I’m actually pretty conflicted as to how to feel about ‘Bel Ami’, an intermittently effective and highly sexed adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s 19th century novel co-directed by British theatre directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod. It’s a little verbose in places and features either too much or too little of the book’s politics (I’m not sure which), yet it’s pretty enough to look at and features some cracking supporting actors. In it ‘Twilight’ star Robert Pattinson takes the central role of Georges Duroy – an ambitious and spiteful man who rises Barry Lyndon-style from poverty to the pinnacle of Parisian high-society through self-delusion and amorality.
For the first half-hour I sat convinced that Pattinson had been miscast: aside from looking a little too young for a war veteran (one whose peers all seem to be middle aged), Pattinson’s permanent snarl and the infinite emptiness of his eyes seem to make a mockery of the fact that his character inspires so much amorous affection – even if we’re well aware he engenders this reaction from the ladies off-camera. Yet this seems to be precisely the point, making Pattinson an inspired choice: the ladies like Georges because he is pretty, but actually he is an empty vessel. Lazy, petty, illiterate, lacking social graces and disloyal, French high-society assumes something lies behind his eyes that simply isn’t there. The jury is out on whether Pattinson has much range as an actor, but he makes for an oddly compelling Georges.