Young Therese (Elizabeth Olsen) is dumped on her aunt, Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange), by her father with the false promise that he will return for her and take her to Africa. Madame Raquin knows her brother too well but accepts to take Therese in because she needs the extra income provided by her brother for his daughters care.
Forced to live in silence and share a bed with her sickly cousin, Therese leads a very restricted life while Camille is pampered around the clock, cradled by his overprotective mother.
With age Therese discovers her repressed sexual urges, and tries to lure similar interest from Camille, who is oblivious to her direct hints. This is to go unsatisfied even after she is forced to marry Camille. She has grown to be a beautiful young woman and when they move to Paris she becomes well aware of it. Camille starts a menial office job and Madame Raquin opens a small textile shop. Their routine is repetitive and mundane, with the exception of dominoes Thursday, where a small group of friends gather every week.
One evening Camille returns late from work with an old friend and co-worker Laurent LeClaire (Oscar Isaac). Everyone is delighted, but Therese has to fight very hard not to show her lust for him. A sly character, his charming appeal stems from his talent as an artist, knowing how to use his tales of painting naked women to arouse Therese. Their affair is inevitable. A terrible spiral of events follows, with far more tears and dead bodies than intended.
Unfortunately, this adaption of Emile Zola’s novel Thérèse Raquinit lacks the suspense this classic deserves. It is predictable and lends itself at times to be overly dramatic. Aside from the few times they state that they are in France, you could easily mistake the film for being set in 19th century England. However, the performances are strong, and engaging, but one grows bored of their story – quickly. Perhaps if Stratton cut half of the sex scenes the story wouldn’t drag so much. Lange doesn’t turn Madame Raquin into the evil stepmother caricature. Instead she maintains a strong yet subtle approach that make her vulnerability stiffer through, just enough to create sympathy from the viewer. Although you pitied Therese at first, that fades by her ignorance. Clearly Laurent has a hidden agenda and she learns this too late. Despite the truth lying bare, the lovers choose a Romeo and Juliet ending.