Robert Pattinson steps into the shoes of antihero Georges Duroy for this lively if muddled adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s 1885 novel, directed by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, known for their theatre company Cheek By Jowl. Duroy is a likeable rogue in a world of scoundrels, an ex-soldier on his uppers in Paris who crosses the threshold of the chattering classes when he meets an old acquaintance, journalist Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister), who introduces him to a web of high-class intrigue that stretches from the boardroom to the bedroom. It’s in the latter that Duroy excels, and he exercises his charms on Forestier’s wife Madeleine (Uma Thurman), and her two friends, fun-loving Clothilde (Christina Ricci) and older, vulnerable Madame Rousset (Kristin Scott Thomas), the wife of a powerful editor.As a whirlwind of bonking and banquets, ‘Bel Ami’ is diverting and sometimes amusing, and Pattinson is adequate in the lead – pretty enough to convince as a womaniser but with enough of a hint of ambition and a moral vacuum behind the eyes. His scenes with Ricci have an attractive sense of abandon to them, but the other two women make little sense beyond superficial tics. There are serious themes afoot concerning backroom dealing in politics and media, but these are never brought out by Donnellan and Ormerod, who rush through the material with little time for thought and zero sense that anything is at stake. This ‘Bel Ami’ is spirited and sensible but little more than period fluff.
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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.Verdict:A good-looking yet curiously tame adaptation of a saucy classic that showcases Pattinson’s ambition if not his full abilities.