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ANOTHER POLISHED BBC PERIOD PIECE...
on 24 November 2002
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.