Not that BBC 1’s adaptation of Tess of the D’Ubervilles is t*ss, far from it. I am loving Tess on BBC 1 and, even though I have no leanings in that direction, I am probably also slightly in love with Gemma Arterton in the lead role. She has the mouth that Alec, Angel and others fall hook, line and sinker for and hair to die for. Well, it’s period. And as for Hans Matheson playing Alec – could he have a more malicious, less trustworthy jaw or hairline?
It’s all so superbly done – and, having caught up with ep 3 last night on the iPlayer – it’s just so goddamn TRAGIC. Just the way Hardy wrote it: all awfulness, chance and fate and slips of a letter under a mat. Angel fails to live up to his name and just can’t forgive Tess for bearing a child to a man before him, even though she was raped. Their wedding night ends unconsummated, after loaded kisses by a roaring fire are twice rudely interrupted. Instead the couple part two brown and grey mornings later, Tess humping her own badly tied luggage onto a stagecoach alone, without even a kiss goodbye.
The whole production – an in-house BBC job led by writer David Nicholls (of Cold Feet and Much Ado About Nothing) – is fabulous. It looks dreary and sad, now that the summer of youth is past, just as we think Dorset should have looked in the late 19th century. The ladies have mud on the hems of their dresses. Perhaps some of the hedges are a little mechanically trimmed but, really, I’m casting around for criticism here.
The best thing about this production is it feels like Thomas Hardy’s novel, televised. No kooky time travel angle, a la Lost in Austen. No mucking about with the plot (as far as I can recall it, some 20 years after reading it). I’m eagerly looking forward to next week and wondering when the BBC or anyone else will be brave enough to put programmes online BEFORE their television TX. Is it from the book or a previous TV adaptation that I have a mental image of blood dripping through a ceiling from the floor above? Can’t wait to find out.
Also enjoying Mutual Friends, BBC 1 again, Losing It on BBC 2 and The Family on C4. God, I love autumn. The leaves are changing colour and there’s some good stuff on TV at last. Who says TV’s finest hour was in the 1970s?