Happy Birthday, Thomas Hardy!

from http://www.anglotopia.net/british-history/great-britons-thomas-hardy-novelist-scandalized-victorian-britain/

Okay, technically, I missed it (it was June 2, and his birth year was 1840) but I don’t think British novelist and poet Thomas Hardy will mind if I wish him a belated Happy Birthday!

Reading Hardy was never my favorite thing to do, although I very much enjoyed his short story collection A Changed Man. His novels? Mostly they are DOWNERS, man. The Return of the Native, Tess of the D’urbevilles, Jude the Obscure? All populated by women characters with few choices and who had, except for bad luck, no luck at all. (Things weren’t much better for his male characters; poor Jude, only wanting an education and never, ever getting it, except at the school of hard knocks.)

But British TV and movie adaptations of his works? MMMmmm…those are in my sweet spot. Let’s discuss a few of my favorites.

Under the Greenwood Tree

I’m starting with one of my absolute favorite lit adaptations of all time, not just among those written by Hardy. The main character, as played by the great (truly underappreciated) actress Keeley Hawes, is a headstrong woman who has had some education and who fully intends to go out into the world and make something of herself. When she comes back to her provincial home village to care for her aging father, however, she finds fewer career opportunities than romantic entanglements; no fewer than three very different suitors vie for her hand. One is the wealthy elderly farmer/landowner of the town (and he’s the one her father favors), one is the stuck-up but well-educated parson, and one is the handsome young buck her age who is willing to prove he has the ambition to grow his family’s business if that will help win her. I don’t know that hilarity ensues, but a great story and strong acting performances all around make this one a delight.

Oh, and did I mention the protagonist’s name is “Fancy Day”? One of the best names in literature ever. You almost have to watch it for that name alone, although you also won’t be disappointed by the suitor whose name is “Dick Dewy.” Oh! And there’s singing:

Please also note actor James Murray, playing Dick Dewy, in that video. At the risk of sounding shallow: YUM.

Now, if you’re looking for the polar opposite to the rather sweet story that is Under the Greenwood Tree (his first published novel), then I’d suggest looking no further than Tess of the D’Urbervilles. This one’s a heartbreaker. Tess Durbeyfield, a beautiful but poor village girl, seems to be fate’s victim from the very start. In a random conversation with another villager, her father somehow picks up the idea that his family is related to the borough’s ancient and titled family the D’urbervilles; accordingly, when the opportunity arises for Tess to work for the D’urberville family, as their poultry keeper, her parents pack her off to the estate, where she attracts the wrong kind of attention from Alec, the dissolute son of the household. (Or rather: she attracts the kind of attention her parents wanted her to attract, from Alec, but that attraction ends in enforced seduction rather than marriage.) I’m going to spare you the rest of the heartbreaking story for now, because you really should watch one of the many adaptations fresh, rather than having to slog through one of my synopses.

Now. Which one to pick? Evidently TV versions were made in Britain in both 1952 and 1960, but I’ve only seen the 1998 and 2008 versions. Of the two, I’d suggest the 1998 one: although Gemma Arterton did a great job in the 2008 version, the rest of the cast of the 1998 version is just so strong. (And Justine Waddell, another underappreciated actress, also held her own as Tess, and perhaps did a better job in showing her frustration in trying to be “good” and still being thwarted and wronged at every turn. And Jason Flemyng never really got the full credit he deserved for his handsome, tortured, disgusting but still somehow compelling and pitiable Alec.) Also, Eddie Redmayne as Angel, Tess’s true love, in the 2008 adaptation? Eddie Redmayne is just all wrong as Angel, I’m sorry. Okay, so I can sense what I’m saying here is just go watch them both so you can decided which program is better. The former is three hours long and the latter is four hours, so watching both would still be shorter than binge-watching any other series. Just don’t watch them back to back. That would be TOO MUCH HARDY.

That’s actually not one of my favorite clips from the 1998 version, but I can’t find many on YouTube!

Now. Speaking of TOO MUCH Hardy, that’s probably enough for today. Join us on Thursday for more Hardy Hijinks.

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