At a country fair, young hay-trusser Michael Henchard quarrels with his wife Susan, and in a drunken fit decides to auction off his wife and baby to a sailor for five guineas. The next day,...
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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, ... See full summary »
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At a country fair, young hay-trusser Michael Henchard quarrels with his wife Susan, and in a drunken fit decides to auction off his wife and baby to a sailor for five guineas. The next day, realizing his loss, he swears not to touch liquor again for as many years as he has lived so far. Eighteen years later, Henchard has become Mayor of Casterbridge, a man well respected but not well liked. The unexpected return of his wife and daughter Elizabeth Jane sets off a turn of events that force him to face the consequences of his selfish impulses and violent temper. Written by
Perhaps the task of bringing a Thomas Hardy novel to the screen is far too daunting for there to ever be great success. While "The Mayor of Casterbridge" is much less faulty than the popularized, stinkbomb screen version of "Jude", it still isn't a very good film.
I say this as a tremendous fan of the book. "Jude the Obscure" has many elements that make it more attractive to the adolescent reader: namely angst, angst, and more angst. But "The Mayor of Casterbridge" is simply a great novel. The characters are well-realized, the story involved, and there is even a moral to be learned. However, in converting the story to a screenplay, most of the power of the novel is lost.
The most obvious problem is the look of the movie. It is entirely off. Everyone is wearing shiny new clothes, the tents at the fair are brilliant white. People were just really dirty back then. None of this is conveyed in the film - everything looks like a set. I understand they were working with a small budget, but dirt is free.
If one looks at the production as a filmed play, the lack of credible atmosphere can be forgiven. But then there are the chainsaw-quality cuts to the story. Why does Henchard like Farfrae? We see a small scene where it is hinted that Farfrae saves his wheat. But this is no reason for them to become fast friends. Why does Henchard become embittered by Farfrae? In the book there are several instances where Farfrae seems to upstage Henchard. The movie shows only one, and a rather weak one at that. Suddenly Henchard wants to destroy Farfrae, and the character change doesn't seem reasonable.
Many of the scenes are drained of their power by the lackluster and low-quality direction and editing. The camera is mostly static, giving the story little power. I don't need MTV cuts but there is something to be said for moving the camera occasionally. There is no concept of time passing. Even a simple trick like showing a title card that says "one year later" could have helped this. Instead it's all piled together, with all the actors obviously the same age, and great leaps made in the story and relationships.
But most crippling is the way the editor does not allow many powerful scenes to play out. For example, when Henchard has died and his will is being read (in a classy voiceover), after the final word the scene just cuts to black. No slow fade, no pan to the sky, no swell of music. It's just over.
Perhaps this is the result of a longer movie being cut down to fit into a TV timeslot. But I doubt that, because the movie was originally made for television.
While it is certainly not the worst way to spend one's time, much greater satisfaction can be had by reading the book. It is a much better story through that medium.
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