A strong Madame Bovary adaptation starring Mia Wasikowska that breathes new life into the classic novel

French author Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is one of the most significant novels ever published, a widely influential work considered a masterpiece of prose. Released in 1856, the novel has been adapted several different times over the past century by the cinema to mixed success. The novel’s timeless tale continues to speak to modern audiences with its exquisitely crafted characterizations and tragic ending.

The most recent attempt for the screen is director Sophie Barthes’s Madame Bovary, a concise telling of the novel’s basic story. A bored country doctor’s wife, tired of her husband and his quiet provincial life, takes on illicit affairs and mounting debt to spice up her life. Actress Mia Wasikowska and a fine supporting cast led by Paul Giamatti and Rhys Ifans turn this into a superb adaptation of the literary classic.

Mia Wasikowska is no stranger to period pieces, Madame Bovary being her fifth one already in her young career. She plays a young Madame Bovary, the wife to country doctor Charles Bovary (English actor Henry Lloyd-Hughes). This Madame Bovary is a young girl that grew up in a convent with fantasies of a fulfilling marriage and happy life. Her fantasy does not meet reality when Madame Bovary quickly grows bored with married life to Charles. She has fantasies of moving to Paris and living in style. He is a kind, simple man but the limited opportunities afforded by their provincial life drive her to seek the comfort of other men. She yearns for the culture and opportunities found in nearby Rouen despite her lot in life.

Léon Dupuis (Ezra Miller in one of the few miscast roles) quickly grows enamored with the married Madame Bovary. She begins to seek romantic partners outside her marriage after a timid exchange that pushes her to break her marriage vows. Her clueless husband obliviously continues on with his second-rate medical practice as Madame Bovary’s lovers and debts begin to pile up.

Rhys Ifans gives a masterful supporting performance

It would be amiss if Monsieur Lheureux (Rhys Ifans) wasn’t mentioned. He skillfully ingratiates himself into the finances of the Bovarys, tempting Madame Bovary with an extended line of credit to finance her lavish purchases. Rhys Ifans gives a masterful supporting performance in this manipulative character’s role. Madame Bovary’s life eventually falls to pieces under the weight of her romantic delusions.

Director Sophie Barthes makes her film a very direct, concise adaptation of the novel’s basic story. Running around two hours, it develops at a rapid pace and trims the excess fat. A more complete film adaptation could easily run several hours. This Madame Bovary is a rich, sumptuous period piece with excellent production values. Mia Wasikowska may not have been an obvious choice to play the worldly Madame Bovary but handles the challenging role in a fine manner. There are good reasons why she has became Hollywood’s It-girl for period films and turns in another charismatic yet believable effort. The coterie of supporting actors round out a superb cast.

Madame Bovary is a successful adaptation with rich storytelling. For those into lavish period pieces with an eye for detail, this is the film for you.

Movie ★★★★★

The costumes and production design are top-notch in this Madame Bovary. It is easy to get lost in the attention to detail seen in this Blu-ray presentation. Alchemy provides a BD-25 for the 118-minute main feature. It is encoded in AVC at 17.75 Mbps. Madame Bovary has a reserved color grading done from a Digital Intermediate. A fine layer of grain is present in the period piece, the artful cinematography favors a classical film-like appearance. Alchemy presents Madame Bovary in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio at 1080P resolution.

The capable presentation is nicely film-like with pleasing texture. Definition and clarity are generally good except in the candle-lit interiors which dominate its opening act. Darker scenes have a dimmer contrast, almost crushing shadow delineation. The sharp exteriors have a more colorful appearance. Some minor noise creeps into the video encode’s grain structure, likely due to the below-average compression parameters. A BD-50 would have enabled a more transparent rendering of the film. The muted color palette is awash in various hues of brown and orange, befitting the intended dismal rural setting.

Alchemy provides a steady presentation of Madame Bovary that occasionally impresses with its sharpness and rich period detail. The dense black levels and softer close-ups prevent a perfect video score, though it looks fairly authentic on Blu-ray.

Video ★★★☆☆

The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD isn’t a showstopper in terms of surround activity but nicely complements the period film’s mood. The dialogue-driven film has a light musical score that works a little too much for my tastes, a quieter classical score would have worked better in my estimation. Fidelity is clean with a few ambient elements taking advantage of the entire soundfield. Most of the audio is reserved for the front channels. The sound design is muted in quality. Dialogue and score are mixed high in comparison. This is an adequate sonic experience without much fuss.

Alchemy provides optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles in a white font. They appear within the widescreen aspect ratio at all times.

Audio ★★★☆☆

Alchemy includes four trailers for other Alchemy releases. They also show up before the main menu.

Madame Bovary Trailer (02:31 in SD)

Alchemy Trailers (09:22 in SD) – Fading Gigolo, Elsa & Fred, Welcome To Me, Accidental Love

Extras ★☆☆☆☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.