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4.0 out of 5 stars
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall [DVD] [1996]
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71 of 72 people found the following review helpful
While not wholly faithful to Anne Bronte's novel of the same name, this BBC adaptation has much to commend it. Excellent cinematography, as well as strong performances by the entire cast, makes this a must see production for all lovers of period pieces.
An intriguing widow of mystery, Helen Graham (Tara Fitzgerald), moves into a crumbling residence known as Wildfell Hall. There, she sets up house with her very young son. Plain spoken, independent, and seeming to lack charm, she rebuffs the initial, friendly overtures of the local townsfolk and manages to alienate most of them. Gilbert Markham (Toby Stephens), a young and handsome yeoman farmer, is not put off by her manner, however, and being smitten by her sets off in hot pursuit, hoping to gain her affections. Soon, however, the townsfolk begin gossiping about her supposed assignations with a wealthy, local gentleman, Mr. Lawrence (James Purefoy), the owner of Wildfell Hall. There comes a point where even the steadfast Mr. Markham wavers in his belief in her. It is then that Mrs. Graham tells him the true nature of her relationship with Mr. Lawrence and reveals her dark past.
Rupert Graves steals the show as Arthur Huntingdon, the charming rake who captures and seduces Helen's young, romantic heart. Once married to her, however, he reveals himself to be a brutish, dissolute, and depraved philanderer, who causes her to flee their home with their young son. The role of Huntingdon is, undoubtedly, the juiciest. The film uses the narrative contrivance of flashbacks in order to explain the events that led Helen to take the extraordinary measures that she did. It tells the viewer of the sad story that brought Helen and her son to this sorry pass. Ultimately, Helen takes the high road, when an event occurs that causes her past to collide with her present. In that decision, however, lies the key to her future.
Toby Stephens is wonderful as the yeoman farmer, whose tender heart is captured by the beautiful Helen. Tara Fitsgerald, while indeed beautiful, plays the role of Helen a tad too harshly, which, while serving to alenate the townsfolk, serves also to alienate the viewer somewhat. Even though the flashbacks serve to explain her present manner, and the viewer sees her in happier days, Helen is still not as simpatico a character as she could or should be. Still, this is a handsome, though somewhat dark and somber production that those who love period pieces will appreciate and enjoy.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on 3 October 2001
Having fallen under the charm of Toby Stephens during a visit to Stratford where his performance as Coriolanus was breathtaking (I cried for that poor Roman soldier and the injustice of it all!) I was very curious to see this movie when I saw he was in the cast. And I have not been disappointed. The music, the lights, the unbelievable settings, the costumes and the acting were perfect. Huntington was very believable and despicable. As for Toby Stephens, he made a very intense and sexy gentleman farmer. I was NOT disappointed. The only thing I felt a bit sorry about was that somehow I did not really like Tara Fitzgerald (although I liked her deep voice very much and thought it gave strength to her character) and had trouble feeling sorry for her... It is a brilliant adaptation of the work of Anne Bronte and a very entertaining romantic movie. I had prepared myself a nice pot of tea to drink watching it but the whole thing was so gripping, I completely forgot about it! That is a good sign isn't it?:o)
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 26 June 2001
An excellent cast ensures that this adaption of this Bronte novel captures the right tone to tell a rather dark story. It is NOT Austen & you will be disappointed if you have seen Pride & Prejudice & expect more of the same! This story of a woman hiding from her past is tautly told, especially the first third when the audience is kept at bay with only a few mysterious flashbacks to hint at why Helen is so withdrawn and hostile. Once the floodgates are opened though a lush and evocatively shot story is told of love, hope, patience, pity and eventual forgiveness. I loved this mini-series. Rupert Graves particularly impressed me as Helen's husband with his erratic mood swings, and disturbing charm, as did the score - if only it was available on disc!
A beautifully told story particularly suited for dark Winter days.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
SAFE READING - NO SPOILERS

For those who like costume dramas, the BBC does them best and, for those who enjoyed the Jane Austen's, e.g. "Pride and Prejudice" with Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth and Colin Firth as Mr Darcy, and want more of the same, this may disappoint although the costumes, settings, drama and cinematography are equally good, While Austen lived in rural Hampshire and wrote of the well-to-do, refined (generally) Winchester/Bath set, Anne Bronte lived in isolated Yorkshire and wrote of a different set with a darker edge but whose lives were no less enthralling.

Though not entirely true to Anne Bronte's 1848 novel'S original vision, this mini-series and DVD are an excellent adaptation by director Mike Barker, his team of screen writers, David Nokes and Janet Barron, and actors Toby Stephens, Tara Fitzgerald, Rupert Graves, Sarah Badel and Jackson Leach.

Tara Fitzgerald as Helen is excellent, portraying the aloof, enigmatic stranger who moves into this grand hall with her younger man. Writing more would reveal too much.

Jane Austen it is not but Bronte's world is equally compelling.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
In the 1800s, an abused woman didn't have a lot of options. She couldn't get a divorce, all her property and her children belonged to her husband, and society turned a blind eye unless she actually got murdered.

And this haunting idea is at the heart of "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall," a miniseries that brings to life Anne Bronte's classic novel. Pastoral beauty and simple village life are stained by the flashbacks to grotesque physical and mental abuse, and the story rests on an excellent trio of performances by Toby Stephens, Tara Fitzgerald and Rupert Graves.

