Bel Ami, Guy de Maupassant‘s tale of the caddish young man who seduces his way up the social ladder in late-19th-century Paris, was previously filmed by Hollywood in a watered-down version as The Private Affairs of Bel Ami in 1947 with a too-old-for-the-role George Sanders in the lead.
Playing the anti-hero in this lavish and unexpurgated new version from British theatre directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, Robert Pattinson looks much more the part.
He’s 24-year-old ex-soldier Georges Duroy, who’s on his uppers in 1890 Paris until a chance meeting with an old army comrade allows him to use his charms on a series of upper-class women, winning him the nickname ‘Bel Ami’ and propelling him to the dizzy heights of opulent Belle Epoque society.
Donnellan and Ormerod, the founders of avant-garde theatre company Cheek by Jowl, use Pattinson’s screen charisma to eye-catching effect, finding an air of petulant cruelty in his unscrupulous social climber, but they’re equally well served by leading ladies Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci and Kristin Scott Thomas, who play the trio of women Georges heartlessly manipulates.
‘I thought I could teach you,’ says Thurman’s disillusioned Madeleine, likening him to a dumb animal. ‘What I should have done is train you.’
Bel Ami is out on Blu-ray, DVD and EST on 23 July 2012, courtesy of StudioCanal.
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