After mishandling the story's set-up, director David Thacker steers Ted Whitehead's adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel to a satisfyingly cathartic end. Abusive and alcoholic, unemployed farmhand Michael Henchard (Ciaran Hinds) mistreats his devoted wife, Susan (Juliet Aubrey), and then drunkenly auctions her off, with their infant daughter, to the highest bidder at a county fair. The next morning, a hung-over Henchard regrets his folly and vows to God to avoid liquor. The buyer, seafarer Richard Newson (Clive Russell), turns out to be a fine man, but after 19 years of marital bliss he disappears at sea. Hoping to improve the future prospects of her daughter, Elizabeth Jane (Johdi May), Susan seeks out her first husband, who in the intervening years has become a pillar of the small-town Casterbridge community. Fate has handed
Hay-merchant Henchard a number of lucky breaks, including the diligent services of his farm manager, Scotsman Donald Farfrae (James Purefoy). Susan's reappearance gives Henchard the opportunity to make amends; he devises a cover story that allows him to court and remarry her, giving Elizabeth Jane his name. But Susan's presence seems to bring about a reversal of Henchard's fortunes: He breaks off his engagement to socially connected Lucetta (Polly Walker), earning her enmity, and spitefully turns on the loyal Farfrae, attempting to ruin him. The effort backfires. Susan, meanwhile, has withheld the information that Elizabeth Jane is actually her daughter by Newson; Henchard’s daughter died in infancy. On her deathbed, Susan reveals the truth about Elizabeth Jane; Lucetta spurns widowed Henchard and weds Farfrae. When Newson unexpectedly returns, Henchard faces a final reckoning with his pride and jealousy. This pedigreed production builds incrementally to a powerful examination of the ways in which tragedy can lie in wait, smoldering beneath a air of propriety. Once the actors settle into their roles, they sensitively evoke the remorse and regeneration that are mainstays of Hardy's fiction.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: NR
- Review: After mishandling the story's set-up, director David Thacker steers Ted Whitehead's adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel to a satisfyingly cathartic end. Abusive and alcoholic, unemployed farmhand Michael Henchard (Ciaran Hinds) mistreats his devoted… (more)