A Mini-series is probably the hardest thing to review for me. Movies are fairly easy, even the ones that exceed two hours. Television series since they are episodic in nature, one can watch a few, come back and watch a few more. Video Games despite taking triple the effort of an average movie are easy because they are interactive. But most mini-series are usually 3-4 hours long and really can not be broken up. Well for today’s review, multiply that duration by two and we have the Thomas Hardy Collection.
There are two tales contained in the Thomas Hardy Collection. There is Tess of the Dubervilles and The Mayor of Casterbridge. Each of these run over three hours long and are split up in two parts a piece. So theoretically you could watch these in at least four parts but most will want to watch Mayor in one sitting and Tess in the next. Our chariot awaits and may we not fall asleep on the way.
The first disc explores Tess of the D’ubervilles. John Durbeyfield (played by Ian Puleston-Davies) is stopped one day by Parson Tringham (played by Donald Sumpter), a local genealogist who calls him Sir John. As it turns out, John’s real last name would be that of D’Uberville, a surname of the nobility of England. However, the name is now extinct but that doesn’t stop John from being quite happy about his new position in life.
We move to a local field where there are a bunch of women dancing including the likes of Tess Durbeyfield (played by Gemma Arterton). A young man named Angel Clare (played by Eddie Redmayne) stops for a bit and watches until the women realize he is watching. They ask him to pick a woman to dance with and he briefly locks eyes with Tess until he decides to find luck elsewhere. They eventually talk but he has to go and meet up with his brothers.
Tess a little hurt walks home and talks to her mother, Joan (played by Ruth Jones) about the news of her father’s genealogy. The mother learns that there is rich nobility under the name of D’Uberville who lives in a nearby town. She then secretly plots with John to convince Tess to seek her fortune under Mrs. D’Uberville in Tantridge but Tess initially resists. It is only until Tess after accidentally killing a horse due to her falling asleep that she eventually decides out of guilt to seek wealth for her family.
Later, she arrives at the D’Uberville household but instead of meeting Mrs. D’Uberville, she runs into her son named Alec (played by Hans Matheson). Alec tells Tess that his mother is an invalid and can not see her right now but decides to go pick strawberries with her. He gives her as much as she can carry and puts some roses in her hair. He sends her home but figures out how he can get her back and to work as a poultry farmer. She accepts and soon Alec picks her up by carriage. But little does Tess know that Alec’s intentions are not pure. What lies ahead for Tess of the D’ubervilles?
In The Mayor of Casterbridge, we meet a man, Michael Henchard (played by Ciaran Hinds) and his wife , Susan (played by Juliet Aubrey) with child. They are walking along the fields until they get to a group of tents resembling a fair. They treat themselves to a meal and some drink. But Michael keeps drinking and drinking. We aren’t talking water or tea either, but some good old fashioned rum. His drunkenness becomes apparent to his wife who protests.
But that does not stop Henchard. Soon, an auctioneer starts the bidding for some livestock and feed. Henchard suggests that since you can auction off cattle and corn, why you can’t auction off your own wife. Then he does the unthinkable and starts actually doing it. The crowd is outraged but then a few curious heads actually start to partake in it. Susan is surprised out of her wits.
She becomes more dismayed with each passing second, especially when a sailor named Newson (played by Clive Russell) pays 5 guineas for her and her child, Elizabeth Jane. Sold! (Well crap, I would have sold my first wife for a pound of Roast Beef and a used Playstation but I digress). Susan and her child go away with the sailor as she gives back her wedding ring to Michael with tears in her eyes. Later, we watch as Mr. Henchard realizes what he has done and swears to live a better life.
We fast forward to nineteen years later. We see Susan with her grown up daughter Elizabeth Jane (played by Jodhi May) walking along the same fields and tents we were introduced to before. Susan stops and talks to a few of the fair people she recognizes (from nineteen years ago, RIGHT!) and they tell her that Mr. Henchard is in Casterbridge. So, off we go to Casterbridge. It is no sooner they get there that they realize Michael Henchard has made well for himself and resides as mayor over this town.
However, Susan does not want to see her former husband just yet. So they stay in the local inn. Elizabeth decides to work to get a little bit of change to help pay for the room. Later on, the mother and daughter are privy to a conversation between rooms from Michael Henchard and a man named Donald Farfrae (played by James Purefoy). Michael tells the tale of nineteen years ago where he sold off his wife and ever since he has refused alcohol and tried to do what’s right.
