The film opens with Gustave Flaubert (James Mason) in court to defend his novel, which has been accused of being a "disgrace to France and an insult to womanhood". In order to keep it from being banned, Flaubert tells the story of Madame Bovary from his perspective.
1837. Au cours d’une visite chez l’un de ses patients, Charles Bovary, médecin de campagne normand, s’éprend d’Emma, fille du riche fermier Rouault. Deux mois plus tard, ce dernier, qui sait le docteur veuf et désireux de refaire sa vie, lui offre la main de la jeune femme.
Young, beautiful and intelligent Maya (Deepa Sahi) lives with her father in a palatial mansion in rural India. When her father suffers stroke, she calls for local Dr.Charu Das, who arrives on his bicycle and prescribes treatment for her father. He comes pretty often, more on the pretext of seeing her than her father. Eventually they get married. Years pass by and Charu is busy engrossed in treating patients, leaving Maya alone to ponder her own fate and life. And it is not long before a young man named Rudra enters her life and an affair follows. This does not last long, as a much younger man Lalit (Shah Rukh Khan) now enters her life and they begin a passionate affair. But again, Maya is not satisfied as she longs for more than bodily needs and it is perhaps this that leads to her sudden death, leaving two investigators to probe who or what really killed Maya.
This “Madame Bovary” begins as teenage Emma (Mia Wasikowska) is packing up her belongings and preparing to leave the convent to marry the man her farmer father has arranged as her husband: country doctor Charles Bovary (Henry Lloyd-Hughes). But life in the small, provincial town of Yonville soon makes her miserable, as she spends her days alone reading or wandering in the garden while Charles tends to patients. Even when he’s home, he’s such a drag that he may as well not even be there.
Martin (Fabrice Luchini), an ex-Parisian with a deep appreciation for Gustave Flaubert, has settled in a village in Normandy as a baker. He sees a British couple moving into an old property across the road. Their names, Gemma (Gemma Arterton) and Charles Bovery (Jason Flemyng), echo those of the leading characters in Flaubert's 1856 masterpiece Madame Bovary. Martin engages with the young couple and observes Gemma's behaviour replicates that of her namesake, including a series of romantic and sexual liaisons that suggest she is headed for a tragic finale like that of the novel. He intervenes but cannot alter the inevitable conclusion.
Sur les bords du Douro, dans la propriété du Romesal, Ema, une adolescente de 14 ans est élevée par son père, austère mais sympathique, entourée de sa tante dévote et des servantes du domaine : Branca, Marina et Rithina qui est muette.