  Frankly, she would have been better off doing herself in like Anna Karenina – at least it would have been quick and less painful (well, maybe not less painful).

Both Tolstoy and Flaubert’s stories are hailed as literary greats. I do find it interesting, though, that each touches on the sad outcome of women who dare to find solace outside the realm of passionless and boring marriages. It was perfectly acceptable in that time period for men to have mistresses. You never read a tale from a 19th-century author of any brokenhearted male throwing himself in front of a train or downing arsenic over a lost love – at least I haven’t read any.  Enlighten me if you have found such drama between the pages of a book.

Nevertheless, in these stories we are given tragic endings to apparently remind the female gender that if they sought such romantic trysts, only tragedy awaited them as punishment for their sins.  Of course, had her husband done his duty (which most men didn’t do either in those days except copulate to have heirs), perhaps Emma would have stayed in the bed she belonged and received the love and passion she longed from her spouse. Okay, I’ll stop ranting about the discriminatory attitudes of morality in the 19th century (even before and after that century).

With the new version about to be released, I can honestly say that I found this BBC series a satisfying and well-done portrait of poor Madame Bovary.

Below is the trailer for the new movie.  Will you go?

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