Sunday, September 07, 2008

A Devilish Turn

Although I’ve not read Thomas Hardy’s classic novel, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, I’m interested in the forthcoming BBC Television adaptation as it features Hans Matheson as the devilish Alec D’Urbervilles.

As regular readers of
The Wild Reed would know, I’ve appreciated for some time now the work of this particular actor. (And, yes, that I find him very good-looking no doubt factors into my interest in his career!)

Scheduled to be screened September 14 on BBC 1 (no word yet of when we might expect to see it on American screens), this particular adaptation of Hardy’s novel is a first for the BBC.

In a recent media release screenwriter David Nicholls notes:

“Tess Of The D’Urbervilles” is a romantic epic, one of the great love stories but a cruel and violent saga too, and I hope we’ve faithfully captured that high emotion, the mix of light and shade that makes Hardy’s novel so compelling and sublime . . . It’s a novel of remarkable power, with a story that grips from its very first scene until its terrible, heart-breaking conclusion.

. . . Perhaps Hardy’s greatest achievement is his heroine. It’s unusual to read a book where the author is so clearly in love with his creation, and Hardy devises a series of extraordinary highs and lows for her, from giddying romantic love and prosperity to terrible degradation and suffering.

There is no single personification of Tess; she is a schoolgirl, a mother, a lover, a wife, a slave-labourer, a prisoner, a rebel, a courtesan, a criminal, and yet throughout her remarkable journey she never loses her integrity or her capacity for life.

This Tess is not just a passive victim, but an active, forceful, opinionated young working-class woman. It’s a daunting challenge for any actress, but I think Gemma Arterton’s performance is extraordinary.

About Hans’ portrayal of Alec D’Urberville, Nicholls says:

The danger with any portrayal of Alec D’Urberville is that he becomes merely a moustache-twirling seducer, but Hans Matheson endows him with a compelling mix of arrogance and self-loathing, sex appeal and menace.

I recall reading somewhere that, like Tess, Alec can be seen to represent a larger moral principle rather than a real individual person. Given this, Alec, like the ancient concept of Satan, symbolizes the base forces of life that drive us away from seeking wholeness, love, and community.

Hans has tended to play heroic and noble characters in his past films. It will be interesting to see him in the role of the villain.

Above: Gemma Arterton and Hans Matheson filming Tess of D’Urbervilles.
“I’ve gone to the dark side - and it’s much more fun,” joked Hans in a
recent interview about his turn as the devilish Alec D’Urberville.

For more of Hans Matheson at The Wild Reed, see the previous posts:
To the Lighthouse . . .
Hans Matheson in The Tudors

Recommended Off-site Links:
Hans Matheson Online
Beauty and the Beasts: The BBC’s Latest Period Drama Has a Real Dark Side - James Rampton (The Independent, September 4, 2008).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's Hardy's best. Read before watching, please.