Posts Tagged ‘Eddie Redmayne’

The second episode of Birdsong just aired on PBS Masterpiece Classic. If  you missed the series, you can watch both episodes online at this link through May 29th. I urge you to watch it. This is not a review of the show, simply my reaction to it, as I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot.

Eddie Redmayne and Clemency Poesy as the star crossed lovers

Eddie Redmayne is perfect as Stephen Wraysford. He effectively portrays Stephen as a boyish man when he meets Isabelle (Clemency Poesy), and grows up in front of our eyes as he experiences heartbreak and the horrors of war. The final scene had me reaching for yet another hanky.

Even on the battlefield, Stephen's thoughts are not far from Isabelle

Clemency Poesy is simply splendid in the part of the unhappy wife who turns to Stephen for love and comfort, and so was Joseph Mawle as Jack Firebrace.

Clemency Poesy as Isabelle

I have read a number of accounts of the Somme offensive, all of them horrifying. This film does justice to the young men who lost their lives in what can only be described as a scene from hell. At first I wasn’t sure that I would like the frequent cutting back and forth from the battle scenes to Stephen’s memories of his love affair with Isabelle at Amiens, when the countryside looked beautiful and pristine, but now I think the director and writer made the right choice.

Had we watched the story unfold chronologically, the unrelentingly harsh scenes in the trenches and on the battlefields would have worn me down. Just when the story became too emotionally raw for me to take in, the scene would shift to a softer, more romantic time, when Stephen’s life was starting out and he was filled with hope and ambition. There were perhaps a few missteps when the scene would cut away abruptly, but overall I began to see and look forward to the visual and emotional rhythms that this technique created. Life in the trenches was gray and dull and beige. Life with Isabelle was filled with sunshine, lush interiors, birdsong, and green leafy trees.

Eddie Redmayne portrayed Angel Clare in Tess of the d’Urbervilles. His face, with its unique bone structure, is as sensitive as James Dean’s. Coming off his acting stints in My Week With Marilyn, Pillars of the Earth, and his current role as Marius Pontmercy in Les Miserables, I have no doubt we will see him in many more films in the future.

The relationship between Jack Firebrace (Joseph Mawle) and Stephen Wraysford is as important as Stephen's with Isabelle.

As an aside, I urge those of you who enjoy these great PBS offerings to support your local PBS stations now that their funding has been greatly reduced. I was so sad to hear that the NEA sharply cut its funding for PBS. If you enjoy Masterpiece Classic and Masterpiece Mystery, and all the great arts specials, then we must individually step up to the plate and support PBS. Thank you for reading my rant. (And, no, I was not paid to make it! :))

An emotional scene after the Battle of the Somme was when the names of the men of one unit who had gone into battle were called. Only one replied.

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wedding-kiss-2My review of Masterpiece Classic’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles (2008 ), Part One, was rather benign considering all the horrible events the poor girl had to endure. Tess, having weathered as much misfortune in two years as most people experience in a lifetime, weds her Angel and confesses her sin. Now here’s where the plot became problematic for me: As a woman living in the modern world, I cannot like Angel. Yes, he’s young and idealistic and has already bent the rules by marrying Tess, sacrificing a bit of the family honor in the process, but his actions smack too much of high school, happy-with-you-21where a boy will pursue a girl, then drop her because she’s a slut. “The woman that I love is not you,” he said after hearing her out, and I know this is the point author Thomas Hardy was trying to make. Different worlds. Different manners. Different mores. Clash of cultures. Regardless, I cannot forgive Angel for abandoning Tess after she’s revealed that she’s carried another man’s child. Angel’s attitude remained prevalent well into the 1960’s, and I thank my lucky stars to be living in this enlightened, more forgiving time. Without this crucial plot development, we’d be staring at a happy ending, but the viewer still has almost half of this two-part film to watch.

angels-reaction-21Eddy Redmayne and Gemma Arterton were splendid in this scene. Gemma as Tess is at first brimming with hope, then crestfallen as she begs for Angel’s forgiveness. Redmayne manages to show conflicting feelings – anger, hurt, and love – as he bids Tess goodbye, unable to accept from his rigid, puritanical upbringing that she’s a fallen woman.



Tess returns home, having failed once again. Explaining her decision to reveal her secret, she says simply to her mother: “I love him. It would have been a sin to deceive him,”demonstrating her purity of heart and innate goodness. With Angel heading for Brazil, Tess prepares to find employment … and jumps from the frying pan straight into the fires of hell. In her new position as a farm girl on bleak Flintcombe-Ash farm, Tess remeets an evil enemy from her time on the D’Urberville estate. Groby, the farm manager, shows her no pity and cuts her no slack during a harsh winter. Worse, Tess will not be paid until after a year’s hard labor.

