Tess DVD Review

Roman Polanski is a director known for a wide variety of films across different genres. It has often been suggested that troubles in his personal life have heavily influenced his work, perhaps explaining the mixture of films he has produced. The 1970s was a dark period for Polanski, as wife Sharon Tate had been brutally murdered by the Manson family in 1969, and most of his work during this time period reflected his sombre mood. Polanski has openly explained that his reason for taking on this particular project, which plays out as an adaptation of the famous Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, was that Sharon had believed he would one day make the novel into a great film.

Tess is the story of a young peasant girl whose beauty leads her to be seduced by the wealthy Alec d’Urberville, who takes her virtue and leaves her miserable. After finally leaving the d’Urberville’s she returns home and gives birth to an illegitimate child that dies at a young age, leading to a trail of events that ultimately end in tragedy.

Nastassja Kinski, daughter of Klaus Kinski, plays the role of Tess and does a fine job considering her age at the time – she claims to have been first approached about the project when she was just fifteen. She also has the perfect face for the role of Tess who is meant to be a woman of exquisite beauty but is often seen getting her hands dirty. As the film progresses she also starts to have an uncanny similarity to actress Ingrid Bergman which seems very fitting for the role.

The novel is about nature as much as it is about the characters and Polanski seems to translate this effectively onscreen. He provides an impressively cinematic experience from such a well known literary source, complimented by the film’s overpowering score. There were two directors of photography involved in the project. The first, Geoffrey Unsworth who had worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey, tragically died on set just three weeks into the project and was replaced by Ghislain Cloquet who was known for his work with Robert Bresson. The cinematography in the film is remarkable despite the changing of hands during the project and there is a real sense of depth throughout. Another element that contributes to this is the use of rural settings. Polanski actually shot the film in France instead of England but there is a real sense of vastness to the frequent outdoor scenes which compliment the themes in the story. It seems like Polanski took the job seriously, possibly because of his dedication to making it as his late wife would have liked it, and does not resort to using the cheap sets that can be seen in other films of his such as The Fearless Vampire Killers.

The actors playing the two men in Tess’s life are both well cast. Leigh Lawson plays the overpowering Alec who is charming with a sinister edge. Peter Firth plays Angel Clare who is exceptionally weak in character and later becomes a fragment of a man. Both of these actors manage to effectively convey the contrasting characters on either side of the tormented Tess. The characters in the story are actually very unlikable but this is not a problem, it acts within the tragedy of the story and is somewhat symbolic in many ways, in a similar way to other classics such as Gone With the Wind.

Those who grew tired of studying Tess of the d’Urbervilles in school might be put off but the cinematography in the film really makes it a fine example of cinema. Here, Polanski distances himself, in a similar way to what he did in The Pianist, favouring the telling of a story over daring experiments with his own filmmaking style. He does not rush to tell the story and the film runs just under three hours in length but his versatility can be seen in this time as he creates a variety of moods. The themes of nature, problems with the middle-class, and Victorian notions of female purity are all present here and it is a faithful adaptation of a well-known novel.

This has been released in a dual-format edition by the BFI and special features include:
– Tess: From Novel to Screen
– Filming Tess
– Tess: The Experience
– Costume designs
– Theatrical Trailer
– Illustrated booklet

About The Author

Alice is a student who hopes to one day be a full-time journalist. Films have been a big part of her life; especially those from the horror genre. While attending her school's film club she won the national review of the week twice. She is currently studying Film at the University and Warwick. Her favourite directors include David Lynch, Wong Kar-wai and Stanley Kubrick.

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