Novel-based film shows Victorian restrictions

Looking to rent a film that will intensify the mood brought about by this miserable and melancholic weather? Well look no further. Jude (Gramercy Pictures), Michael Winterbottom’s handsome film version of Thomas Hardy’s novel Jude the Obscure, does just that. Kind of.

Set in late 19th century England, this love story explores the passionate relationship between two cousins, Jude Fawley (Christopher Eccleston, Shallow Grave) and Sue Bridehead (Kate Winslet, Titanic).

Jude takes its time in involving the central characters in the action. The story of a stonemason with intellectual aspirations, the film follows Jude from his short-lived, unhappy first marriage to a farm girl, to his university career.

Along the way, Jude meets and falls madly in love with his bright, thoroughly modern cousin Sue. When Jude and Sue decide to live together unmarried, flouting society’s conventions, they set off a chain of events that escalates to fatal tragedy. Through the cinematographer’s lens, the lush English countryside is so heavily rain drenched that the weather is a harbinger of the characters’ future.

It is interesting to see how Jude on one level indicts Victorian society and traditional religion for harshly judging Jude and Sue. For the cousins, both birth control and divorce from their legal spouses seem out of the question. However, neither subject is directly addressed in the film.

Winterbottom keeps his scenes tense and focused, and his pace brisk. However, the film succeeds thanks to Eccleston’s dignified performance: proud but not arrogant, determined but not pig-headed, noble but far from elitist. Eccleston, feeding off Winslet’s glowing performance, has an inner grace that illuminates even the film’s darkest moments.

Overall, it’s a difficult film to like because it is, simply put, a downer. But rent it any way. Besides, the dreary mood of the film goes along with the dreary weather outside.

4 Hatchets

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