Tuesday, 2 April 2013


It has been alleged that Roman Polanski made the literary adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1891 novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles because the last time he saw his wife Sharon Tate alive[1] she had given him a copy of Hardy’s book and told him it would make a great film. A dedication at the start of the Tess (1979) simply reads ‘to Sharon’.

Polanski was born in Paris 1933 but raised in Poland. His career has been over shadowed by accusations that he drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl, a charge he denied, entering a guilty plea for unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor instead! He fled the United States for Europe and never returned. The only Oscar he has won for Best Director was for The Pianist (2002), although he has won many film awards in Europe including Repulsion 1965, Rosemary’s Baby (1968) Chinatown (1974) The Ghost 2009 and Tess.

Set in Dorset, but actually filmed in France, Tess stars the German actress and Polanski’s partner at the time, Natassja Kinski as Tess Durbeyfield with Leigh Lawson taking on the role of Alec Stokes, master of the d’Urbervilles who seduces, rapes and impregnates the young Tess with child, which dies shortly after birth. Peter Firth, best known for his role of Sir Harry Pearce in the BBC TV series Spooks, plays Angel Clare who falls head over heels in love and marries Tess. But on their wedding night Tess reveals her inner most secrets (never a good idea at the best of times) putting the kibosh on any idea of consummating the marriage.

The unsmiling Tess is seduced by a strawberry.
The film is melodramatic and overlong, without an ounce of genuine humour (It makes you wonder if Kinski knows how to smile?). Polanski’s film is made incredibly dourer by the length of time the story takes to unfold. The film did win an Oscar for the Best Cinematography. It was shared between George Unsworth, who died during the filming, and his replacement Christain Cloguet. Not a movie I would particularly recommend, it’s a hard watch. I believe the only other non-silent film adaptation of Hardy’s story was the equally disappointing Trisna (2011) directed by Michael Winterbottom and set in 21st century Indian, it stared Freida Pinto and Riz Ahmed.

[1] Members of Charlie Manson’s family murdered her in 1969 aged 26. 

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