Bleak Farm

Bleak Farm

Coincidentally (for the plot now depends on many such twists) Tess finds Marion, her milkmaid friend, working at this inhospitable place. Not surprisingly, Izz joins them too. And when the two former milkmaids ask questions about her marriage, Tess’s replies: “No pity. No questions either. I’m just plain Tess Durbeyfield, just as before.”working-the-night-through-2

One cannot help to continue watching this trainwreck of a plot as the melodrama keeps churning. It is human nature, after all, to stand still and observe another’s misfortune. Tess goes to visit Angel’s family to ask them for help, but changes her mind. Returning to the farm, she stumbles upon a revival tent with Alec inside it. One must suspend disbelief and suppose that everyone lived within walking distance of each other, and that frequent encounters out of the blue did not seem coincidental.

Alec, the preacher

Alec, the preacher

After his mother’s death and a tussle with his soul, Alec becomes a preacher, but one look at Tess and all the faith is knocked out of him. Alec then leaves his new calling … just like that. Hans Matheson and the film’s writer try their best to interject some reality into Alec’s scenes and solicit sympathy for his character, but at this point I felt it was best just to watch the film and not make logical sense out of events as they unfolded.

Tess was put on this earth to suffer, and suffer she does, with misfortune rolling her way every time she turns around. She forfeits a year’s wages for her backbreaking work when she returns home to visit her ill father. After his death, the family must leave their leased house because, while her mother and siblings are respectable, Tess is not. The persistent Alec follows the family as they seek another lodging, stalking Tess and pressuring her to be with him. With no money, house, job, or prospects, Tess finally succumbs to his relentless advances. She has given up on Angel, believing he will never return.

i-am-his-creature-2Meanwhile Angel has been sick in Brazil and has undergone a sea change in attitude. After recovering from yellow fever, he returns home and goes on a quest to find Tess. He pays a heavy penance as he learns of her life after he abandoned her, realizing what misery she’s experienced. When he locates her in the resort town of Sandbourne, looking like the scarlet woman she’s become, she begs him to leave, crying out: “It is too late for me now, I’m already dead!” Portentous words. After coming such a long way to find her, he seems to give her up rather quickly, but Tess is made of sterner stuff.

Moment of bliss

Moment of bliss

Gemma’s beautiful features flit from innocent to worldly to distressed and angry as she convincingly plays an older and wiser Tess. She confronts Alec, who is nasty, spiteful, and possessive, and kills him. One can imagine how scandalized the Victorian reading public was with this turn of events. According to the PBS press release, “Tess of the D’Urbervilles was so shocking that Hardy had to withhold selected chapters during its first appearance in serial form.These chapters were later restored in the published volume.”

after-passion-3Tess and Angel share only two days of tender bliss as he tries to help her escape from the law. Angel is now completely on her side and will not abandon her, but Tess knows it’s too late. Instead of leaving their shelter she begs him for one more night as man and wife: “Why put an end to all this joy?” Why indeed?

Poor Tess. Poor, doomed Tess. Hunted as fugitives, she and Angel spend their last night together at Stonehenge. This stone age monolith is an appropriate setting for the denouement of a tale that is all about a clash of sleeping-as-if-in-a-tomb-2cultures in a changing age. The death imagery is a bit heavy handed in these scenes, but at this point the viewer has given up on subtletly. As the law closes in on her, Tess tearfully embraces Angel: “It couldn’t have lasted,” she said, “Too much happiness.” Which is when I drew out my hanky and bawled.

Thomas Hardy felt passionate about this novel. “To him, Tess was a symbol of rural Britain, a pagan goddess at odds with the social and technological change sweeping across England’s West Country in the late 19th century.” asleep-as-if-in-a-tomb-2(PBS Press Release) To me, her story is heart breaking. I agree with her friend Izz Huet, who concluded after speaking with Angel, “Whatever she’s done, she doesn’t deserve this.”

For sheer gut wrenching entertainment value, I give this production high marks, but as a Janeite, I can only give Hardy’s soap opera plot a grade that barely passes.

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Poor Tess Durbeyfield. Sweet, obedient, and intent on following the rules, she doesn’t get many breaks in life. In this 4-hour Masterpiece Classic film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel, Gemma Arterton plays the heartbreakingly beautiful Tess with innocence, grace, and an innate dignity that prevents her character from becoming a pathetic caricature.


gemma-385_389832aThe film opens with the parson informing Tess’s drunken father that he believes the family is descended from the aristocratic D’Urbervilles family. Life is never the same for the Durbeyfields again, for the knowledge that they might be descended from one of the finest families in the land goes to the parents’ heads.We then meet 17-year-old Tess at a May Day Dance. She is on the threshold of life and we discover that her desire is to lift herself out of the working class life by becoming a teacher. She briefly meets a lad named Angel Clare (Eddy Redmayne) during that dance and their first sight of each other is electrifying.

