I'd never read Tess of the d'Urbervilles before it aired on Masterpiece Classic early this month, although I had a vague idea of its storyline. I'm planning on reading it now but reading the book after seeing an adaptation generally isn't that ideal. Regardless, I did really enjoy this production...well, as much as one can enjoy something that's this relentlessly depressing.
Of course, this isn't the fault of the adaptation. It all starts all happy enough, with a teenaged Tess dancing in the fields and glimpsing a handsome young man. But it really all goes to shit pretty fast. The "villain" in the story is manipulative, obsessive, and stalker-ish Alec d'Urberville, played pretty creepily by Hans Matheson, who the New York Times (of all publications) called an "19th century Chuck Bass." (More like pilot Chuck Bass though, not Blair-and-Chuck Chuck.)
But the supposed good guy, Angel Clare (ok, did clergymen back then really give their sons ridiculous names like Angel??), isn't all that wonderful either, as he's obsessed with the idea of Tess being "pure" despite the fact that he had a premarital affair too. Angel is played by Eddie Redmayne, who's not really all that conventionally good-looking but he was alright. Tess is played by Gemma Arterton, and I was pretty impressed by her for the most part. At the end though, when Angel returns, she was a little less convincing and I'm not sure I really bought her rage, but the story is just so devastating at that point anyway. Depressing!
Moving on to another destructive love story, a new adaptation of Wuthering Heights aired for the past two weeks. I actually read this book for the first time last year without ever having seen any movie versions of it. The book was actually pretty surprising to me, especially knowing that it was written by a young single woman in the 1800s. The characters are just all so passionate and wild and living by their own rules, it's kind of jarring.
I thought this adaptation brought the story a little more down to earth, which was both good and bad. The supernatural stuff was nearly all cut out, but the characters were slightly more likable. In the book, I found Catherine to be really willful and a little crazed, Heathcliff vengeful and bitter to the max, Edgar kind of a wimp, and Isabella very naiive. But this adaptation tempered all that a little. It also changed around the narrative structure a bit, starting with the second generation's part of story before flashing back to the "main" love story.
Tom Hardy, who's apparently something of a heartthrob in Britain, plays Heathcliff, and I thought he was very good, though I don't have other portrayals to compare him to. He was best in the scenes that take place after he returns to Wuthering Heights after a 3 year absence during which he somehow made a fortune and became a "gentleman." His wildness is sort of converted to something more sinister and sadistic and it's definitely creepy. Charlotte Riley does an ok job as Catherine...she didn't play her as as crazy as I thought she would be and the famous "I am Heathcliff" speech was kind of underwhelming. But Andrew Lincoln (from Love Actually!) makes Edgar more of a man, and the younger generation makes their story worth paying attention to. And I loved the visuals of the two houses standing isolated out on the moors, though they too, were kind of depressing...
To end with a bit of humor, here's a hilarious post comparing the older generation in Wuthering Heights to the Dwight-Angela-Andy situation on the Office. In a bizarre way it's actually kind of accurate.
Also, there was someone on TWOP who said that she always thought of the younger generation in Wuthering Heights as the older, more damaged versions of the trio from the Secret Garden. I'd definitely never thought of it that way but that's a pretty apt comparison too, espeically if you've seen any film adaptation of the Secret Garden, where people seem to invariably imagine a future love triangle for Mary, Colin, and Dickon. Mary is the orphan (young Cathy), Colin is the spoiled, sickly cousin (Linton), and Dickon is the hardier, less refined neighbor (Hareton). I mean, there's no mention of romance or anything in the book (it's a children's book after all) but I've always been on Team Dickon myself, since I had a little crush on him in my favorite movie adaptation (the 1993 one) where there was this cute little scene with Mary and Dickon making eyes at eachother on a swing in the garden while a jealous Colin is like, "Hey! HEY!" And I mean, Cathy and Hareton end up being soulmates and getting married, so there's precedent, right??