Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1998)

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Director: Ian Sharp

Writer: Thomas Hardy (novel), Ted Whitehead (screenplay)

Cast: Justine Waddell, Oliver Milburn, Jason Flemyng, John McEnery, Lesley Dunlop

Synopsis: This British-American coproduction uses the longer format of the two-part film to explore the characters of Thomas Hardy's novel with an easy pace. After her parents send her to distant, moneyed relatives, Tess, played by the striking Justine Waddell, grows from naive but willful young British beauty to determined mother to sad martyr.

At the hands of "cousin" Alec (the darkly charming Jason Flemyng), a womanizing, self-centered dandy, Tess begins her lessons on the social double standard, made all the more difficult given her own demanding personal code. A blond, blue-eyed, and beautiful gentleman farmer appropriately named Angel (Oliver Milburn) seems to offer Tess her salvation, but her past hovers over her like a curse and even now threatens her happiness.

Director Ian Sharp's handsome presentation makes the most of the picaresque British countryside, an often beautiful, sometimes chilly, and at times inhospitable and unfriendly world. If this interpretation is not as gripping as Roman Polanski's 1979 film Tess, it offers a richer, more complex set of characters, and Sharp's earthy palette and subdued cinematic approach creates a vivid world far from the quaint, colorful visions of most theatrical presentations of historical England.

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