This bold adaptation of Émile Zola’s sordid novel of adultery and murder in 19th-century Paris places the talented Elizabeth Olsen in the title role, engaging our sympathies and our revulsion in equal measure, until the satisfyingly grim finale.
Émile Zola's Thérèse Raquin is a brilliantly perverse piece of work. This psychologically meticulous novel of adultery and murder has held a lasting influence on literature and cinema, from James M. Cain's hard-boiled repurposing of its key elements for The Postman Always Rings Twice, to the countless appropriations of its twists in film noir. Since its initial publication in 1867, Thérèse Raquin has been made into plays, operas, and films, but this latest version, while maintaining its period setting, is a Therese for our time, bringing a modern cinematic approach to Zola's sordid milieu, and allowing for depictions of sex and violence that earlier versions couldn't.
We meet our unhappy Therese (Elizabeth Olsen, also appearing at the Festival in Kill Your Darlings) in the provinces with her aunt (Jessica Lange) and sickly cousin Camille (Tom Felton, also at the Festival in Belle), whom she is forced to marry. The family moves to Paris and opens a humble haberdashery, and Therese holds faint hope for excitement — until she meets Laurent (Oscar Isaac), whose animal allure she responds to instantly. Therese and Laurent begin an affair, but it is only a matter of time before they exhaust the novelty of secret trysts — they crave more, and that craving burgeons until Camille looks like their only obstacle to happiness.
Deftly helmed by newcomer Charlie
Stratton, Therese's production design is
stunningly detailed, and its scenes are
shot through with jet-black humour. Yet
thanks to the remarkable performances —
Olsen's especially — we're never entirely
without compassion for these characters,
trapped by social constraints, desperate for
something better. Therese is a fascinating
recreation of 1860s Paris — but it is also as
timeless as a story can get.