×

Toronto Film Review: ‘Therese’

This serviceable but uninspired Zola adaptation is unlikely to win more than middling arthouse B.O.

With:

Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Felton, Oscar Isaac, Jessica Lange, Shirley Henderson, Matt Lucas, Mackenzie Crook, John Kavanaugh, Lily Laight, Matt Devere, Dimitrije Bogdanov.

Serviceable but uninspired, this latest version of Emile Zola’s much-adapted 1867 novel “Therese Raquin” sends its characters to their doom on schedule without stirring much sense of tragedy or emotional involvement. Admittedly, the author called his own scheming-lover characters “brutes,” but writer-director Charlie Stratton hasn’t made them compelling enough anywhere on the scale from likability to villainy, and Elizabeth Olsen’s turn in the title role reps a speed bump in her rise to stardom. Already sold to numerous territories, this otherwise well-cast picture will find a berth in most markets friendly toward classic-lit costume dramas, but is unlikely to win more than middling arthouse B.O.

Her mother unknown, little Therese is dumped as a child by her seafaring father on the rural doorstep of his only living relative, a sister. The widowed Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange) endlessly dotes on her sickly son — with whom the new arrival must share a bed — yet is markedly cooler toward Therese, who is treated just slightly better than a servant and expected to be grateful for it. Upon reaching adulthood, frail Camille (Tom Felton) announces he’s landed a job in Paris, while Madame announces his marriage to dismayed Therese, who has little choice in the matter, her father having meanwhile died in a shipwreck.

The trio move to a Paree far less “gay” than dreary and dirty (perhaps abetted by the pic’s having actually been shot in Serbia and Hungary). There, Camille slaves at his clerkship while Therese, no happier a wife than expected, assists in Madame’s fabric store. Camille is thrilled to discover that a onetime hometown playmate works at the same firm; strapping, swarthy Laurent (Oscar Isaac) is in turn thrilled to find this milquetoast has a pretty wife who blushes crimson at the least off-color remark.

Popular on Variety

Soon Laurent and Therese are trysting secretly, frequently and far more graphically than Zola ever detailed. It dawns that they can only truly, openly be together if Camille were to suffer a fatal “accident.” This is duly arranged in due course. But even after Madame gives her consent for widowed Therese to marry the obvious replacement choice — Laurent, who’s carefully played the part of devoted, selfless family friend — the conspirators find no peace. They never imagined the extent to which tormenting guilt might poison the love they risked so much for. Zola’s clever plot mechanics drum up some suspense in the late going, as Madame Raquin, having lost powers of speech and movement from a hysterical-grief-triggered stroke, struggles to communicate the ugly truth she uncovers about her son’s death.

Felton and Isaac do good work, while Lange (who also starred in another so-so 19th century French lit adaptation, 1998’s “Cousin Bette”) relishes what becomes the most dramatically potent role, at least in this incarnation. Shirley Henderson provides some muted comic spark as a nosy member of the family’s dismal Paris social circle. Wide-eyed Olsen, however, strikes a petulant note too early to draw us into Therese’s plight, making for a central figure that never really centers the film. It’s not a bad performance, just not an interesting or involving one.

Making his first theatrical feature after stage and TV work, Stratton does a competent job, but fails to lend the pic any strong personal, stylistic or atmospheric stamp beyond the gloom induced by so many scenes set in dank, underlit rooms. Tech/design contributions are pro.

Toronto Film Review: 'Therese'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 7, 2013. Running time: 102 MIN.

Production:

A Roadside Attractions release of a LD Entertainment presentation of a Liddell Entertainment and Wonderful Films production. (International sales: LD Entertainment, West Hollywood.) Produced by Mickey Liddell, Pete Shilaimon, William Horberg. Executive producers, Richard Sharkey, Jennifer Monroe, Charlie Stratton. Co-producer, Lynn Givens.

Crew:

Directed by Charlie Stratton. Screenplay, Stratton, based on the novel "Therese Raquin" by Emile Zola and the play by Neal Bell. Camera (color, widescreen), Florian Hoffmeister; editors, Paul Tothill, Celia Haining, Leslie Jones; music, Gabriel Yared; production designer, Uli Hanisch; costume designer, Pierre Yves-Gayraud; supervising art director, Kai Karla Koch; set decorator, Michael Fechner; sound (Dolby Digital), Mac Ruth; supervising sound editor, Jon Mete; sound designer, Paul Carter; re-recording mixers, Dan Hiland, Gary Rogers; assistant director, Toby Hefferman; casting, Elaine Grainger, Deanna Brigidi-Stewart.

With:

Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Felton, Oscar Isaac, Jessica Lange, Shirley Henderson, Matt Lucas, Mackenzie Crook, John Kavanaugh, Lily Laight, Matt Devere, Dimitrije Bogdanov.

More Film

  • Spirited Away

    Netflix to Carry Iconic Studio Ghibli Animated Films

    The iconic animated features of Japan’s Studio Ghibli will be available on Netflix from February. The move is a further change of position for the studio which has repeatedly resisted the idea that its beloved cartoons would be released on digital platforms. Netflix, sales agent Wild Bunch, and Studio Ghibli, which counts Hayao Miyazaki as [...]

  • Outstanding Performance by a Cast in

    SAG Awards 2020: 'Parasite' Makes History; 'The Crown,' 'Mrs. Maisel' Earn Top TV Honors

    Neon’s “Parasite” won best motion picture cast at the 26th Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday, becoming the first foreign language film to pick up the top prize. Netflix’s “The Crown” was named best TV drama and Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” earned the prize for best TV comedy in a strong showing for streaming [...]

  • Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Lee Jeong-eun,

    SAG Awards 2020: The Biggest Snubs and Surprises

    The Screen Actors Guild Awards are always the first peer group ceremony of the new year, giving those who make films and television series the chance to celebrate each other. Going into the 26th annual ceremony, which took place Jan. 19, the nominees were a mix of industry veterans and beloved favorite and some newer-comers, [...]

  • HAF logo

    Hong Kong Project Market HAF Lines up Cream of Asia for 2020 Edition

    Lin Cheng-sheng (“Betlnut Beauty”), Giddens Ko (“You Are The Apple of My Eye”), Pang Ho-cheung (“Love in a Puff”) and Yeo Siew-hua (“A Land Imagined”) are among the big name Asian directors lining up to participate in the 18th edition of the Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum. The powerhouse project market will run for [...]

  • Jennifer Aniston

    SAG Awards: The Complete Winners List

    Korean thriller “Parasite” made history at the 26th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday, becoming the first foreign-language film to win best motion picture cast. In another streaming stride, Netflix’s “The Crown” nabbed best TV drama and Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” took home best TV comedy. In a repeat of the Golden Globes, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content