Roman Polanski's delicate, visually rich adaptation of Thomas Hardy's classic novel places the supremely photogenic Nastassja Kinski in the title role. Peasant girl Tess Durbeyfield is sent to the estate of the wealthy d'Urbervilles by her desperate father after he learns that the two
families are distantly related. It turns out, however, that the d'Urbervilles are not the d'Urbervilles after all, but a family that bought the noble line's name. Alec d'Urberville (Leigh Lawson), the cocky young master of the household, takes Tess as his lover, but later she returns home,
disillusioned and pregnant. After the death of her baby, Tess is left to work on a dairy farm, where she falls in love with Angel Clare (Peter Firth). Their romance leads to a marriage that ends abruptly on their wedding night when her outraged husband refuses to accept her past. With nowhere else
to go, Tess returns to Alec, a decision that leads to a violent end.
Visually, TESS is a masterpiece, capturing in amazing detail the scenery and atmosphere of the England of yore. The film's chief drawback, however, is its lack of vitality. Instead of Hardy's passionate tale of ruin and disenchantment, TESS is cautious and reserved.
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