Michael Winterbottom's bold re-imagining of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles
(15) 113 min
Roman Polanski filmed Tess of the D’Urbervilles back in the late 1970s as Tess, with his then partner Nastassja Kinski in the lead role of Thomas Hardy’s heroine-cum-personification-of-nature. Here Michael Winterbottom, who’s previously been inspired by the Victorian author’s Jude the Obscure and The Mayor of Casterbridge (the source for the gold rush western The Claim), imaginatively transposes Hardy’s tragic novel to modern day Rajasthan and Mumbai.
Slumdog Millionaire star Freida Pinto plays the peasant daughter Trishna, who dreams of Bollywood and is swept off her feet by the British-raised Jay (Riz Ahmed, a conflation of Hardy’s male suitors Alec and Angel), the son of a wealthy Indian hotelier (Roshan Seth). Having arranged a job for Trishna in one of his father’s luxury establishments, Jay eventually persuades her to move with him to an apartment in Mumbai, where their affair no longer has to remain undisclosed. The revelation of a guilty secret to her partner, however, sends their relationship into a downwards spiral.
Aided by Marcel Zyskind’s agile cinematography and In the Mood for Love composer Shigeru Umebayashi’s fine score, Winterbottom establishes a vivid sense of place, contrasting the arid textures of the northwestern countryside with the colourful hurly-burly of contemporary Mumbai’s music and dance scene. Pinto’s beauty, which capsized Julian Schnabel’s Miral, is, however, problematic, because it’s a stretch to buy her as a toiling rural worker. The dramatic weight that the combination of Kate Winslet and Christopher Eccleston brought to the director’s Jude is certainly missing in the film’s melodramatic finale. Some of Hardy’s themes have a real resonance in this Indian setting, notably the clash between tradition and modernity, and the sexual double-standards by which Tess herself so painfully suffers, yet the film ultimately lacks the requisite emotional force.
Selected release from Fri 9 Mar.