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Archive for the ‘Thomas Hardy’ Category

As a long-time reader of Thomas Hardy, I’ve been hoping to see the acclaimed early 1970s TV mini-series Wessex Tales, which is said to be coming out on DVD, though it doesn’t seem to have been issued yet.

In the meantime, I was interested to get hold of a DVD of The Scarlet Tunic, a feature film loosely based on another of of Hardy’s great short stories, The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion – here’s a link to an etext at the Gaslight site just in case anyone wants to read the story. Emma Fielding, who was so good in Cranford over Christmas, is good here too as the heroine, Frances Groves (she’s Phyllis Groves in the story, giving her more of a traditional shepherdess-type name). Jean-Marc Barr gives a passionate performance as  the German officer who falls in love with her, Matthaus Singer (his surname is Tina in the original story). To be honest, I don’t think it is a completely successful film, because at times it tips too far over into farce or melodrama – but I still found it well worth seeing.

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After watching and reviewing the 1998 TV adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s great novel, I re-watched the famous 1967 John Schlesinger movie. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much time to blog lately and it is already about three weeks since I saw this version, so it’s starting to fade a little in my mind – but I just thought I’d write  something about some of the main points which struck me.

Julie Christie and Terence Stamp

Julie Christie and Terence Stamp

I enjoyed the 1998 mini-series very much – but, after seeing the Schlesinger movie, my feeling is that it is much the more powerful adaptation, with a greater intensity. I’m sure this  is partly because of the beautiful cinematography by Nicolas Roeg,  who later went on to direct Christie in Don’t Look Now, and partly because a cinema film (the first Hardy adaptation to make it to the big screen in 40 years) can have more of an epic, sweeping quality to it. At nearly three hours long, the film can also move at a leisurely pace at times and doesn’t have the same problem that many cinema adaptations of classic novels suffer, in terms of packing too much into a small space.

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I first became interested in Hardy when I had to study Far from the Madding Crowd for O-level back in the 1970s. It’s a book  I’ve reread many times over the years since then (and studied for other exams), and I still love it . His world view here is sunnier than in late masterpieces like Tess of the d’Urbervilles or Jude the Obscure, but starting to darken, and the title, quoted from Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard, is definitely ironic. The madding crowd is never very far away from woman farmer Bathsheba Everdene and the three men who court her.

Although the 1967  John Schlesinger movie starring Julie Christie, Terence Stamp and Alan Bates is the most famous adaptation of this novel (I have now reviewed that version too), I think the 1998 ITV mini-series is also a  fine production, and it sticks much more closely to the book. It was directed by Nicholas Renton, who also made the excellent BBC mini-series of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters a year later, and, like that production, has a rich, multi-layered feeling to it, with achingly beautiful landscapes and at times an underlying flavour of melancholy.  It’s interesting to see how similar the sleeve of the  British DVD of this production is to the sleeve of the Schlesinger version!

The sleeve of the British DVD of the ITV production

The sleeve of the DVD of the Schlesinger movie

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When this feature-length ITV drama starring Keeley Hawes and James Murray was first shown, I remember being disappointed. As a lifelong fan of Thomas Hardy, I’d just reread the novel and was struck by how different the TV version was from the original story, with many changes to the plot and characters.

However, I gave it another try when it was repeated this Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed it this time round. Maybe it was because the book wasn’t so fresh in my mind, or perhaps I was just in a better mood for it!

under_the_greenwood_tree

The sleeve of the German DVD - in Britain this film was shown by ITV rather than the BBC

 The film was made to be shown at Christmas and, like the book, has a far sunnier mood than most of Hardy – with the focus on the happier side of rural life. I’ve read comments made by Hardy himself in later life  suggesting that he had treated his chorus of villagers too lightly and too much as comic relief in this book – but I think maybe he was being a little hard on himself here. His affection for and enjoyment of the place he came from come across vividly, along with his awareness of its limitations. The film reflects this, featuring humorous conversations involving the villagers but never mocking or dismissing them.  

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