"But we're trying something new today," I said adamantly. So I introduced her to Tess of the D'Urbervilles.
"Why Tess of the D'Urbervilles?"You might ask. I have such a love/hate relationship with the novel. I've always hated the hypocrisy and injustice Tess receives from the world and sometimes I have even despised Tess. Yet, the book is such an exceptional piece of literature that I could never hate it fully. Now all of a sudden I love it. Perhaps this has something to do with my newfound love of feminism and literature that handles social injustice. More than anything, I believe it speaks to my maturation as a reader and lit lover. Lately, I've been doing more than just "reading." I have been analyzing, thinking, and really immersing myself in the diction, syntax, plot, figurative language, and voice of every book. Somewhere in the midst of all this, I've realized that I've lost some of the fanaticism I felt towards certain books and gained a newfound and deep appreciation for others. Jane Eyre and North and South will always have cherished places in my heart, but Tess of the D'Urbervilles is beautiful in a way that I haven't witnessed in a novel.
Anyway, of course it comes with two adaptations that I have watched multiple times. The 2008 just so happens to be my favorite. So here we go...
Gemma Arterton was near perfection. Her fresh, natural, and yet pensive beauty is perfect for the character. Hardy on multiple occasions describes (and has others do the same) Tess as the physical embodiment of feminine beauty and exalts the perfection of her imperfections. More than anything, the character is depicted as balancing the elements of youth and innocence with the more refined attributes of womanhood. Arterton has all of these qualities. This would be nothing, however, if she didn't also inhabit the role and play it as it should be played. Beyond being a hard character to cast externally, Tess is perhaps one of the most difficult protagonists to capture in terms of spirit, personality, and progression. Whoever does it has to be convincing, or else the film or miniseries would be ruined. On one hand, the audience admires test for being so resilient and dignified despite her experience, yet there is an obvious sense of frailty in her that contradicts her strength and makes it hard to comprehend. Arterton gets it, though. I can't think of anything she does wrong. The fact that she nails the character while also keeping the audience engaged is a major feat that I do not take lightly. Superb performance.
I hate Alec D'Urberville so saying that someone plays him well is almost an insult. But Hans Matheson does do a very good job with the character. Of course, all the audience wants to do is despise him, but there are clear moments of (almost) tenderness in the midst. My only problem is that everyone knows he is up to no good from the very beginning. I wish he would have put more effort into his ambiguity for Arterton's sake. Tess admits several times that she was dazed by Alec's charm and mysterious appeal when she first met him, and I don't feel as if that translates as well as it should. Otherwise, Matheson is great at playing the man closest to the devil.
I'll be the first to say that I adore Eddie Redmayne as an actor. As Angel, however, there is something a bit lacking, and I'm not sure whether the fault belongs to him or the screenwriter. My major qualm with Angel in this adaptation is that the audience doesn't see nearly enough of his intellect. Angel is supposed to be a man of modern ideas and revolutionary, "new age" philosophies. This is absolutely essential to the character because of the clear irony it presents in the novel. That irony is not as evident in this miniseries. Most of this is probably due to the fact that this miniseries seems geared towards a younger audience and thus Hardy's philosophies would be hard to work in, but the lack of it detracts from Tess and Angel's relationship. On the other hand, maybe this is just me being critical because I hate Angel's character as well. Oh well. Redmayne is swoon-worthy enough, and he seems to fit perfectly into the time period. Well done. Not spectacular, but good.
Screenplay: Very well executed. Of course, as I mentioned before, it doesn't do as good of a job capturing Hardy's specific attention to social commentary, philosophy, etc., but there is plenty of that in the first adaptation and more than enough to suffice in the novel itself. Also, can I really be angry? Not everything can make it into an adaptation. The plot is mirrored almost perfectly, the dialogue is translated well. I am impressed. One thing I do love and must comment on (**SPOILER ALERT**) is the extra flavor added to the end. When Tess walks to her death and images of the dance she and Angel might have shared are interspersed with the sorrow of the present, the emotion is intense. It moves me to tears every time. I am so glad the screenwriter added this because it emphasizes the "what if" question that plagues the characters and the audience throughout the novel. It is also beautifully carried out and appeals to romantic saps like me. (**END SPOILER ALERT**).
Cinematography: Better than that of any other BBC miniseries. Not saying that it is amazing, because it's not. After all, it's just a miniseries. But it pays particular attention to Tess's surroundings in the same way Thomas Hardy does in the novel.
Soundtrack: Minimalist, but beautiful. I would buy it if I knew where to get it. There are two songs in particular that flow in and out of the miniseries. One is the song the dairymaids sing and the other is a raw violin instrumental that fits perfectly with the story.
Costumes: Eh. Nothing special. But then again, they're not really supposed to be. I'm no expert on the time period either, so I can't vouch for historical accuracy. I know that the novel is set in the late Victorian period, but because most of the film takes place in low-income country society, I would think that the local attire was more simplistic and less confined to a time period.
This miniseries is a great adaptation of a great novel. I would definitely recommend it as well as the earlier one. Both are very good. As lit lovers, I'm sure that you guys will watch both. I might review the other one soon, but I can't be sure. Gemma Arterton carries the 2008 on her back and she does it well. She really takes on the persona of Tess Durbeyfield and that is what makes this adaptation worth watching.