|DVD Romantic Drama|
|Written by Paul Lingas|
|Monday, 27 June 2005|
“The Woodlanders” is a pleasant enough albeit somewhat drab adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel of the same name. It takes place in Hardy’s Wessex, in the south of England in the 19th century. The events surround the return of Grace Melbury (Emily Woof) from school to her rural hometown, where she is awaited not only by her father (Tony Haygarth) but also by the honest and hardworking woodsman Giles Winterborne (Rufus Sewell). Though there has always been an understanding between Giles and Grace, Mr. Melbury has decided that, because Grace is now an educated woman, the uneducated Giles, of low social stature, is no longer suitable for her.
Grace reluctantly informs Giles of this and he quietly respects her father’s decision. In contrast to Giles is the newly arrived physician Dr. Fitzpiers (Cal MacAninch). Full of knowledge, young, wealthy and used to the upper echelons of society, Dr. Fitzpiers becomes intrigued by the winsome Grace, whose father is very happy that his daughter is now garnering the attention he feels she now deserves.
Grace and Dr. Fitzpiers eventually marry, though getting to the wedding is not without its drama. Giles endures hardship, not only due to the loss of his childhood love, but also at the hands of a wealthy widow, the haughty yet desirable Mrs. Charmond (Polly Walker). After she endures a fall, Dr. Fitzpiers becomes Mrs. Charmond’s physician and she beguiles him with her stature and social standing. Though Dr. Fitzpiers finds Grace loveable, he never seems to be happy living amongst the woodlanders. As the doctor carries on with his new patient, the love that never extinguished between Grace and Giles smolders. Ultimately, the paths of the four people will collide once more.
Hardy is considered one of the finest English novelists not only of the 19th century but of all time. “The Woodlanders” is one of his lesser-known works (“Jude the Obscure,” “The Mayor of Casterbridge,” “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”), but it still deserves a better adaptation than this. Though there is nothing egregious about this film, it simply feels limp a great deal of the time. At 95 minutes, there is an oversimplification of the relationships between all of the characters and this serves only to cheapen the overall dynamic of the story and seems also to make a mockery of each character’s actions. The drama is slighted almost to the point where we feel as though we are watching a finely wrought but silly soap opera, rather than a serious and dramatic look at the intersection of city and rural life. Sewell is very good here, though he has little to do but project a stolid and brave front. The other actors do yeoman work and the greatest annoyance is the simplistic and rather slow staging employed by director Phil Agland. The most effective description of the film as a whole is to say it is average. There are no major flaws, yet it is difficult to become truly engaged with any aspect of the film or the filmmaking.
“The Woodlanders” was originally released in 1997 and, after winning some awards at a few film festivals, Miramax decided to release it on DVD. Consequently, this edition contains no extra or special features and is presented in only 2.0 stereo Dolby Digital. Technically, this is not a very good transfer. Though sharp in most respects, there are various flaws in the image. Most notable are the pixilated, blurred lines that seem to stretch away from almost any diagonal line that occurs within the frame. These lines become more noticeable whenever there is a great amount of contrast within the image. The other image flaw presents itself as small dots of white that crop up here and there. Most likely these are artifacts from the film transfer to digital; they are not distracting in any major way but still obviously diminish the overall quality of the image. Though the sound is only presented in stereo, it is an adequate mix, though at times, the dialogue seems a bit muddled, albeit this is no doubt due to problems with production sound and ADR rather than any problems with the DVD mix.
Fans of Thomas Hardy and British period dramas will no doubt find some enjoyment here, but beyond that, this is an unremarkable and at times overly simplistic film adaptation. This, coupled with the lack of special features, means save this for a rental.