Sophie Barthes’ ‘Madame Bovary’ Just Doesn’t Live Up to Previous Adaptations

In a review for Observer.com, Rex Reed savaged Sophie Barthes’ 2015 film adaptation of Madame Bovary, awarding it only 2/4 stars and ultimately declaring, “the movie suffers from too much respect and not enough passion”. A brief extract is published below. This review was first published on 6th October 2015, and can be read in full here.


When his notorious novel first appeared in print, Monsieur Flaubert was arrested and tried for obscenity, and acquitted in 1857 to international acclaim. But the captivating character most widely anointed as the literary turning point in the history of women crushed by the stifling morality of their time never really came to life until Jennifer Jones played Emma Bovary in Vincente Minnelli’s lush, passionate MGM version in 1949.

You might not have liked the ruthless woman who sacrificed everything for materialism and romantic fantasy, but you could understand every desperate desire of a modern woman in emotional agony, trapped in the confines of 19th century provincialism.

Nothing like that is on view now. The new Madame Bovary is Mia Wasikowska, a talented girl who lacks the maturity, neurotic self-destructiveness or throbbing sexual force of Jennifer Jones. Her Emma is little more than a self-contained 21st century teenager unpersuasively acting out a self-deluded 19th century tragedienne. Of course, she is not helped by writer-director Sophie Barthes, whose adaptation opens with Emma swallowing the arsenic before she even gets a chance to tell her story. The rest is all flashbacks, but more than a century and a half after it first scandalized the world, Madame Bovary is still a devastating story indeed.


Our next event takes place on the 15th May 2019 and will combine discussion of classic and translated literature with the influential French classic Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. Our panel will bring together three expert speakers on nineteenth-century literature and French studies: Dr. Kate Griffiths, Dr. Mary Edwards, and Dr Katherine Mansfield.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Tickets are available on Eventbrite.

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