Tess (1979)

PG  |   |  Drama, Romance  |  12 December 1980 (USA)
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A strong-willed young peasant girl becomes the affection of two men.



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Won 3 Oscars. Another 12 wins & 14 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
John Collin ...
Tony Church ...
Tess (as Nastassia Kinski)
Brigid Erin Bates ...
Girl in meadow
Jeanne Biras ...
Girl in meadow
John Bett ...
Rosemary Martin ...
Geraldine Arzul ...
Stephanie Treille ...
Elodie Warnod ...
Ben Reeks ...
Jack Stephens ...
Man in Tavern
Leigh Lawson ...


Wessex County, England during the Victorian era. Christian values dominate what are social mores. These mores and her interactions with two men play a large part in what happens in the young life of peasant girl, the shy, innocent, proper yet proud Tess Durbeyfield. The first of these men is Alec d'Urberville. After learning from a local historian that they are really descendants of the aristocratic d'Urberville family which has died out due to lack of male heirs, Tess' parents send her to a nearby mansion where they know some d'Urbervilles actually reside. This move is in order for the family to gain some benefit from their heritage. Upon her arrival at the mansion, Tess quickly learns that the family of Tess' "cousin" Alec are not true d'Urbervilles, but rather an opportunistic lot who bought the family name in order to improve their own standing in life. Tess is pulled between what she was sent to accomplish for her family against her general disdain for Alec, who will give her ... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


She was born into a world where they called it seduction, not rape. What she did would shatter that world forever. See more »


Drama | Romance


PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

12 December 1980 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Egy tiszta nő  »

Box Office


$12,000,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (DVD) | (re-issue) | (original)

Sound Mix:

(70 mm prints)| (35 mm prints)



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The film's opening dedication at the start of the film states: "For Sharon". Roman Polanski dedicated this movie to his late wife, Sharon Tate, who was killed in 1969 by the Manson Clan. Before Tate's death, she had read the film's source novel by Tom Hardy and was convinced that her husband would one day make a great film based on the novel. See more »


At 4:21, camera shadow on Durbeyfield's back. This shadow extends entirely across the path. At 4:44, as the parson and Durbeyfield talk, the shadow is gone. See more »


[first lines]
John Durbeyfield: Good night, t'ee.
Parson Tringham: Good night, Sir John.
See more »


Featured in The 53rd Annual Academy Awards (1981) See more »

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User Reviews

a reflection on fate
14 July 2002 | by (Vietnam) – See all my reviews

This has been my favourite movie since I first saw it in the late 1980s, and I have viewed it probably once a year since that time. My videotape copy was fading and failing, so I was lucky to replace it recently with the Japanese DVD version.

When you compare it to other films made in 1979, it is amazing how little it has "aged". Of course, it is an historical drama, with a "timeless" setting. And yet the cinematography is so assuredly wonderful that the movie is almost as if set in amber.

Many have commented on the score, and it is a pity that this is no longer in issue. Still, there seem to be enough people like myself who are fans of this film, perhaps there is enough of an interest?

While the A and E version was an above-average production, I think Polanski's beats it on almost any characteristic. Polanski's film is a series of tableaux, very few of which do not work well. (One that I find a little bit stupid is the scene where Tess sleeps out in the forest and the deer comes to visit her. Gimme a break!). There are many scenes which, if left in still, look like 19th century portraiture, a la Mary Cassatt or Edgar Degas. The scene where the pedlar comes across Tess at the Crescent Hand! This guy has just stepped out of another century. This is a stunningly visual movie, and perhaps the reason it is so easy to watch time and time again. The dialogue, too, full of the cadences of West Country speech (still there, but disappearing) are an evocation of a lost age. These are hinted at in the scenes showing the modernization of England (the train bringing the milk to market, the threshing machine) which is changing their lives. Tess, and her aristocratic background, are an anachronism, particularly compared with the worldly (and successful) Stokes.

I enjoy the rhythm of the movie, which is rural and slow. Time is marked in slow and languid drips, such as we see with the milk at the dairy farm, and finally with the blood at the boarding house. This is classic story-telling, replete with foreshadowing (particularly Tess' temper and pride). What I enjoyed most is the symmetry of the story-telling, which make it more myth-like, particularly the juxtaposition of the two opening and closing scenes (the dancing of the village girls at sunset, and Stonehenge--which legend has as a circle of giants dancing and frozen by Merlin--at daybreak). Other examples are Alec Durberville's "saving" Tess from a fight with her "rival" and Angel choosing Tess over her rivals on the flooded road.

As you can see, Tess is a movie that replays itself in my mind. Polanski's effort reflects on what I think is one of the greatest 19th century English novels (in my mind, rivaled only by "Middlemarch"), and is a great springboard to further consideration of art and life.

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