Robert Pattinson steps into the shoes of antihero Georges Duroy for this lively if muddled adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s 1885 novel, directed by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, known for their theatre company Cheek By Jowl. Duroy is a likeable rogue in a world of scoundrels, an ex-soldier on his uppers in Paris who crosses the threshold of the chattering classes when he meets an old acquaintance, journalist Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister), who introduces him to a web of high-class intrigue that stretches from the boardroom to the bedroom. It’s in the latter that Duroy excels, and he exercises his charms on Forestier’s wife Madeleine (Uma Thurman), and her two friends, fun-loving Clothilde (Christina Ricci) and older, vulnerable Madame Rousset (Kristin Scott Thomas), the wife of a powerful editor.
As a whirlwind of bonking and banquets, Bel Ami is diverting and sometimes amusing, and Pattinson is adequate in the lead – pretty enough to convince as a womaniser but with enough of a hint of ambition and a moral vacuum behind the eyes. His scenes with Ricci have an attractive sense of abandon to them, but the other two women make little sense beyond superficial tics. There are serious themes afoot concerning backroom dealing in politics and media, but these are never brought out by Donnellan and Ormerod, who rush through the material with little time for thought and zero sense that anything is at stake. This Bel Ami is spirited and sensible but little more than period fluff.