Artbeat

31st March 2000 at 01:00
Heidi Thomas, the adaptor of Madame Bovary (BBC2, April 10 and 11) sums up her heroine as "a Thomas Hardy character trapped in an Alan Bennett world". Emma Bovary certainly recallsEustacia Vye in The Return of the Native who wanted to be loved to distraction.Besides, Thomas has chosen to give the country characters northern accents to distinguish them from the convent-educated Emma and the upper-class people she admires.

Flaubert's novel, which he subtitled "provincial lives", caused a scandal when it was published in 1857 and the author was prosecuted for offending public morals. What would he have made of this version? The adulterous encounters to which he merely alludes are made explicit, with Emma (luminously played by Frances O'Connor) enthusiastically consummating her passion with the aristocratic Rodolphe (a darkly twinkling Greg Wise) in a rainy wood and meeting the young Leon for unbridled love-making in a hotel room.

As a matter of fact, M Flaubert might well have approved, given the different circumstances of the story-telling. Emma seems a modern heroine whose desperation for excitement and romance beyond the hum-drum of everyday existence is not a million miles from the young woman whose idea of a worthwhile life is supermodel stardom. For screen and tabloid newspaper as dream sources substitute sentimental novels and time to moon about poetically in the Normandy countryside. And Heidi Thomas' choice of language for her characters is neither stridently of the television age nor self-consciously 19th-century.

The television version is indisputably Emma's story. The novel begins with Charles Bovary, her husband-to-be, at school long before he becomes the well-intentioned country doctor she marries in a mistaken search for passion. Instead in the first scene we see Emma, a student at her convent school, eagerly watching the ceremony of the acceptance of young nuns as brides of Christ. This is a succinct introduction to the themes of the story: Emma watches from behind bars, a foreshadowing of her sense of imprisonment; her face is alight with excitement at the drama of the ritual, the incense and the "brides'" gowns yet she is an outsider at this moment. Very soon, as an adulteress, Emma will be beyond the pale, not only of the Church, but of accepted social morality. And, despite moments of passion, she will never find lasting satisfaction.

Both parts of Madame Bovary may be seen consecutively on April 16. Aficionados of television costume classics should also look out for a four-part Anna Karenina, starring Helen McCrory, Kevin McKidd and Douglas Henshall on Channel 4 in early May.

Tate Modern is still eagerly awaited. It is scheduled to open on Bankside in May at about the same time as the earby Millennium Bridge and the first performances of the season at Shakespeare's Globe next door. But Tate Britain is already launched. This, the Millbank big daddy of the "family of galleries" in St Ives and Liverpool as well as Bankside, is now a showcase for British art between 1500 and 2000, as its founder Sir Henry Tate intended.

Re-Presenting Britain 1500-2000 is the collective title for themed displays of British paintings, drawings and sculptures, many of them familiar. This is divided into "Private and Public", "Literature and Fantasy", "Roast Beef and Liberty".

But to reach these galleries you have to pass a new group of works by Mona Hatoum, the first of a series of annual sculpture exhibitions. These are dominated by "Mouli-Julienne (x21)" a steel dragon-sized version of a kitchen implement used for chopping. The domestic is made sinister in this spectacular piece, its drum big enough to accommodate a human body.

Hogarth provides the central image for "Roast Beef and Liberty", and it's fun to see Steve Bell's cartoon in homage to the anti-French satirist next to it, drawn at the height of the BSE crisis. Such juxtapositions - usually less literal - proliferate. Eduardo Paolozzi's brilliant sculpture of Newton, inspired by Blake, may be found a few yards from the visionary's painting. But it is revealing in a different way to come across Norman Blamey's 1959 portrait, "My Wife and Son" - informal, but haunting, the elongated shapes suggesting unspoken tensions, next to David Des Granges's "Saltonstall Family" in their stiffer mid-17th-century pose, yet exuding a sense of belonging, including the dead first wife next to her successor.

Tate Britain has almost too much to offer, especially as mixing periods will not allow any assumptions to become entrenched. School groups would be well advised to go with a specific purpose in mind and concentrate on a few works. Educational events and facilities are promised to expand under the re-organisation. For details, phone 020 7887 8000.

Print is not yet dead. The Newspaper, to be launched on Tuesday, is a new tabloid designed to appeal to children aged eight to 13. By September, each pupil will have seen a copy of the 24-page publication - the launch issue is going to 3,000 schools. It is intended to entertain while helping prepare children for SATs and teachers to cope with the literacy hour. Written initially by teachers it will encourage contributions from young readers and attempt to be in every sense a real newspaper with news, features, arts, sport, a letters page and so on. And like its grown-up counterparts it will also be available electronically: www.thenewspaper.org.uk. Information: Young Media Ltd 01622 871927.

heather neill


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