Customer Review

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You can't get your life back, 17 April 2007
This review is from: The Mayor Of Casterbridge [2003] [DVD] (DVD)
Drunkenly auctioning off your wife and baby is reason enough to despise someone, but the "Mayor of Casterbridge" gives us plenty of other reasons to despise and pity him. The A&E adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel is an all-around solid one -- solid scripting, solid directing, solid acting from Ciarán Hinds and Jodhi May.

At a county fair, Michael Henchard (Hinds) gets drunk, and auctions his wife and baby daughter off to a kindly sailor. So he swears off booze for the next twenty-one years, and works hard to become a pillar of the community.

Nineteen years later, the sailor is lost at sea, and the wife Susan (Juliet Aubrey) and grown daughter Elizabeth Jane (Jodhi May) return to Casterbridge, and find that Michael has become the mayor and corporate head of the town. He's also incredibly sorry for what he did, and asks Susan to remarry him quietly so his crime never needs to be known. She does.

But Michael soon feels threatened by his brilliant new manager Donald Farfrae (James Purefoy), who is also falling in love with Elizabeth Jane. Michael's corporate power begins to slip, and when Susan dies he discovers a shocking fact about his daughter -- sending him into a spiral of lies, jealousy and misery.

Basically, it's all about watching someone's life go down the drain. There have been more complete adaptations of the Thomas Hardy novel, but this one is just fast-moving and tense enough to give it a feeling of urgency.

The big lesson: Henchard's life isn't wrecked because of alcohol, or even because he auctionied off his wife -- he ruins his own life with his lies, viciousness, and the ugly flaws that makes him try to control the people around him. It has some cute scenes between Purefoy and May in a rainy barn, but other than that it's a relentlessly dark movie.

The whole thing is set in a picturesque English village in a pretty green countryside. David Thacker doesn't neglect the nastier, grimier side of life, but he peppers the story with beautiful visuals (Elizabeth in the graveyard) and moments of merriment or friendship. Then they get ruined by confrontations with Henchard.

Hinds and May give the best performances here -- Hinds gives us a solid performance, as a man who tries to do the wrong thing, but is led astray by his temper. He can flip from miserable repentence to cold cruelty in a moment. And May gives a wonderfully sensitive performance as a confused young girl whose romance and job are derailed by her "father's" resentment.

"The Mayor of Casterbridge" is an all-around solid miniseries, with two really outstanding performances by May and Hinds. Melancholy and bittersweet.
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