As the family’s oldest child, Tess must take on more responsibilities than her younger siblings. When her father  is too drunk to move the bee hives, Tess is appointed to drive the wagon in the dead of night, where she is involved in an accident and loses her father’s horse, his main means of employment as a pedler. She is sent to her D’Urbervilles relatives at Tantridge to claim kin and solicit them for support and money for a new horse.

Tess is forced to eat a strawberry from Alec's hand

Tess is forced to eat a strawberry from Alec's hand

Instead of meeting Mrs. D’Urbervilles she meets her son Alec, played by the darkly handsome Hans Matheson. He is instantly drawn to the innocent girl and bent on winning her over. With the promise of taking care of her family he offers her a job on the D’urbervilles estate. Unbeknownst to Tess, Alec is really a Stokes. His family has purchased the ancient D’Urbervilles name in order to disassociate themselves from trade, where the family fortune originated.

Tess and Alec

Tess and Alec

Alec is a diabolical character who toys with Tess and plays on her naivete and inner goodness. Born bad, as he describes himself, he wants her and – lets admit it – stalks her. Hans Matheson’s Alec is attractive and repulsive at the same time, traits that his sharp facial features reflect. A typical seducer, he takes advantage of Tess’s total dependence on his family’s largesse. His marked attentions to Tess make the other workers jealous, effectively isolating her from a support group. As Tess, Gemma shows just the right amount of resistance and attraction to this suave but oily man, who will not leave her alone. As with many women who have little power and few choices in life, these controlling men tend to get away with their actions, which are not taken seriously until it is too late.

tess-rape-21Thomas Hardy does not make it clear in his novel if Tess is seduced against her will or raped, but this film version strongly hints at rape in a nightmarish scene that ends with Tess crying on the forest floor, her bodice ripped open. Tess spurns Alec. She might have lost her virginity, but her honor remains intact. She returns home and gives birth to a bastard child whom she names Sorrow. Her father, angry that Tess has brought shame to the family name, refuses to have the child baptised. The child (a boy) dies, and when the pastor does not give Tess permission to bury her baby in consecrated ground she leaves the village.

tess-and-child-31By this time the viewer has been reeling with Tess from one awful event to the other, wondering if luck will ever brighten her life. Her only supportive family member is her sister, Liza-Lu, who is too young to do more than lend a sympathetic ear. Even Tess’s mother gives her little support. The scene in which Gemma/Tess cries out to her mother, asking her “Why did you not warn me?” is unforgettably sad, though it is not in the novel. I had watched Gemma only as Lizzy Bennet in Lost in Austen and had no idea how affecting her performance could be. The weight of this film production rests on her shoulders and she carries her burden well.

Thomas Hardy examine the plight for rural women during the nineteenth century when rigid moral judgments superseded compassion. While a fallen woman was judged harshly and castigated, a man would get away with a mere slap on the wrist for immoral behavior.

tess-and-milk-maids-21After Tess leaves her home village, she finds a position as a milkmaid at the Talbothays dairy farm and for the first time is among friends. This relief from constant and oppressive bad luck is a welcome one and prevents the production from completely descending into a tearjerking melodrama. Thomas Hardy wrote serialized novels, which meant that each installment offered a cliffhanger ending in order to lure the reader into purchasing the next serialized chapter and Tess of the D’Urbervilles has a tendency to tug too hard at one’s heartstrings for sympathy.

During Tess’s lyrical interlude she re-meets Angel Clare and falls in love with the young, handsome clergyman’s son. He falls for her in turn. Tess blossoms in this new environment, but her secret haunts her and she knows she must never marry.

angel-proposes-to-tess-21Meanwhile, Angel, the son of a gentleman, returns home to his parents to make a case for marrying Tess, a working class girl. During their discussion the viewer learns that purity, above all, is the quality that Angel and his parents seek in his bride, casting a foreboding of doom over Angel’s and Tess’s chance at happiness. Tess and the viewer know that she can never live up to his expectation. And so the story turns once again, with Tess realizing just hours before her wedding that Angel never read her letter in which she confesses that she had born Alec D’Urberville’s child. She will wed him with her secret intact.

Angel Clare

Angel Clare

Eddie Redmayne’s Angel is a perfect foil to Alec, and he carries the part off well. I prefer his Angel to Peter Firth’s depiction of him in Roman Polanski’s 1979 movie adaptation of Tess. (Peter Firth also fell down, in my judgment, in playing Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey, so perhaps I merely dislike the actor in those roles.) Eddie’s Angel is both sensitive and believable. He truly wants to make his own way in the world, but he is still governed by his conventional upbringing.

The next installment of Tess of the D’Urbervilles promises many plot twists and surprises. The production is long, but so is the novel. When I read it in college I could not put it down, crying for Tess and hoping (against hope) that events would turn her way. Even knowing the fate that awaits her, I will be glued in front of my flat screen t.v. next week to watch the second installment of this excellent production. Watch Tess of the D’Urbervilles on PBS’s Masterpiece Classic Sunday, January 4 & January 11 at 9 PM EST.

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