Suite Française review: the second World War has never looked lovelier

To describe the central romance as Mills and Boon cheapens that imprint’s worth

Film Title: Suite Français

Director: Saul Dibb

Starring: Michelle Williams, Kristin Scott Thomas, Matthias Schoenaerts, Sam Riley, Ruth Wilson, Lambert Wilson , Margot Robbie

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 107 min

Fri, Mar 13, 2015, 12:00

   

Irène Némirovsky was a Jewish French writer who died in Auschwitz in 1942, leaving behind two novels in a planned series of five. The works were discovered by Némirovsky’s daughter in the late 1990s and were published as a single volume in 2004. Sadly, watching Saul Dibb’s drippy, chocolate-box film adaptation, one wonders how the published Suite Française managed the stretch to 442 pages. Were doodles or Joycean modernist excursions used to pad out the material?

To describe the central romance as Mills and Boon cheapens that imprint’s worth. Every second World War cliché is here: the young, unhappily married heroine (Williams), her draconian mother-in-law (Scott Thomas), the dashing German composer turned officer (Schoenaerts), who takes up residence in their well-appointed home and embarks on a ditzy love affair with the miserable female lead.

Conveniently it emerges that the unseen husband, who is off at the front, is a philanderer. Other contrivances and implausible subplots follow. Those hardly matter: it turns out the occupying Nazi troops have all the bumbling menace of Ze Germans from ’Allo ’Allo.

It hardly needs to be said that Kristen Scott Thomas is suitably chilly or that Matthias Schoenaerts broods along or that Michelle Williams scowls effectively against pretty rural backdrops. The war has simply never looked lovelier. 

And if that weren’t so wildly inappropriate, nothing about the film would linger beyond the final credits.

Even taken as a big, fat, pointless heritage movie, Suite Française is so utterly forgettable and so potently diuretic, it feels like a sleight of hand: now you see it, now . . . what on earth were we talking about?