This latest film adaption of Gustave Flaubert’s 1856 novel was actually brought to my attention by sex-advice columnist Dan Savage. On Twitter, he was raving about how gorgeously hot the long-haired bisexual actor Ezra Miller was in this movie. As a long-time listener of the podcast Savage Love, I was amused to hear Dan comment about a historical costume movie, even it was just to drool over a cute boy in one (because that’s usually Frock Flicks’ job!).
Thus, in honor of Dan Savage, I’m going to summarize the plot of Madame Bovary (2014) in the form of a call into his show by the protagonist, Emma Bovary:
Hi Dan —
I’m a 20-year-old, hetero, cis-gendered female. My mom died when I was a kid, so my dad stuck me in a convent (but I’m not religious at all). When I turned 18, Dad married me off to a guy I didn’t even know. Obvs, my husband and I have NOTHING in common. He’s a lame doctor in a boring, dead-end village. But I’m totally into music and fashion and novels and all this really cool stuff that he just doesn’t get. Our sex life is completely vanilla, and he thinks that’s how it should be.
At first, I said no to an affair with the super-hot law clerk who came to town. He left, and I really regretted it, so I had a raging affair with this rich marquis. I thought he was gonna take me away from this shithole, but he bailed. I consoled myself with some shopping and racked up a lot of credit card debt, but whatevs, I deserved it. Finally, I hooked up with the law clerk, and O.M.G. the sex is fantastic.
But then my husband’s dad died, and he’s all depressed and even more boring than ever. Plus the creditors have come knocking. What should I do? There’s some arsenic in my husband’s doctor stuff, and, well, it’s really tempting. Is suicide the answer?
Dan Savage’s usual advice would be to grow some ovum and dump the motherfucker, but then, he doesn’t know 19th-century novels like I do. Because, yep, suicide is the only option for women who cheat on their husbands back then. Of course, Emma Bovary isn’t exactly a nice person, even aside from the extramarital action (or the spendthrift ways). Hell, nobody in this drama is anyone I’d want to sit down and have tea with. Dump the whole lot of ’em, I say! And their costumes too.
Madame Bovary Costumes
This screen adaption doesn’t follow the novel’s plot super-closely, and it’s not even that great of a frock flick. I spent the whole film trying to pin down what year it was supposed to take place, and I’m still not sure. Somewhere vaguely 1840s or 1850s, judging by the clothing. But the styles are so pared down and modified, with a neckline of this era and a waistline from that era and most dresses with plain sleeves, it’s hard to say for sure what year the designers are aiming for. The very modern machine-embroidered fabrics don’t help.
Maybe it should be no surprise that one of the two costume designers for this film is Christian Gasc (the other is Valerie Ranchoux). Don’t recognize Gasc’s name? Well, he costumed Farewell My Queen (2012) — and we have issues with that film too. Lots of modern design interposed with historical for a mishmash that doesn’t work. I think Farewell ends up as more of a hot mess than Bovary simply because the former is farther back in the past (and is set at the French court!), so it has more things to fuck up. But I’m seeing a trend there.
Oh I don’t deny that Madame Bovary‘s costumes are impeccably made with some gorgeous pattern-matching and fine detail work. It’s just … a bit all over the place. And then there’s the grommets. So much back-lacing. sigh Yes, that was done in the 19th century, but sparingly and typically for evening gowns, especially in the 1880s. Not so much for day dresses, like the teal gown Emma wears for the first third of the movie before her shopping sprees.
I can’t recommend the movie for either the story or the costumes, unfortunately. And sorry, Dan Savage, but while Ezra Miller is undeniably hot hot hot, he doesn’t get enough screentime, and during his two very quick sex scenes, we get barely a glimpse of bare chest and that’s all. Disappointing!
Do you listen to the Savage Lovecast? What would your advice be for Madame Bovary?
Man, and here I was all hopeful that we’d get some hot Ezra Miller action on screen. Shall I stick this on the “hyped as sexy but totally weaksauce” movie shelf next to Farinelli?
Alas, yes! Sorry, Dan.
Mr. Savage doesn’t usually steer us so wrong!
Of course she kills herself, but then Emma is a ditzy, immature, bimbo.
I’d tell her to GROW UP, get some ovaries, confess all. Ditch and divorce him, and stipulate alimony for a specified period. Take a page from Catherine de Medici on Reign. Learn poisons *huge grin*
I’m not a fan of the novel either.
Why use arsenic on herself? Why not put it in his breakfast???
The backlacing on the teal dress with the buttons in the front is hilarious. Even more so since they could have hidden it with the shawl.
It’s even a plot point — during their wedding night, she tells hubby to unlace her, & that’s where we get to see all the metal grommet glory!
That back-laced teal dress just KILLED ME.
I am sorry but milktoast hubby had to know about her frustrated spending. Where did he think the new clothes came from? The fashion fairy?! But then this movie is in the same catagory as “Original Sin”. They bought the actors, costumes, and locations but forgot an interesting plot.
Punishment for Costume Designers who use metal grommets, don’t choose Fashion period or pallet. Any suggestions? Only thing I can think of are 1) fining them (get them where it hurts – their pocketbooks) or making them attend a seminar on the subject.
Make them attend all the costuming classes at Pennsic war? While we find it irritating, remember they must fight with studio heads, directors, actors, and budgets. There might be reasons for the choices we don’t know about.
Those are so instructive, but that’s a good one. What about attending five Costume Cons and sitting through their classes? Especially construction of proper undergarments (They can attend with Mr Gibbon of War & Peace 2016)
I’m less bothered by metal grommets in the 19th century, because they were documentable by that point (especially the 1880s, if this is actually the period that this version of MB is aiming for — jury’s still out). Anything pre-1840, though, and I will get my knickers in a twist.
I can’t excuse grommets bec. “it’s a low-budget production” because hook & eye tape is just as or even cheaper, plus it’s faster to put in (doesn’t require a professional grommet setter, can be done by a beginning seamstress!). And hook & eye tape would look historically accurate. Meh I say, meh!
Good Lord, I’ve never seen so many decades in fashion mixed up in one in my life. And it’s not even a family saga.
I had to read Madame Bovary in school. I thought she was an idiot then and I still do. Her bad decisions do not make her husband the villain of the piece!
Is the way to lace the corsets/stays correct though? I have never seen them with the strings attached like that and a clasp at the front?