Thomas Hardy on Film

Today is a gray day, perfect for lounging on the couch with my cat and reading. Instead I felt like embarking on a project, which you can read about on my other blog shortly. Couldn’t start it yet, and was feeling in a funk about it, so I thought I would bake a butternut squash pound cake (altering this recipe). I had the flour measured before I realized the cake called for four eggs and I only had two.

So I decided on the other foolproof method for dealing with moodiness: snacking my way out of it.

Brown Rice Tea -- not actually poured at a 90-degree angle.

Brown Rice Tea -- not actually poured at a 90-degree angle.

Goat Cheese, Borage Honey and Walnut Tartine

Goat Cheese, Borage Honey and Walnut Tartine on homemade rosemary bread

That done, I sat down and decided to blog about the Thomas Hardy literary adaptations I’d seen recently. One on a book I’d read, and one I hadn’t. Hardy’s novels are notable for the amount of drama and conflict they manage to squeeze into one book. Just when you think there couldn’t possibly be another twist on the road to the ending…there it comes.

Tess of the D'Urbervilles, 2008 BBC AdaptationFirst was Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I saw the most recent BBC adaptation of this in early January (clip here) and was transfixed. I had forgotten how Hardy does melodrama right, and the adaptation was wonderful — and it turns out, pretty faithful to the book. As I said to a friend shortly after watching it, I was expecting the typical Victorian meek and virtuous death from consumption, but that wasn’t what happened at all. Tess is not passive; she struggles against the bad lot fate has cast her, and though the ending isn’t exactly happy, she still controls it. Hardy does not portray society’s poor treatment of her as right, or as something that’s justified because she behaved in a not-quite proper manner. (part two clip here)

The cast is truly wonderful. Tess, played by Gemma Atherton, was beautiful. I thought I hadn’t seen her before but she was in the last Bond film (looked completely different in it). Angel is adorable in a geeky way. And I was happy to see Jodie Whitaker from Venus as Izzy; I was impressed by her performance in that movie and she was good here, too. She also reminds me a lot of Julie Christie.

Love how this film was marketed back in 1967.

Love how this film was marketed like a bodice-ripper...which it kind of is.

Then last Friday I watched a film adaptation of a Hardy novel I’d actually read, Far From the Madding Crowd. Another excellent melodrama, with a strong, intelligent but imperfect (vain, headstrong) female heroine, the beautiful Bathsheba Everdene. Took me a minute to get over the fact that they’d cast ashy blond Julie Christie as the black-haired Bathsheba, but Christie grew on me quickly. And the movie, though almost 3 hours long, was compelling, with a beautiful score. The famous swordplay scene must have been directed by my college professor because Hardy’s text is interpreted exactly the way she read it to the class. (“If you’re afraid, I can’t perform.” Woo hoo!) Doubtless Hardy’s intention — can you really read it any other way?

Interspersed with all the melodrama (missing, possibly dead husbands! Obsessed suitors! Fallen women! Carousing! Barn dances!) were some trademark Hardy scenes evoking the very real difficulties of rural farm life in those days. Gabriel, Bathsheba’s most loyal suitor, loses his entire flock after a rogue border collie drives them off a cliff (crazy awesome scene). Afterwards, he goes to town to seek work on the market day, and is coldly assessed by the local gentry along with the other men in the working class. It’s especially heartbreaking when two wealthy men talk about an old man like he’s not even there, and then dismiss the idea of hiring him.

My only disappointment with this film was that it focused on the love pentagon (oh yes, there is a fifth person/second woman involved) so much that you never really saw Bathsheba’s attitude toward Gabriel changing, and the end seems quite sudden. But it was a bit like that in the novel, too.

Two of Bathsheba's three suitors.

Two of Bathsheba's three suitors. Any guesses who she picks? And did 1880s military men really wear superhero costumes?

Both of these adaptations are faithful to the novels that inspired them, and both make Hardy seem so relevant to today. Maybe that’s the true mark of a classic…it never becomes outdated (the same cannot be said for the costumes in Crowd — how can it be that historically accurate costuming seems so 60s? This is a problem with many of the older period dramas I see. Maybe it’s the hairstyles? Will Tess look as dated 40 years from now?). Anyone seen these adaptations or read the books?

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One response to “Thomas Hardy on Film

  1. :Cough, cough: Where’d you go?