When Robert Pattinson met Marion Cotillard in Cannes and told her he was doing a film of Guy de Maupassant’s classic French novel she expressed bemusement: “But why make it in English?”
It’s one of many questions viewers may ask when watching the 11th adaptation of a ruthless tale of Parisian Belle Epoque sexual/social climbing that has potential to be an erotic, unrepentant parallel to modern tabloid fame (Simon Fuller helped finance the project after all) and a revelatory role for Twilight ’s heartthrob.
Instead, it ends up a beautiful but muddled re-do with RP accents crossed with French pronunciation (“I say, Monsieur Forestière !”). Full marks to Pattinson for tearing into his Edward Cullen persona with plenty of arse-bearing sex scenes and peevishness, but he often falls back on nostril flaring to convey the subtleties of the seduction, avarice, rage and duplicity that drives his character.
That said, both he and the production (directed by Nick Ormerod and Declan Donnellan) are handsome creatures, ably supported by a classy cast who add emotional resonance.
Kristin Scott Thomas is the wounded heart of the piece, elegant and needy as a pious wife sexually corrupted by Pattinson’s Duroy in his quest to reach her powerful hubby. Christina Ricci brings the necessary sizzle as adulterous minx Clotilde, while Uma Thurman, playing Duroy’s wife, is notable mostly for her alarming Thatcher-esque baritone.
Larkrise To Candleford screenwriter Rachel Bennette does well to condense Duroy’s sexual plundering to key scenes, but fails to express his self-serving, callous motivation, making him by turns apologetic or simply stroppy. And has a luxurious gestation meant over-zealous editing?
The narrative is sometimes jumbled, while a scene where a character wraps her hair around Duroy’s buttons is left unexplained.
A lush period romp then, that’ll thrill R-Pattz devotees and bodice-buster fans, but a toothless adaptation of biting source material. Cotillard may not approve.