You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Toronto Film Review: ‘Therese’

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


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.

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.

Popular on Variety

Toronto Film Review: 'Therese'

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


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.


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.


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

More Film

  • "Tezuka's Barbara" in competition at Tokyo

    ‘Tezuka’s Barbara’ and ‘A Beloved Wife’ Head for Tokyo Festival Competition

    Two Japanese films, “Tezuka’s Barbara” and “A Beloved Wife” have been selected for the main competition section of next month’s Tokyo International Film Festival. The festival will reveal the remainder of the competition and the bulk of its other selections later this month. To date the Japanese festival has only revealed its opening film (“Tora-san, [...]

  • Garin Nugroho film "Memories of my

    Indonesia Selects Controversial 'Memories' as Oscar Contender

    “Memories of my Body” directed by Garin Nugroho has been selected to represent Indonesia at the Academy Awards in the best foreign-language film category. The announcement was made on Tuesday by actress Christine Hakim representing the Indonesian Film Selection Committee. The fact-based film depicts the story of a young man from a dance troupe that [...]

  • Benjamin Wallfisch - scoring session, Abbey

    Composer Benjamin Wallfisch Signs With Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency

    Composer Benjamin Wallfisch has signed with the Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency (GSA) for worldwide representation, in partnership with London-based agency COOL Music Ltd. A top composer, whose scoring credits include “It Chapter Two,” Shazam!” Hellboy,” “Hidden Figures” and “Hostile Planet,” among others, Wallfisch has worked on over 75 feature films and is a member of the BAFTA [...]

  • The Moneychanger

    Toronto Film Review: ‘The Moneychanger’

    Uruguayan auteur Federico Veiroj (“The Apostate,” “Belmonte”) broadens his usual intimate dramatic scope to diminishing returns for his fifth feature, “The Moneychanger,” . Adapted from a novella by compatriot Juan Enrique Gruber, the period (mid-1950s to mid-1970s) tale centers on the eponymous character, an amoral currency exchanger, who winds up laundering some of the dirtiest [...]

  • Send Me to the Clouds

    Film Review: ‘Send Me to the Clouds’

    The social and economic pressures felt by China’s “leftover women” — referring to those older than 26 and unmarried — are examined in “Send Me to the Clouds,” a rewarding dramedy about a 30-ish journalist seeking financial reward and sexual fulfillment after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Bold by mainland standards for presenting a positive [...]

  • Jamie Bell Without Remorse

    Jamie Bell Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse' Adaptation (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jamie Bell is in final negotiations to join Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel “Without Remorse.” Stefano Sollima, who most recently helmed “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” is directing from a script by “Sicaro” screenwriter Taylor Sheridan. As previously announced, Jordan is starring as operations officer John Clark, also known [...]

  • Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter,

    'Downton Abbey' Movie Sequel? Producers Tease That They Have 'Some Ideas'

    “Downton Abbey” holds the record as the most-nominated international show at the Emmy Awards with 69 nominations and 15 wins — and now, it stands a chance to nab an Oscar. More than three years after the beloved series signed off the air following six critically-acclaimed seasons, “Downton Abbey” is making its big-screen debut. “It [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content