Runstedler’s DVD Pick of the Month: Tess of the D’Urbervilles (2008)

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The enchanting Gemma Arterton stars as Tess in the excellent 2008 BBC adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s masterpiece Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which is near perfect. Arterton is amazing as Tess: immensely talented, resilient, free spirited, ethereal, gorgeous, and the very image of Tess in my mind. The film is about a young woman named Tess who discovers that her family has noble roots, and the sorrow and misfortune that (quite literally) befall her along the way. Eddie Redmayne was also good as Angel Clare, appearing so innocently yet such a despicable character. Strangely enough, I actually hated  him more than Alec D’Urberville (which is shocking considering Alec is basically a serial rapist!) – perhaps it was the fate that Tess pours her heart and all her trust into him and he throws it all away and leaves her to the night. Of course, he feels sorry about it afterwards, but too late. It was really interesting that they decided to portray Alec in a somewhat more sympathetic light (of course, his actions cannot under any circumstances be forgiven and he’s an evil bastard), giving some background as to why he’s as much of a mess as he is. I really enjoyed the chemistry between the actors – reactive, bonding, and at times explosive, but always engaging, always interesting. I just wish she could be truly happy!

The cinematography and pacing were excellent, and the rich pastoral imagery (or what Stephen Regan calls the ‘darkening pastoral’) and the rustic setting (I loved all the harvesting closeups and the pagan dancing) really compliment the idea of Tess as an Earth goddess, one who should have been loved and respected and worshipped, but instead suffers to no end, but perhaps that is the great tragedy that is Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I think my one minor complaint with the film was that Alec’s death and the ending of the film seemed a bit rushed (maybe the network only limited them to four episodes), considering it’s a four hour adaptation of a 500+ page novel, it’s certainly a faithful and compelling one. I love Tess, certainly Thomas Hardy’s greatest character alongside Bathsheba Everdene and Gabriel. I would have loved to have seen her flourish and feel fulfilled, but perhaps she was born at the wrong time, and perhaps that is the great tragedy that is Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I wish I could go back and push Alec off a horse or something! It was such an incredible experience – great BBC viewing (and the DVD is relatively inexpensive) and wonderful production values, and plus Gemma is such a babe. It’s right up there with Vinterberg’s superb Far from the Madding Crowd as far as I’m concerned.

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