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In a drunken and disheartened state, Michael Henchard sells his wife at a fair. When he becomes sober again he realises what he has done, and though unable to find his wife and child, changes his ways. He becomes the Mayor of the town. Nearly twenty years later his past comes back to haunt him. Written by
Another BBC masterpiece finally out on DVD. Hardy's world is shown in all its darkness, yet permeated by rays of hope. This rendition of the classic novel is brilliantly cast and well shot. You have to listen pretty hard to hear through the thick accents, but that patience is rewarded because nuances of the accents round out the characters.
Alan Bates is simply stunning as the heroic anti-hero Michael Henchard. A stupid decision made when he was a drunk 21-year-old comes back to haunt him 19 years later when the wife he sold returns to his town. The unfolding drama is about fatherhood, friendship, betrayal, and most importantly, the complexity of human characters. Bates is able to make you see inside his brain as he silently weighs courses of action between what his demons tempt him to do and what his angels urge him to do. Both sides win along the way as he redeems himself, only to then act rashly out of jealousy, embarrassment, or self-disgust.
The other characters are also well done, with Janet Maw playing the daughter who cannot understand her father until it is too late and Anna Massey playing the fallen woman who wishes to have her own life. Jack Galloway does a good job as the honest Scot, but I did not see any spark between Farfrae and Lucetta. The scenery and weather are always characters in Hardy's books, and here they enter the drama intermittently.
But this film in the end is all about Alan Bates. I love much of his other work but his Michael Henchard is the performance of a lifetime.
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