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United Kingdom 1996
Directed by
Michael Winterbottom
123 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Michael Winterbottom’s screen adaptation of Thomas Hardy's 1895 novel 'Jude, The Obscure' scripted by Hossein Amini stays largely faithful to its source material despite forgoing the full story. This is understandable as it is a long novel although purists may feel the crushing tragedy of Jude’s love for Sue requires completion whereas Winterbottom’s ending remains misleadingly open.

Jude (Christopher Eccleston) is an idealistic young man of working class origins who develops a crush on his middle class cousin Sue, (Kate Winslet) whose modern ideas about life embody all he aspires to. Each one marries - Jude to Arabella (Rachel Griffiths), a pig breeder's daughter who leaves him to go to Australia and Sue to Phillotson (Liam Cunningham), the schoolmaster who inspired Jude as a boy to yearn for an education and the world beyond his tradesman’s lot. Sue’s marriage doesn’t work out and eventually Jude’s dreams come true when she gives herself to him. They have two children out of wedlock, scandalous behaviour for Victorian times in general and the parochial world of Wessex society in particular, and the happy young lovers are turned into pariahs with heart-breaking results.

Winterbottom’s film is a handsome production very much in the reproduction style with which the English do the 19th century so well  - the art direction, costume design, authentic exteriors and interiors combine to give us a splendid representation of late Victorian provincial England.

The winsome Ms.Winslet is tailor-made for this kind of role – an attractively headstrong, independent and intelligent young woman who refuses to comply with society's expectations of her sex. Christopher Eccleston is a less-commanding presence but he makes Jude’s love for Sue palpable. Rahel Griffiths is a tad too civilized and, one feels, lacks the requisite earthy coarseness that entrapped Jude but Liam Cunningham is spot-on as the compromising conformist who does neither Jude nor Sue any good.

Enjoy the film for what it is but if you want the full weight of Hardy’s despair then read the novel.    




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