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In the late 19th century, Tess Durbeyfield is sent off to visit a rich cousin, Alec D'Urberville, when her parents learn that they are distantly related. Tess takes a disliking to the man and his attempts at seduction are rebuffed. Returning from a village party he forces himself on the innocent girl who eventually makes her way back to her parents' home. Ashamed and pregnant she seems destined to forever being marked a certain kind of woman. After the death of her child, she makes her way to a prosperous farm where, working as a milkmaid, she meets and eventually marries the handsome Angel Clare. On learning of her past however, he abandons her and with little choice and facing a life of extreme hardship, again falls into Alec's clutches and becomes a kept woman. Written by
There are two musical anachronisms. First, Angel plays an autoharp which was not invented until the 1880s in Germany, and would not have been an English folk instrument at the time of TESS. Secondly, the congregation is heard singing "How Great Thou Art," which was written in Swedish in 1885, but was not commonly known in English until Stuart Hine's translation (circa 1950). See more »
I only recently watched this when it was on TV, but have been familiar with the book for years. I was entertained enough to watch all four episodes so that's a good start.
This production has many good points, the leading among them Gemma Arterton. She is fresh, intelligent and passionate and brings just the right touch of melancholy and spiritedness to Tess. She has the right type of natural beauty so that visually she complements the emotional qualities of her portrayal quite perfectly.
In fact, most of the leading characters were well played. I especially enjoyed Hans Mathieson's Alec, the villain with heart but a twisted core.
The photographic qualities of the film are fabulous, a real luxury; but not at the expense of the story. The trials and upheavals of Tess' life are faithfully and movingly shown. I think the story works very well, about 95% of the time, as a particular tale about particular people. This is what I enjoyed about it, but Hardy's novel does more than just tell a particular tale.
For the most part, the archetypal aspects of the leads (Tess, Angel & Alec) are insufficiently hinted at. For example, I don't think it's made clear enough that Angel loves Tess because she represents an ideal of feminine purity to him - in the book he calls her things like daughter of nature and Demeter, and this is unsatisfyingly absent here. Alec's more general role as the stronger force that distorts others' lives for the sake of personal convenience or transient pleasure could also have been more thoroughly explored (but his particular villainy and perverted love are artfully and powerfully portrayed). Angel, too, is more than just a man- he stands for the middle class with uncompromising values, no compassion and unjust double standards, which lead him to see Tess' misfortune as a greater crime than his voluntary "moral holiday" in London. Tess herself is perhaps better depicted as a representation of womanhood in her time - acute and sensitive, intelligent and hard-working, yet at the mercy of forces greater than her, and made to pay for 'sins' that she is not responsible for.
Despite the above, I don't think this is a huge omission; a novel and a mini-series are two different mediums, and if the makers thought they couldn't fit all of this into their production it was as well to leave it out altogether. So overall, still worth watching.
However I also have a gripe about the last episode, where I think the writer/s really dropped the ball. After a lengthy absence in which he sends no word, Angel suddenly reappears and has done a complete about-face with respect to his feelings about Tess. What changes his mind? What happened while he was gone? This seriously undermines the credibility of everything that happens from the moment of his return, because no reason is given for his radical change of heart. I feel that the story, character development and momentum hold up very well until Angel's return- and then drop off. This is a real shame - but while disappointing it doesn't ruin the rest of the production. Nevertheless, I wouldn't go out of my way to see it again.
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