Michael and Donald continue to talk with Michael wishing Donald to stay in town and become manager of his corn business. He declines initially but ends up staying the next morning. Susan realizes Michael has changed and gives a note to Elizabeth to take to him. However, Susan is keeping Elizabeth in the dark about the mayor and does not mention that he might indeed be her father. Hours later, Mr. Henchard has read the letter and realizes that he must meet with Susan at once. What will happen next?
The tale continues to blossom as we witness the rise and fall of Mr. Michael Henchard, Mayor of Casterbridge. The first part of the mini-series builds up the story decently and gives a logical break. Ciaran Hinds gives a really good performance as Henchard whose personality can really give you the creeps, wrench your heart and bring you full circle all over again in the same scene. The other cast of characters do an ample job and the first hour and forty minutes aren’t so bad.
The second part however is where the equivalent of a really bad soap opera takes place. A new character, Lucetta Templeman (played by Polly Walker) is introduced (her relationship to the story is important) and I start to wonder if I watching Young and the Restless. Lucetta isn’t the problem (some might remember Polly as Vida from the movie Sliver), it is everything around her. From bad acting to some of the worst possible decisions I have ever seen, it slowly dissolves.
Perhaps the old world sensibilities of a woman promised to a man and the female being viewed as nothing more than property is something I have a hard time getting past. Even when the woman is well-to-ado, apparently a man can just wave around his hands and they will come to him like sheep. But that aside, the film becomes so trashy I was half-expecting people to start coming back from the dead and proclaim it was all a dream sequence. Heck, I was starting to wonder if incest wasn’t too far behind in this tawdry tale.
Moving back to Tess of the D’ubervilles, we see more of those old world sensibilities. If you take the time to read the back of the dvd case, one will notice that it mentions that Tess is violated by one man and forsaken by another. Wow, this is a Lifetime movie if I have ever seen one. What’s worse is that the man who forsakes her does so purely because she is not a virgin. In fact, he believes that she should go marry the violator. Marry the man who raped you? Here comes that “women are property” bile right back from my throat again. The sad part is she actually does.
Anyway, the one bright spot in this really frustrating tale is Gemma Arterton who some might know from Prince of Persia and also was up for Catwoman before losing to Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises. She does an excellent job of portraying Tess, I just wish I liked the character or any of the characters for that matter. There is a lot of story but none of it is particularly interesting. It does not help that the movie moves along at a snail’s pace up until the last half hour where it starts running for the finish line.
The video is presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen presentation. The series serve as low budget affairs presumably shot in the streets and fields of the English countryside or somewhere there bouts. It is a fairly average television presentation with an occasional assortment of glitches and artifacts scattered throughout the presentation. Since the presentations are rather long, one gets a good long time to look at the surroundings and realize how cheaply this was probably made for. The only thing they spent money looks like the costumes.
The audio is presented in 2.0 English Stereo. Hard English accents are all over this one. It takes sometime to get used to the strong dialects and even after you become accustomed to it, it still presents challenges. Environment noise and the sound of rain pitter pattering sound pretty decent and give a lot of strength. But the lack of subtitles in either picture really hurt the listening experience.
- Thomas Hardy Biography (and Bibliography): The lone extra is three screens of text. Useful if you need to know the titles of Thomas Hardy’s books, but not much else.
There are probably literary critics who are calling for my head right now. Thomas Hardy is one of the greatest authors, blah blah of English literature and yawn *snore* whatever. Maybe I can not get through old world sensibilities because I was brought up in a society where people are treated equally regardless of gender. But the real problem of these miniseries is that they move along at the speed of a deer with a missing leg going uphill. I’ve watched plenty of miniseries like 10th Kingdom or Alice that knew how to carry the story for a long period of time.
The disc themselves are relatively average. The video and audio are nothing surprising and reek of cheap television presentation. The extras are non-existent (a bibliography and biography hardly count). Some people will love these miniseries, but this is clearly not for me. I can’t recommend this to anybody except perhaps people who are really into Thomas Hardy adaptations. Even they better curl up with a good pillow and shouldn’t be surprised if they wake up with the credits rolling.