Monday, August 23, 2010


If you've recently read Thomas Hardy's classic tragedy, "Tess of the D'Urbervilles", watching the movie will be very much like reading the book over again. The 1979 Roman Polanski film follows the book nearly word for word, except for the very end. The book, like all Hardy's fiction, not only explores the complicated and tortured relationships between men and women in the Victorian age, but also preserves forever a picture of life in bucolic rural England in the nineteenth century that was swiftly disappearing even as he described it. And while the scenery of south England is gorgeous, the day to day existence of those on the bottom rungs of society was drab, dirty, tiresome and mundane. In this era, steam was beginning to provide the motive force in transportation and agriculture but it still required many hands and hooves to bring in the crop. The daughter of uneducated and unskilled parents, Tess is forced to leave home in her youth to earn her keep first as a chicken herder and later as a milkmaid. Her continuing encounters with two men are the focus of the novel. As compelling as it is, there's a problem with the story both in its literary and cinematic form. What is it that makes Tess, an introverted, taciturn, moody girl, so attractive to men? Even played by the captivating Natassia Kinsky, the natural reserve of Tess and her response to male advances doesn't seem to make her the most believable object for male conquest. There's a similar situation in the recently popular TV series, "Deadwood". The vicious, amoral saloon keeper, Al Swearingen, is hardly the type to actually be successful in a kind of business that requires at least an imitation of bon homie and likeability. As the narrative continues Tess becomes less and less able to successfully adapt to her tragic circumstances. Ultimately, our sympathy for her is tempered by the realization that our heroine is just as flawed as the two men in her life. Pro bullriding score-78.

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