Michael Winterbottom Directs Thomas Hardy | September 21, 2011
I was aware that director Michael Winterbottom had adapted Thomas Hardy’s novel The Mayor of Casterbridge into a snowy Western tale called The Claim, and I hadn’t heard much good of it. What I didn’t know is that Winterbottom, whose work has recently sparked my interest, had adapted Hardy before.
This time it was Jude the Obscure, Hardy’s last novel and the one that earned him the most grief. Winterbottom kept this one in its natural time period. I watched both films and feel that regardless of any faults, these are great pieces of cinema.
Jude features a great performance from Christopher Eccleston. He captures everything, loud or quiet, necessary in Hardy’s protagonist: a man with ambitions and dreams who pushes against consistent strife and tragedy. Jude struggles to enter the intellectual world until his main fight becomes his love for his cousin, played well by Kate Winslet.
A theme common to Hardy’s writing, placing him in the era labeled naturalism by scholars, is the way his characters are trapped in their environment, unable to escape certain fates laid down by their place of birth and situation. This is where Winterbottom succeeds. He gets that feeling straight to the gut. He champions Jude as a force constantly fighting against the conventions against him whether it be social norms of relationships/marriage or guilt based in religion. There is a true sense of dread in the picture and I love it for that.
The Claim also bares that tone. The film takes place in a gold mining town on white mountains in the American West where prospector played by Peter Mullan rules with solid justice. But he has a dark past: he sold his wife and child for this fortune and the movie begins upon their return. The daughter doesn’t know who he really is but the mother does and soon the tragedy amongst them as well as the whores who work for him and the railroad engineers surveying the area begins.
I won’t say anything more of the plot. The film is weak in areas but I’ve never known so much affection for perfect films. I like the ambitious ones, the pictures that try though they might fall short. Winterbottom’s transition of Hardy’s story to this new environment is not a complete fit for one, however the movie works not as a true western but a stark tragedy set in this hostile environment of pioneering. The landscapes reflect the inner landscapes of the characters.
Mullan is as good as Eccleston was in Jude. These are two British actors who don’t get the attention they deserve, drowned out by the more popular. I’d advise anyone curious in Mullan to also watch him in a great crime movie called Young Adam. Milla Jovovich does well as the head whore, though I recently read that Winterbottom wanted Madonna for the role and I admit it would’ve been more interesting to see her tackle it.
Michael Winterbottom isn’t done with Hardy. I was happy to read that his third adaptation of the author’s work was recently completed. Trishna, a version of Tess of the d”Urbervilles, set in India should be released sometime this year or the next. I admire filmmakers who tackle the greats of literature and find new ways to tell their stories.
Posted in Filmmakers
Tags: Christopher Eccleston
, Jude the Obscure
, Kate Winslet
, Mayor of Casterbridge
, Michael Winterbottom
, Milla Jovovich
, Peter Mullan
, Tess of the d'Urbervilles
, The Claim
, Thomas Hardy
, Young Adam