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Customer Review

53 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As good a dramatisation of any classic I have ever seen and as affecting., 7 Oct. 2008
This review is from: Tess of the D'Urbervilles [2008] [DVD] (DVD)
If you scan these reviews you will find that two of them complain that this 'Tess' is too grim and a couple of others complain that it is too 'light' and doesn't reflect the harsh social conditions strongly enough. I think you can safely assume therefore that the makers got it just about right. I certainly think so. The production values throughout are very impressive and the period when Tess works through the winter on a farm, for very low wages, in terrible conditions and cruelly treated, is well conveyed. And on the other hand there are plenty of scenes which are set against wonderful green Hardy landscapes never seen to more advantage than here, as shot with the new HD cameras.

This is the third time that Tess has been done, and all three have been quite superb. The other two were done in the usual cinema feature length form but this one has the advantage, not only of HD, but of an extra hour and more on the running time and so there is room for far more of the novel. Time and again dialogues were expanded on what one remembered and many extra scenes were inserted so that I felt continuously as though the entire space of the novel was being filled out with substantial and significant information that normally you would only get by reading. And by the way I have read Tess but it was back in the late 60's - I did not enjoy it (I really don't think Hardy would have expected me to) and I had no intention of re-reading it but I have since been grateful to Polanski and the ITV version of 15 years ago for keeping it before my attention and making sure that Hardy's necessary and important classic is kept fresh in my mind. I still have no intention of re-reading it and thanks to this version I feel quite comfortable about this.
I said in my Amazon review of the recent 'Mayor Of Casterbridge' that it was better than the book simply because it was more powerful in its effect, and that Hardy would have agreed with me. I gave my reasons in terms of the Aristotelian theory of Tragedy, and the 'Unities' in particular. I feel the same way about this dramatisation.

I also made the point that Hardy was a writer who by and large described things and people from the outside, and has even been described as a cinematic novelist. I argued that the losses in transfer to screen were therefore minimal. We lose the purely literary value of Hardy's prose of course but this is replaced by the visual accuracy (especially in HD) of what we see for ourselves unmediated by language.
Actually there are other reasons why a dramatisation of Tess can be even more valuable than one of the 'Mayor' and that has to do with the person of Tess herself. I for one believe that Hardy's heart would have overflowed, as mine did, at seeing her so beautifully brought to life as she was here. I still hadn't recovered my composure nearly an hour after Tess met her fate, having switched the TV off immediately out of respect.

I only know two other television adaptations as good as this, or possibly even better, and they are the Madame Bovary from 2000 and the more recent Mayor of Casterbridge.

Respect is due to all who were involved in this production and I mean all those people low down on the credits as well; film is an industrial production process. Most of the time while watching it I could hardly believe that what I was seeing could possibly be so good, especially as it was all achieved on a TV budget and production schedule.
How could it be this good? We don't really deserve TV of this quality. We don't take TV seriously enough.
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