Thursday, December 23, 2010

Film Review: Jude (1996)

Before leaving for Christmas vacation, I had the chance to watch the newer version of Jude the Obscure, starring Kate Winslet.  Back in September I followed up my reading of Thomas Hardy's novel with a 1971 film version  (See "Film Review:  Jude the Obscure").  I'll be honest, it was a scary version, so outdated and somewhat bizarre that I simply didn't enjoy it.  Thanks to some great blogger friends, they led me to the modernized version of the film starring Kate Winslet and Christopher Eccleston, which was much better than its older version.

As described in my earlier review, this film is based around Thomas Hardy's tragic story of the stonemason Jude, who only wanted to go to college and learn.  Social class and privilege kept him from his dreams as he had to get married to a woman he didn't necessarily love, who eventually ran off and left him alone.  Jude then met and fell in love with his cousin Sue, who has her own forward-thinking ideas that challenge Jude and the reader to question society's mores.

I've mentioned before what a Thomas Hardy fan I've become.  I love the brutally honest way Hardy attacks the problems he saw in society and the impacts they had on people.  Having said that, I can 100% see why people of his time thought he was too controversial.  Thomas Hardy was ahead of his time and they just weren't ready to see how individuals were affected by certain practices in their society that they deemed "proper" and appropriate.  While they viewed their strict social structure to be holding the fabric of their society together, it actually shunned and tormented those who didn't fit into these constructs.  Jude is one such film that demonstrates just how far these constructs will push someone.

In this updated film version, we get more of a sense of the free spirit that Sue was, as played by Kate Winslet.  I suppose that in the novel and in the older film we don't quite catch Sue's views on life and philosophy, but she seems flighty and even lacking common sense!  In this case, Kate Winslet does an amazing job capturing the essence of this character and even makes it more of her own.  Through Winslet, I actually caught nuances to her character that I hadn't considered before, things that made her feel more calculated and in control of her position in society than explored in the other pieces.  In short, Winslet showed me just how complicated and multi-faceted Sue's character really was in this story.

As an adaptation film, I found Jude to be much better at capturing the heart of Hardy's message.  Tragedy is not easy to watch, but this film ended in such a way that I walked away wondering "what if" for our main characters as I did when I finished the book.  Although there were a couple of nude scenes in this version, as in the previous film, that threw me a little, I did feel that it made more sense with this plot development than in the earlier adaptation.  I'm still not sure that either was completely necessary to get across the point, but considering Hardy's point about morality and marriage, I can see why it was included.  The tension in the film between the couple adds that extra layer of tragedy that makes sense in a real-life sort of way.  In short, it's tragedy in all that entails, but beautifully done.

I really liked this adaptation.  It was bold, gritty, and laid open for us to consider.  Thank you again to those of you who led me to this newer version film version of the novel.  It was much closer to the tone and message of Hardy's original, and a story that will continue to make me think.


  1. Does Winslet specialize in playing "free spirits"?

  2. Heidenkind--LOL. Yes, I think she does. :) Weren't you one of the people who told me about this one?