Monday, September 22, 2008

Tess perks up for Episode Two

The second episode of the BBC's Tess of the D'Urbervilles was a marked improvement on the first. Good, solid performances all-round - especially from Gemma Arterton as Tess - and lush production values, basking in the luxuriant glow of Sunday-friendly BBC period drama in full throttle.

There was a sweeping range of emotions on offer in this single hour; from heart-felt tragedy when Tess's baby dies, (as a mother of a baby myself, I found the scene where Tess, dry-eyed with grief, holds her baby's corpse, especially hard to bear), through to the radiant sappiness of young love, when Tess and Angel Clare fall head over heels for one another.

Particularly enjoyable was Angel Clare's visit home, to his God-fearing family; bastions of middle-class Victorian respectability, the lot of them. Angel's feistiness in the face of avuncular adversity, was pleasantly evinced by Eddie Redmayne.

As her happiness grew, Arterton's Tess also became increasingly fearful that her soiled past would rise up and derail her current happiness. Her tension was well-played, skilfully infecting the tenor of the piece. Even for those who have not read the novel, the moment Tess allows her letter to Clare, announcing the truth about her 'impure' past, to flutter from her hands, into an open fire, we are left with a sense of forboding - which augurs well for Episode Three.

This is not vintage BBC adaptation. It fails to scale the heights of former glories such as Cranford, Bleak House or Pride & Prejudice. But it is solid fare; competent, presentable, heritage drama, offering little new or challenging in its reading of Hardy's novel. I suspect it will be pretty forgettable, but it is pleasant enough viewing for now.

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