DVD Review: The Thomas Hardy Collection

Article first published as DVD Review: The Thomas Hardy Collection on Blogcritics.

To many people, the name Thomas Hardy will draw a blank, but he is quite well-known through the titles of his books: Far From the Madding Crowd, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure, and The Mayor of Casterbridge.

Thomas Hardy wrote of 19th century rural England and the conflict that ensues when the poor bump up against the wealthy. The Thomas Hardy Collection is a two-disc DVD set, containing imaginings of two of Hardy’s greatest works, Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1998) and The Mayor of Casterbridge (2001).

Of the two, it’s easier to love Tess as a protagonist. Justine Waddell is an inspired choice and believable as a period heroine, all billowy clouds of brown hair and pure pale skin. Her Tess evolves from glowy farm girl to hollow-cheeked beauty ground up by poverty and then finally to fae-like impulse child with nothing to lose. Arguably one of the most believably written women in the English language, Tess appeals to modern audience with her bold independence.


Justine WaddellThe first time Tess leaves home, she tries to improve her family’s situation by approaching the wealthy D’Urberville family, to whom she mistakenly believes she is related. She staunchly refuses the advances of the master of the house, Alec D’Urberville (an excellent Jason Flemyng).

There’s a charming sequence involving Tess trying to whistle at the songbirds, at the request of the eccentric Lady D’Urberville: “Mother won’t be happy with you unless you can whistle to her birds”, teases Alec, whistling before he kisses her on the cheek. She pulls away and he snappily retorts: “I taught you whistling, cuz, and one day I’ll teach you kissing.” As a Victorian tragedy, though, such repartee does not lead to happiness.

Tess takes takes a job as a milkmaid, which offers a second sighting of her first love – Angel Clare (Oliver Milburn). This film version will introduce you to the unexpected romance of milking a cow, the sideways glance along the haunch. Symbolism of the natural world and its dangers abound: the sharpening of a scythe, the pricking of rose thorns. Watching love’s petals unfold for Angel is touching, but Tess has been compromised and happiness is all too brief.

The ending of Tess of the D’Urbervilles is abrupt after such an epic travel, but oh, what a journey. Both books (as well as the movie adaptations) are set in the semi-fictional part of England known as Wessex, based on Hardy’s homeland of Dorchester.Tess of the D’Urbervilles features idyllic artistic visuals, from May Day dances to gloriously golden brown harvests, industrial age machines contrasted with peasants bent-back from scything.

Contrasted with Tess’ indomitable resourcefulness is the character of Mike Henchard. Henchard is the eponymous Mayor of Casterbridge, a believably flawed man who is the sole disruptor of his own happiness.

In The Mayor of Casterbridge, Henchard starts off as a drunken sot who sells off his wife and infant daughter for money to drink. This leads him to vow off alcohol for a period of 21 years and he manages to build himself a life of respectability as a prominent corn and grains merchant.

Ciaran Hinds
Henchard, played by the ever-astonishing Ciaran Hinds, is by turns unfaithful, fickle, cruel and unjust. A chance at redemption arrives in the appearance of his formerly-sold wife and their now-adult daughter. They are destitute and so move to Casterbridge where she poses as a widow and he “marries” her. He confides in his new manager, the confident and charming Farfrae (James Purefoy), of his past shame.

Lucetta (Polly Walker), a wealthy widow loved and abandoned by Henchard, seizes her chance at happiness and marries Farfrae, who up till now had courted Henchard’s daughter. Henchard sees both of the women he loves being lost to Farfrae and jealousy blooms, leading him to a series of bad business and personal decisions.

One consistent thread through the The Mayor of Casterbridge is the female characters’ anxiety about their public reputation and lack of control over their destiny; this is shown in moments like the suspenseful delicacy of opening a highly-anticipated letter.

Lies are told, secrets are kept, and shame is hidden until publicly exposed. Henchard’s weaknesses lead to the loss of all he holds dear; the plot rivets your gaze, like a carriage crash in slow motion.


This 2-DVD set is the perfect addition to any literary film buff’s library. Watching The Thomas Hardy Collection made me wish to go back and reread the books…and what greater gift can a literary movie adaptation give?

Thomas Wyatt and Anne Boleyn – Circa Regna Tonat

I have been immersing myself in The Tudors recently, Showtime’s soap opera of Henry VIII. It’s an insanely guilty pleasure, as they conveniently overlook how old and gross Henry was at the time of his last three marriages (Jane Seymour, Catherine Howard, Catherine Parr). It’s one of my favorite time periods of history…to read about, at least. It was a rather tumultuous time to be alive, seeing as you had to be correctly Catholic or Reformer (Protestant) at the right time and also on the king’s good side always.

