In late 1800s England, Jude plans to go to the city and attend university but marries early and becomes a stonemason. When his wife leaves, he moves to the city, where he befriends his liberal cousin Sue.
Late 19th century England; Jude, an intelligent but unworldly stonemason, looks to escape rural poverty by gaining a university education. Toward this goal, when his wife Arabella leaves him, he moves to Christminster where he meets and falls recklessly in love with Sue, his beautiful and intelligent cousin. Though the two realize their destinies are intertwined, when he reveals his previous marriage, she is deeply hurt and in a perverse act of retaliation, marries another man. Broke and denied entrance to the university, he returns to his hometown. Some time later, at the funeral for their common aunt, Sue reveals to Jude that she's desperately unhappy. Soon an illicit romance begins between them until Sue's husband steps aside finally allowing Jude and Sue to be together openly. The two have children and live together as an unmarried couple. Though they must endure social and financial hardship, the two finally find happiness together, until tragedy strikes.Written by
This pessimistic and rather brutal cinematic production is based on the nineteenth century novel Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. A bowdlerized and altered version of that novel first appeared in Harper's New Monthly Magazine as a serial beginning in December 1894. Its original title was 'The Simpletons,' a title modern viewers of this movie might find appropriate considering how Jude and Sue round out their lives.
It need hardly be said that any motion picture, and certainly not one running only about two hours, can hope to do justice to Hardy's novel (his last, incidentally) which is about 180,000 words long (about 400 pages of dense text). An earlier TV mini series version made by the BBC that I have not seen, Jude the Obscure (1971), ran for almost four and a half hours in six episodes. But this is a pretty good movie anyway, highlighted by an enthralling performance by Kate Winslet.
The movie starts rather slowly, if picturesquely, until Kate appears and then the movie comes to life. I have seen Winslet in several films, including her first feature film when she was18-years-old, Heavenly Creatures (1994), an interesting film made in New Zealand based on a sensational matricide from the 1950s. She was very good in that film, her budding talent immediately obvious as the spinning, laughing, crazy teen who went off the deep end emotionally. In Jude, Winslet's sharp, confident and commanding style is given greater range and she comes across with a performance that is full of life, effervescent, delightful, witty, sly, clever, and very expressive, and she looks beautiful doing it.
The story itself, a naturalistic tragedy that in some respects anticipates Theodore Dreiser, et al., was considered immoral in its time. 'The Bishop of Wakefield, disgusted with the novel's insolence and indecency, threw it in the fire,' according to Terry Eagleton who wrote the Introduction for the New Wessex Edition of the book. Modern film goers will hardly notice the implied critique of marriage that offended Victorian readers, but they might find the scene where Arabella throws the pig's 'part' at Jude indelicate. Victorian readers found that scene most offensive. As a public service I want to warn any modern viewer who might be offended at seeing Kate Winslet naked to avoid this film. (Just Joking: Kate is quite fetching in the Rubenesque shot.) To be honest, though, this really is a tragedy that still has the power to offend some sensibilities. Certainly you don't want the kids to see it.
Christopher Eccleston plays Jude and does a good job, and Rachel Griffiths in a modest part plays Jude's first wife Arabella. Director Michael Winterbottom stayed spiritually true to Hardy's dark vision while tailoring the tale for modern audiences. There's a nice period piece feel and some charming cinematography. The denouement is well set up and so realistically done that we don't know whether to be horrified or outraged. I think I was both.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
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