This 1979 film is based on the 1891 book, Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. When I first saw the film it inspired me to read the book, it is a classic of English fiction and Roman Polanski’s film does it full justice. It seems strange that one of Hardy’s best loved novels was directed by a Pole and filmed, not in England, but in France and that the leading role is played by German born Nastassja Kinski, who plays the role of Tess Durbeyfield. Tess is a beautiful young peasant girl, her father has aspirations of grandeur and when he learns that one of his ancestors was one of a noble Norman family, the Durbevilles, he persuades Tess to go to the wealthy family and claim kinship with them. The master of the d’Urbervilles takes her on as a servant, but takes advantage of her innocence and seduces her, she becomes pregnant and returns home in disgrace.
Tess is heartbroken when her little baby dies, she baptises the baby herself and names him Sorrow. She then meets and falls in love with Angel Clare the son of a clergyman and they get married, but when Tess tells him about her past he abandons her.
Despite its tragic theme, Tess is a truly spell-binding film, when it was released many critics lambasted it, it has now come to be recognised as very sensitive screen treatment of a literary masterwork. This is mainly due to the superb photography of Geoffrey Unsworth who creates a Wessex that Hardy would have been proud of, sadly Unsworth died before the film was finished and he was succeeded by Ghislaine Cloquet.
As Tess, Nastassja Kinski gives an inspired performance, one which should at the very least have won her Academy Award nomination, the film was nominated, but lost out to the Robert Redford directed Ordinary People. However, the great Geoffrey Unsworth was acknowledged when Tess won the Oscar in 1980 for Best Cinematography.
Thomas Hardy based many of the characters in his books on people he had known, Tess Durbyfield is based on Lady Agatha Thornycroft the wife of one of the writer’s friends. The character of Angel Clare was inspired by Hardy’s boyhood friend Horace Moule, who went on to become a classics master at Marlborough College.
var _gaq = _gaq || ; _gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-27142231-1']); _gaq.push(['_trackPageview']);