A few weekends ago, I spent not a small amount of time watching various movie versions of Thomas Hardy's novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles: the 1979 version with Natassia Kinski, the 1998 version with Justine Waddell (who is one of my favorite actors, and who you might know from the brilliant Wives and Daughters), and the 2008 version with Gemma Arterton.
I first read Tess of the D'Urbervilles in high school and have re-read it a few times since. It is a maddening and ambitious and tragic and symbolic novel on so many levels; I won't get into a textual analysis or even summarization here because that is way beyond my skill-level today (or any day, I'm sure) but, without giving any spoilers or details, be warned that this is a heavy movie. As difficult as it is, almost every spring I have the urge to revisit this story, especially in movie form. Several weeks ago, on a blustery Friday afternoon, I rented all three of the above versions (from our stellar local indie video store), stopped and got a latte, and settled in for a viewing. I started with the most recent 2008 BBC version featuring Gemma Arterton. I had seen it before, when it first came out a couple of years ago and was on cable, but for some reason, watching it this time, I was moved like I have rarely been moved by a movie. I finished it the next day, then put in the 1998 version. I watched about forty-five minutes of it (I had seen it before, as well) and popped it back out; I put in the 1979 version. Again, I watched only until about halfway through her time at the dairy and took it out, too. Then I put the 2008 version back in and watched the whole thing again.
It's true that it was really cold, really rainy, and I had nothing else to do. But honestly, I don't think the earlier versions hold a candle to this one. I was just so mesmerized by Gemma Arterton, who, in my opinion, turned in one of the most moving performances I've ever seen in my life, that I just couldn't stop watching. I have to admit that I sobbed both times, and possibly even more the second time.
Part of what choked me up, aside from the breathtaking and soulful Miss Arterton (as well as the other performances, which I think are brilliant) and the brutal, sad plot, is the stunning beauty — and implied fragility — of the scenery. If you watch the extras on the DVD, they talk about the filming locations (according to the BBC web site [unfortunately, none of the trailers there work for me], the movie was filmed in several places around western England in the spring of 2008). They discuss how the director made a conscious decision to include these big, long shots where you frequently see just one character walking alone across miles of open countryside, and there is something very vulnerable and profound about those images in particular to me. So many of the other scenes of the woods in springtime (especially the scene where she and Angel are talking under the tree) also really stuck in my mind and are still floating around there.
This past Friday I put together a Tess-inspired spring mantel for our living room.
The flowers are all fake (even we here in Oregon don't have such blossoms yet), except for the pot of clover all the way to the left that Andy bought at the nursery when we went. But the arrangement and the colors made me feel peaceful. I thought of ikebana and of gentle things.
I added a little sprig of blooming pink daphne to that little blue creamer, and found a tiny, real bird's nest (at an antique booth) to put under the cloche that Amy gave me for my birthday.