Socialist Worker

Tess Of The D’Urbervilles: a compulsive vision of hope betrayed by social rules

by Millie Fry
Issue No. 2118

Tess with the spoilt Alec (Pic: BBC)

Tess with the spoilt Alec (Pic: BBC)

The new BBC adaptation of Tess Of The D’Urbervilles is a perfect way to get to grips with Thomas Hardy’s dark and intense novel.

Hardy was frequently an anti-establishment writer.

The novel – like all his work – poignantly illustrates the harsh realities of life for English agricultural workers around the time of the industrial revolution.

Here injustice and tragedy are created by arbitrary social rules based on money, class and gender.

In the first episode director David Blair has remained true to Hardy’s condemnation of the failings of class based society.

It begins with Tess Durbeyfield (Gemma Arterton) trying to save her family from destitution by claiming kinship with distant rich relations.

This leads her to meet her charismatic “cousin” Alec D’Urberville (Hans Matheson) and get work at the D’Urbervilles’ poultry farm.

Tess is innocent and hesitantly optimistic, although hardened by work and poverty.

The relationship between Tess and Alec is extremely well portrayed.

For example, having only just met her, Alec insists that Tess samples a strawberry, making her eat out of his hand.

Alec’s obvious gratification, combined with his charm and flirtatiousness, and Tess’s shy and platonic response reveal his domination over the relationship and also over Tess’ life.

The wealthy Alec is calculating and spoilt, but also friendly and charming. Tess, though from an extremely poor family, has deep integrity and a fierce amount of pride.

This makes compulsive watching, as we see Tess grapple with the difficulties placed on her by her place in society.

The episode builds to Alec’s unforgivable crime against her. He has obviously never been refused anything in his life.

This is a heart-wrenching scene and after watching it took me a minute to collect myself.

So far, I would thoroughly recommend this adaptation to anyone who likes the book or anyone who just loves good thought-provoking drama.

Tess of the D’Ubervilles starts on BBC1, Sunday 14 September

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Tue 9 Sep 2008, 18:55 BST
Issue No. 2118
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