Cousin Bette, Cousin Bette Movie Review, Movie Review, Film Review
Michael A. Maynez   photo

"Cousin Bette"

Has Honore de Balzac come into vogue with screenwriters?  Here we have a tremendous contrast in movie making.  The recent Balzac novella turned film, “Passion In The Dessert” is so far removed from “Cousin Bette” and more in keeping with the Paris that was Balzac’s real territory. Director Des McAnuff has captured the essence of the whole Balzac story with a light hearted touch and still has managed to give us some small bitter pills of drama to swallow.

Jessica Lange in the titled role does Bette to the hilt.  She is the poor relative that has to cater to her Cousin, Geraldine Chaplin, in a minor role, in which dies right at the beginning, leaving the responsibility of having Bette bring up her family. They live in a palatial estate, in which she is still the poor relative.  She had promised her cousin that she would take care of them, ALL OF THEM.  We don’t know how true that will come to be.  She makes them pay for treating her like a servant.

Elisabeth Shue plays a music hall artiste and befriends Cousin Bette, because she designs and makes delightful costumes for her. Some a bit risqué, exposing Shue’s derriere in an angel’s costume.  The philandering ways of the father and son involved in amorous liaisons with the cabaret singer are only complicated, when the sculptor that Cousin Bette has nursed back to health fall in love with the Hector’s daughter, Hortense played by Kelly MacDonald in a vacuous way.  The sculptor, played by Aden Young, not only marries Hortense, but winds up being a third party to the father son affair with Elizabeth Shue.  It is Hugh Laurie as Hector who creates a vivid characterization. Bob Hoskins as Crevel proves that friendship can be strong, even though he values money above everything.

The ensemble playing by the whole cast is a treat, even though Des McAnuff has taken quite a few liberties with Balzac original intent and text.  Jessica Lange and Elizabeth Shue, make the Paris of 1846 sparkle with great fireworks and all this before the French Revolution.

Cousin Bette
20th Century Fox / Fox Searchlight Pictures


  • Geraldine Chaplin ---- Adeline Hulot
  • John Benfield --------- Dr. Bianchon
  • Hugh Laurie ---------- Baron Hector Hulot
  • Jessica Lange -------- Bette Fisher
  • Paul Bandey --------- Priest
  • Laura Fraser --------- Mariette
  • Toby Stephens ------- Victorin Hulot
  • Kelly MacDonald ---- Hortense Hulot
  • Directed by ------------- Des McAnuff
    Produced by ------------ Sarah Radclyffe
    Camera by -------------- Andrzej Sekula
    Production Design by -- Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski
    Costume Design by ---- Gabriella Pescucci
    Film Editing by --------- Tariq Anwar, Barry Alexander Brown
    Written by -------------- Lynn Siefert, Susan Tarr
    Based on novel by Honoré de Balzac
    Rated R for sexuality

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    Original Date Tuesday 21 July 1998
    Updated Tuesday 21 July 1998