Sir Thomas Wyatt, poet and courtier, is believed to have a romantic connection to Anne Boleyn; it is unknown as to whether she returned his feelings. It is believed Wyatt wrote this poem after witnessing Anne Boleyn’s execution (May 19, 1536) from the window of his cell while imprisoned in the Tower of London. The third stanza, in my opinion, is as deeply felt and dire a feeling as can be found in English poetry.

Sir Thomas Wyatt

  
Innocentia Veritas Viat Fides Circumdederunt me inimici mei
(Innocence, Truth & Fidelity – My Enemies Surround My Soul) 
by Sir Thomas Wyatt

Who list his wealth and ease retain,
Himself let him unknown contain.
Press not too fast in at that gate
Where the return stands by disdain,

For sure, circa Regna tonat.

Anne Boleyn (detail)

The high mountains are blasted oft
When the low valley is mild and soft.
Fortune with Health stands at debate.
The fall is grievous from aloft.
And sure, circa Regna tonat.
 
These bloody days have broken my heart.
My lust, my youth did them depart,
And blind desire of estate.
Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.
Of truth, circa Regna tonat.

The bell tower showed me such sight
That in my head sticks day and night.
There did I learn out of a grate,
For all favour, glory, or might,

That yet circa Regna tonat.

By proof, I say, there did I learn:
Wit helpeth not defence too yerne,
Of innocency to plead or prate.
Bear low, therefore, give God the stern,

For sure, circa Regna tonat.

* Circa Regna Tonat – “About the Throne the Thunder Rolls”

Absence of My Muse

Honestly, I didn’t think I was doing so little on my blog until I looked at the post listings and realized I had -one- post for August so far, on the 6th. At my best, I was averaging a post every day and a half. To go a week with only one…

There’s a multitude of reasons, but they may all point to the same thing. My darn Muse has departed for climes less balmy. (It has been agitatingly, soul-sucking hot for the last few weeks: the kind of heat that leaves you languidly lolling about on the veranda, fanning yourself limpidly as the linen sticks to your back.) So my Muse has left for a quick jaunt around the countryside and I am left here staring at my computer screen with the following options: 1) watch an episode of The Tudors, 2) read any of the stack of lovely new books on my bedside table, 3) play Plants vs. Zombies, that blessed time-suck.


It isn’t from lack of time off (just finished 3 days off, which may be one culprit). I have lots of projects vying for my attention: Super Secret Spy Girl, rehearsals for The Laramie Project, Blogcritic reviews, etc, etc.

My brain is a bit parched and it has nothing to do with the heat. It’s rather too many wonderful ideas crowding in, trying to fight their way to the fore; it’s not so much time management as it is time muddlement.

Thalia, Muse of Comedy

So today I present the Muses, since mine is not present: Clio (History), Calliope (Epic Poetry), Urania (Astronomy), Euterpe (Song & Elegiac Poetry), Erato (Love Poetry), Melpomene (Tragedy), Thalia (Comedy), Terpsichore (Dance), Polyhymnia (Hymns). Not to be confused with the Graces, the Muses were a little more workaday and useful. Nine muses, nine arts, all the root of the word “museum” and “amuse” and “musing” and other muse-like words.

“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.” – Homer
Oliver Rhys, A Seated Muse

Ever noticed that Muses tend to be young, beautiful ladies? Fickle as well, apparently. That comes with Muse-hood. I’m fairly certain that my Muse tends to the plainer side, with milkish skin, but can look otherworldly at the right angle. She definitely has freckles and likely a penchant for ribbons.

Jan Vermeer, The Allegory of Painting (Detail – Clio)

Muses are generally invoked at the beginning of epic poetry, a convention followed by writers for centuries:

O lady myn, that called art Cleo,
Thow be my speed fro this forth, and my Muse,
To ryme wel this book til I haue do;
Me nedeth here noon othere art to vse.
ffor-whi to euery louere I me excuse
That of no sentement I this endite,
But out of Latyn in my tonge it write. – Chaucer

Muses are also a convenient scapegoat, as I illustrated at the beginning of the post. No writing? No muse. No performing? No muse. No singing? No muse. It’s even more dangerous when flesh and blood women are elevated to Muse status, as in Jane Morris for Dante Gabriel Rossetti of the Pre-Raphaelites.

Jane’s marriage to William Morris was jeopardized by her affairs with Rossetti, who married his other muse, Elizabeth Siddal (who later overdosed on laudanum). Read more in Francine Prose’s excellent study of real-life muses: Lives of the Muses.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Blue Silk Dress (Model: Jane Morris)
Jane Morris (photo) and Jane (painting) – Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood

So, Muse, any time you would like to return…you know where my door can be found. What do you do to invoke your muse? And what do you do when she does not appear?