A mysterious woman and her young son move into the remote Wildfell Hall, without telling anyone of their arrival. Though the villagers are initially curious and welcoming, they eventually become hostile to Mrs. Helen Graham (Fitzgerald) because she doesn't act like a proper Victorian lady -- she's prickly, blunt, reclusive and opinionated, and seems incredibly protective of her young son Arthur. Furthermore, they suspect that she's having an affair with her landlord Mr. Lawrence (James Purefoy).

Yeoman farmer Gilbert Markham (Stephens) is immediately attracted to Helen, and manages to get under her armor enough to strike up an odd little friendship with her. But his ex-girlfriend Eliza spreads noxious rumors about Helen and Mr. Lawrence, and Gilbert becomes jealous.

After he knocks Lawrence off his horse, an angered Helen gives him her diaries -- which reveal the horrifying, abusive marriage that she escaped from. As a naive young girl, she married the dashing rake Arthur Huntingdon (Graves), but soon learned that he was an abusive drunk who wanted her just for sex, and eventually loathed her for disapproving of his ways. Though Helen has escaped him, he's determined to get her and his son back...

Anne Bronte's "A Tenant of Wildfell Hall" was an incredibly controversial novel in its time, and the miniseries more than does it justice. In fact, at times it ramps up the horror of Helen's grotesque marriage, such as when Arthur nearly rapes her while she is pregnant, or when she is forced to listen to her husband having sex with his longtime mistress.

It's a stark contrast to the pastoral, weathered prettiness of the village; while Grassdale Manor is full of flickering firelight, rich colours and luxurious cloth, the countryside is full of mossy stones, grey skies and rolling grassy hills. Despite all the gossip, the countryside is a cleansing, purifying force.

The entire first episode is devoted to stoking the mystery of who Helen is and why she's here, without giving any answers -- although there are plenty of hints (the spinning bird, her reaction to a Punch and Judy show). Once she gives her diaries to Gilbert, the backstory unfolds like a poisonous flower blooming, even as Gilbert goes to Grassdale to make a last impassioned plea to Helen.

The cast in this miniseries is simply superb -- Stephens as a clear-eyed young farmer whose honesty and kindness attract Helen despite her bad experiences, and Fitzgerald as a fierce young woman who is determined to protect her son. They have a subtle, powerful chemistry in every scene they're in together, and you end up wanting nothing more than for them to end up together.

On the other hand, Graves plays a monstrously sadistic man who draws in a young girl with his charm, then sprays her with hatred when she doesn't magically change to become just as depraved as he. Perhaps he's most hatable in two scenes -- when he teaches his young son to kill innocent animals, and when he grins sadistically at Gilbert after Gilbert fails to convince Helen to leave with him.

"The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" is a magnificent literary adaptation -- the acting is magnificent, the direction excellent, and the story a powerful one that still resonates today.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 6 August 2007
----spoilers---

The acting was excellent and the sets and everything except the script at the end. Did they run out of money as they reached the end? The final couple of scenes were so different to the rest of this play - so rushed and shortened it was ridiculous and I got annoyed as hero and heroine had hardly any chance to establish their happiness at long last after all that misery and separation, and give us a decent embrace before the credits came rushing up. I simply couldn't believe how badly this finale was botched. So what was up till then an excellent production suddenly became bathotic. Full marks to handsome hero Toby Stephens and plucky heroine Tara Fitzgerald trying their level best to put over what they could in a few seconds of coming together at the end but frankly, the scriptwriter or the director or the editor, whoever was responsible for this dreadfully bad last scene, should have been forced to do it again and get it right.

What an infuriatingly clever tale this is - with poor heroine feeling forced due to the customs of the time to stick by her utterly vile, demented and violent husband. A real lesson to us women to be grateful we didn't live then under those awful, restrictive rules. There are limits to what any woman should have to take from a bad husband but then it was indeed for better for worse and worse worse worse for this heroine.

Worth having for a great story and fine acting from everyone including of course Rupert Graves as the wicked husband we all love to hate.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Très jolie mini-série, d'après un roman peu connu d'Anne Brontë, avec une excellente distribution (Toby Stephens ...)un bon scenariobien adapté.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 27 July 2011
I'm a 19 year old male and my favourite films are Rocky, Rambo, Titanic, etc and I bought this after watching Jane Eyre on ITV3 about a month ago and I was blown away by that. I watched it late at night whilst I was tired and wasn't expecting much as I thought that Jane Eyre was a one hit wonder for me in terms of period dramas, it turns out it is one of the greatest productions I have ever seen, it was filmed perfect (I'm training to be a camera operator at uni) and the story was amazing (Bronte obviously gets the credit for this) You should buy this and also 'The turn of the screw' as it comes very close to beating this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 11 December 2014
The perfect gift for all historical movie buffs is THE ROMA VICTRIX WINE BEAKERCalix Imperium, Roma Victrix Pewter wine beaker
Tara Fitzgerald flees her brutal husband, Rupert Graves, and takes up residence at Wildfell Hall, claiming to be a widow. She finds romance with Toby Stephens and suspicion at the hands of the narrow minded townspeople. The three leads are terrific, the scenery is gorgeous, and the production values are high. However, this is Anne Bronte, not Jane Austen, so get ready for a much harsher view of reality. The theme still has great power today and the novel was so advanced for its time that critics were slow to realize that Anne had produced a novel with all the power of "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte, and "Wuthering Heights" by Emily. This is a BBC production from 1996 and is highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 18 February 2010
Another big BBC production. Toby Stephens in a great performance.
If you like BBC drama this is your DVD to have.
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