Lost in Austen got even better last week. One feisty twentieth century girl turns up in Austen-land and all the heroes and villains fall for her! Complicated and fun. I wish I could say the same for the BBC’s new Sunday evening serial, Tess of the D’Urbervilles. As the girls danced I thought, ‘Ooh, I was walking on that very spot last Easter!’ As soon as Tess appeared it was, ‘Poor Tess!’ and then, ‘Angel Clare, you bastard!’ because to my mind he is far worse than Alec. Then my attention wandered; alas, I found it boring. As you see, I know the book, so I wonder how it would appear as a story to someone coming to it for the first time?
I was annoyed that the TV Cranford changed the story but it was so beautifully done that you felt you lived there. In contrast, Tess gave no feeling of village life; just a few dim interiors. The promised (or threatened) ‘scenes of sexual violence’ were absolutely nothing compared with what’s going on in The Tudors, and were much less shocking than in the book. It really isn’t good enough to show a lot of beautiful countryside and add Mummerset accents and I wasn’t impressed by the casting, apart from Anna Massey as Mrs D’Urberville. Hardy made Tess a cipher and that’s how she appears. I have fond memories of a 1970s version of The Mayor of Casterbridge, with Alan Bates. Bates made quite a career in Hardy as he also starred in The Woodlanders and in the film of Far From the Madding Crowd. Now no one could find that film boring. It may lack modern attention to period detail but makes up for it in spirited story telling; something lacking from this slow version of Tess.