Though it lacks the epic sweep of Roman Polanski's 1980 version, this poignant rendering of the classic novel boasts more fully shaped performances. A chance encounter nudges Tess Durbeyfield (Justine Waddell) and her humble family down the road to ruin. A parson (Trevor Martin) remarks to Jack Durbeyfield (John McEnery) that his family has ties to the once-illustrious D'Urberville clan, so Jack stops acting like a drunken sot and puts on airs. Determined to improve his station, Jack and his wife, Joan (Lesley Dunlop), force Tess to board with middle-class relations in a nearby county. Ironically and unbeknownst to Jack, the "relatives," Mrs. D'Urberville (Rosalind Knight) and her son, Alec (Jason Flemyng), adopted the prestigious name; they're social climbers and not blood relatives at all. After the rakish Alec seduces and impregnates Tess, the embittered lass returns home. Several months later, because the church won't baptize illegitimate offspring, Tess christens her dying baby herself. Tess takes a job on a dairy farm and catches the eye of eligible Angel Clare (Oliver Milburn), a principled man who proposes marriage. Tess ignores the sound that she keep her past to herself, and confesses her sins on her wedding night. Angel flees to South America in a rush and Tess, too proud to accepts hand-outs from Angel's family, ends up a field hand. When Alec learns of her destitution, he offers her his hand in marriage. But Tess is still legally married to Angel, so she refuses and, to feed her family, instead becomes Alec's mistress. Angel returns with forgiveness in mind, but Tess can't easily escape her bargain with Alec so easily. Having convinced Tess that Angel had abandoned her and would never return, Alec now reaps her venomous scorn. In Thomas Hardy's universe, there are no second chances for happiness. Although this production is a bit sedate, Hardy's impeccable storytelling survives the muted atmosphere. Never less than engrossing, the production is executed with immaculate taste and acted with moving sensitivity.
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- Released: 1998
- Rating: NR
- Review: Though it lacks the epic sweep of Roman Polanski's 1980 version, this poignant rendering of the classic novel boasts more fully shaped performances. A chance encounter nudges Tess Durbeyfield (Justine Waddell) and her humble family down the road to ruin. A… (more)