Mad for Madame Bovary

Madam Bovary Costumes

In Sophie Barthes’s film adaptation of Madame Bovary, the drama is amplified by Christina Gasc and Valerie Ranchoux’s elaborate costumes. On the eve of its release On Demand and DVD this week, Gasc and Ranchoux talk about their designs—and share a few of their sketches.


“We explored the script carefully—the characters’ psychology, their goals, their evolution—to create a visual progression with the costumes. It’s like a painting, everything that appears on the screen is meaningful.”


“At first, Emma always wears the same style of dress to underline the fact that as a humble farmer’s daughter, she has little money and that her husband is not able to improve her position. Buttoned up to the neck, with lacing up at the back, her dresses express a suffocating moral discipline in which she feels imprisoned.”


Everything changes when Emma meets Lheureux (Rhys Ifans) who entices her to live a dream by using credit to pay for her clothes. Then, she discovers luxury, beautiful fabrics, embroidered silks with rich patterns. In her small Normandy town, her new Paris fashions appear scandalous.”


“Her costumes show she no longer belongs to her environment anymore. I found it interesting to place her sophistication in a rural environment, with the mud, hard working agricultural peasants, and Nature’s wildness, as another way of showing Flaubert’s irony.”


“The psychological and moral evolution of Emma Bovary runs through the costumes. The 20 costumes or so worn by Emma show the passage of time, as well as the spending frenzy that will seize her.”


“We always adapt the costume to the figures. For instance, with Rhys Ifans who plays Lheureux, we tried to accentuate his size (he’s very tall) with a long coat to give the feeling that he wants to dominate Emma, like a bird of prey.”


“All the actors have adapted extremely well in these period costumes. In particular, Mia [Wasikowski] gets used to wearing corsets. We included the corset in the dress itself to be more comfortable so she moved with a very natural manner.”


“It was absolutely fabulous to work with all these talented actors. They were so professional so respectful of our job.”


“I could speak about Mia for hours. She is a wonderful human being as well as a marvelous actress. Having to wear more than 20 costumes could have worried her, as it implies a serious constraint on the shooting (numerous changes of costumes). But she trusted us completely.”


“All the actors and actresses loved talking about costumes, what they bring, meaning, ideas, emotional support to their play. They were completely involved in what we created. That was very helpful for us.”