Saturday, 21 March 2009

A review of the Belgian Newspaper De Standaard on Tess that just made its debut on national television

They are not pleased, to say the least…

'Speaking of failure! Tess of the d’Urbervilles may well be a beautiful novel by Thomas Hardy, and the BBC may well have a good reputation for costume drama, in this case the two did not find each other. The first episode of this four part series was the weakest we have ever seen in the genre.

Tess is the story of a fallen woman. Gemma Arterton was reasonable in her role, but not more than that.

The script of David Nicholls that told the story in its big lines, allowed little psychological depth. Hans Matheson as the villainous Alec could not force himself to the foreground either. Both characters excelled in stereotypical mimics.

It is surprising how the BBC sometimes succeeds in digging out a refined result from the dusty attics of the costume drama tradition, like in their recent series Cranford, and how sometimes they succeed in making it ever so bland.

Tess showed the pastoral landscape of Wessex, with green hills and white maidens, but had us never savour the dust. Even the mud was photogenic. For an adaptation of a naturalist novel that is dubious.

We had to figure out the tragedy of Tess, who gives birth to the child of a castle squire, from one sad weeping fit with her mother. The camera films all from a safe distance, without really plunging into the characters. Only the feast-scene with the workers seemed to bring a little more reality, but that was all past in one breath.

The lowest point was the scene of rape. Not that it should have been (more) realistic, but there happened something which was not going to be easily symbolised with a little floating mist. Then the scene with the strawberry prior to that (Tess bites into a strawberry hanging from the hand of Alec, a sexual metaphor) was of a higher level.

The latter is called ‘poetic adaptation’. Television, in the last twenty years, has moved on, and Nicholls could have done more with Tess (and soon with The Return of the Native). (vbp)

Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Each Tuesday night on Eén at 8.40. Number of viewers: 793 160.' (where a good show as the news fetches about 1 million).

De Standaard gave a score of only 3/10…

I do think that the journalist of De Standaard was off the mark when he took the scene with the strawberry as an example of a higher level of filming. It is even sadder, as that scene was in the book and so the writer stole it from the original. With the rest, and there I do agree with the journalist, Nicholls did not know what to do. BBC, you can do better.

(The article was faithfully translated from the website of De Standaard and can still be found there today.)

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