If human conditions were patentable, Thomas Hardy would have the
original patent for hopelessness. His characters begin with moments of
utter desperation and then their lives get worse. Momentary happiness
in a Hardy story is only an illusion soon to shattered by some
unexpected, but plausibly cataclysmic event.
As Woody Allen said, "More than any other time in history, mankind
faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness.
The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to
choose correctly." Hardy novels are like that. Although you don't
read them to have a good time per se, you do gain a greater
understanding of life and of your fellow man.
The few Hardy novels made into films for theatrical release, TESS
(1979) and FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (1967), have been excellent, and
this year's JUDE joins that elite list.
Director Michael Winterbottom with the help of screenwriter
Hossein Amini makes a literal adaptation of Hardy's "Jude the Obscure."
Yes, the shocking parts are there, but they are not sensationalized,
and the film is so realistic that had I not known the story and it was
presented as a true story, I would not have questioned its veracity.
Usually the press kits you get at the screenings are fairly
honest, but this one did have a whopper of a claim. As one of my
fellow critics pointed out to me, it says that Winterbottom's previous
film BUTTERFLY KISS was "a tender and touching love story." BUTTERFLY
KISS is a story of a vicious serial killer and although I recommended
it, it is anything but tender. Nevertheless, I am even more impressed
by Winterbottom's talents after viewing JUDE. It is his direction that
makes the film. The acting is good, but not on par with the direction.
Actually, a cogent argument could be made that the real genius is in
the photography, but more on that latter.
The show opens in the 1860s in a muddy hamlet filmed in black and
white reflecting its bleakness. Young Jude Fawley (James Daley) is
told by his father that he must go to Christminister if he is to seek
his fortune. Shown as a Xanadu on a distant hilltop is Christminister.
The show switches to the glorious colors of an English forest and
Jude (Christopher Eccleston from SHALLOW GRAVE and LET HIM HAVE IT) has
now grown up. He meets Arabella (Rachel Griffiths from MURIEL'S
WEDDING), and they arrange an assignation.
As all things in poor Jude's life, his affair with Arabella will
turn out bad. No matter how hard he tries he becomes an unsuccessful
outcast. He crams Latin and Greek into his brain until his head will
surely burst, but the university rejects him since he is too working
class for them. His love life is not much better. He lives a bitter
life of rejection.
To reinforce the protagonist's despondency, there is a scene where
a pig is killed and his innards removed. Although it is completely
authentic, it serves as a metaphor for the desperation Jude feels. It
may also give rise to an increase in vegetarianism as it is candid and
One day, into Jude's life walks his beautiful cousin Sue Bridehead
(Kate Winslet from SENSE AND SENSIBILITY and HEAVENLY CREATURES), and
he is immediately smitten. To keep her near him he secures her a
position as an apprentice teacher to Mr. Phillotson (Liam Cunningham
from A LITTLE PRINCESS). With Jude's usual bad luck, Phillotson begins
to fall for his Sue. His ongoing love for Sue even after she marries
Phillotson gets them both in a lot of trouble, and they become
The dialog is terrific. Amini has a deft touch knowing how to
adapt the novel for the screen. "You are the timid sex," Sue tells
Jude in an intimate fireplace scene. She plays him like an old rag
doll telling him that men can do nothing until women give them that
little look of acceptance. Where this scene leads is quite
unpredictable, but not the result - more grief for both of them.
Much later when Jude again comes on to Sue, she spurns his
advances and then taunts him with, "promise me you'll never stop
trying." Needless to say he views this as extremely cruel.
"We'll move on again and again as long as it takes for the world
to change. We've done nothing wrong," Jude resolutely tells Sue when
their fortunes take yet another turn south. Later Sue asks "Haven't we
been punished enough?" In a line that sums up Hardy's view of life,
Sue tells Jude, "It's right that I suffer."
In scene after scene, the audience has to be in awe of the beauty
of the cinematography by Eduardo Serra. I lost track of the number of
phenomenally gorgeous images. Among my favorites are the one of the
snow that looks like cumulous clouds that is lit by the early light of
day. Another has a cottage at dusk with the upper floor encased in
fog. All of the interior scenes lit with gaslights have a wonderful
warmth. I certainly hope and expect to see an Academy Award nomination
for Serra's work here.
The sets by Joseph Bennett II are a cornucopia of late nineteenth
century English life. From the simple pleasures of a faire to basic
rustic row houses, it feels totally authentic without ever being
Adrian Johnston's lovely music is full of haunting flutes and of
the sad strains of a wailing violin. People should always stay through
the credits. In this show you will learn than Mel Gibson had a part.
He did the make-up and hair styling. Perhaps it is not the same
person. Then again, ...
For those who do not remember the novel be forewarned that this
beautiful but consistently morose tale reaches a surprisingly and
horrible conclusion. It is one that is consistent with the characters
and is genuine, nevertheless, if it doesn't put you in tears, I'd be
JUDE runs 2:03. It is rated R. There is sex, full frontal female
nudity, graphic depiction of birth, death, and animal slaughter, but no
bad language. I am usually conservative when I say which age group a
show is appropriate for, but I am going to go out on a limb on this
one. I think it would be okay for most teenagers since they would
learn from it. I have a single test for parents. If you would let
your kids read the book, then this movie should be okay. Yes, life is
frighteningly depicted, but it is always realistic and never
sensationalized. JUDE gets a strong recommendation from me, and I
award it *** 1/2.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes