Tess of the d'Urbervilles (2008)
Ten years have passed since the BBC last produced Tess of the dUrbervilles
, then starring Justine Waddell, and this new four-episode miniseries based on Thomas Hardys Victorian novel does well, again, by sticking closely to the original plot. Gemma Arterton this time brilliantly portrays Tess Durbeyfield, a character whose blend of naiveté and sexual allure makes her a guy magnet. Artertons long, dark hair and fair skin alone are the model of Gothic beauty, and her acting imbues Tess with the sweetness that helps maintain viewer sympathies as Tess embarks on a road of endless hardship. As the story is chock full of heated drama, each hourlong installment shows how Tess endures drastic emotional and social life change, leaving one feeling both exhausted for her and craving to witness more of her strength. As far as literary characters go, Tess warns young women to the wild ways of men and inspires all to strive for honesty. The morality implicit to the story is made apparent in this BBC version, and leaves the viewer questioning the effectiveness of Tesss stringent moral sense, especially by todays different sexual standards. Tess, in 2008, seems permanently punished for something that not only was not her fault, but also that may be unfortunately more common than perhaps it once was, namely teenage pregnancy. Episode One launches directly into Tesss early meeting of her true love, the seemingly heroic Angel Clare (Eddie Redmayne). But her familys poverty trumps the crush; once her robust parents John Durbeyfield (Ian Puleston-Davies) and Joan Durbeyfield (Ruth Jones) discover their hereditary ties to the royal dUrbervilles, they send Tess off to a mansion to inquire for work. It is there that she encounters the villainous predator, Alec dUrberville (Hans Matheson), and the tensions between a story about an upwardly mobile lady and a lady doomed by fate begins to take hold. The loss of Tess child and Tess inability to gain respect following her un-Christian motherhood comprise the next two episodes story. In these, we witness women bonding against a society of men who judge Tess too harshly. There are her loving sisters, like Liza-Lu (Jo Woodcock), and the girlfriends who support her through her milkmaid career and worse. As Tess, however, reunites with Angel and agrees to marry him, tragedy is foreshadowed by her dearest friend, Retty Priddle (Emily Beecham), who withers from jealousy. The closer Tess comes to happiness, the more those around her suffer. Once Tess experiences an ultimate shunning, without giving away too much, dire circumstances prevail.
Episode Four reminds the viewer of the destructive aspects of Tess aggressors, Alec and Groby (Christopher Fairbank), her employer who works her like a horse. By the time forgiveness arrives for Tess, it is too late. This version of the story explores less its sexual connotations, as does Roman Polanskis Tess, relying more heavily on the scales shifting hour to hour from fortune to failure and back. The whole viewing is a roller coaster ride, well-worth every moment to be reminded of the ways this classic tale lives on in its application to contemporary life. --Trinie Dalton