Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1998)

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Released 7-Oct-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1998
Running Time 175:35
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (93:52) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Ian Sharp

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Justine Waddell
Jason Flemyng
Oliver Milburn
John McEnery
Lesley Dunlop
Rosalind Knight
Anthony O'Donnell
Christine Moore
Bryan Pringle
Debbie Chazen
Candida Rundle
Amanda Brewster
Linda Armstrong
Case ?
RPI $39.95 Music Alan Lisk

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Thomas Hardy was frequently compared with Charles Dickens in school literature classes, particularly the fate of their lead characters. While Mr Dickens championed the common man, he did it largely from a state of optimism. For Mr Hardy, however, the terms "hero" and "heroine" were not synonymous with "victor."

     And so it is with young Tess Darbyfield (Justine Waddell.) Although we discover she is actually of the aristocratic family, the D'Urbervilles, her family's penury affords them no noble privilege. Desperate to improve their fortunes, her mother (Lesley Dunlop), sends Tess to a more monied arm of the family to serve them and hopefully gain their patronage. Horribly naive, Tess encounters cousin Alec (Jason Flemyng), hopelessly ill-informed and defenceless to his lascivious advances. His rape of her results in a dejected return home, and the birth and death of her illegitimate baby that she christens in a clandestine home ceremony with the name of "Sorrow."

     Grimness and desperation heaps upon grimness and desperation as a near consumptive Tess finds work on a dairy farm. The bovine company of both the cows and her fellow milkmaids acts as a restorative to the lass, made even more piquant with the arrival of minister's son, Angel (Oliver Milburn). The pair quickly fall madly in love. On the insistence of her mother never to tell, she withholds her history and Sorrow's existence. On their wedding night however, Angel discloses his own past indiscretions. Feeling sure that this has opened a new door of understanding, she lets open the floodgates of her own trials. Instead of bonding the pair, Angel decides her past is irreconcilable and leaves her that night.

     So yet again, Tess finds herself alone and desperate, finally finding work on the coal fields of the burgeoning Industrial Revolution. Like her pastoral home, she has moved from fecund innocence to pollution and alienation. Also lurking about again is Alec - still obsessed with her. He contends that as an abandoned wife, she's free to marry him. This, of course, is not just sentimental on Alec's part. It transpires that he's not actually a D'Urberville proper - his family bought the title, so a marital link with a true branch from the tree would shore him against any titular challenge.

     This highlights the challenge for modern viewers watching this film. It is a faithful representation of Hardy's novel, and Justine Waddell's performance is very reliable, but her character's dichotomy between feisty independence and abject passivity is difficult to reconcile. Many of the support actors are rather weak and unconvincing, with the worst offender being Jason Flemyng's Alec - all he needed was a black cape to be the stereotypical vaudeville villain.

     This is a very long film, running at 175:35 and it's hard to tolerate some of the scenes that pass before our modern eyes. The production values are strangely variant, moving the range from lush and glorious to pedestrian at best. There are some continuity errors that are somewhat distracting. Overall, despite some lovely examples of photography, the production doesn't really hang together very well.

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Transfer Quality


     The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 which is true to its television origins.

     Sharpness and luminance are wildly varied in this production. The pastoral scenes at the beginning of the film promise much, but the presence of grain in the highlights and low level noise impede the enjoyment of the transfer. There is some evidence of edge enhancement throughout the film.

     The colour palette is also quite variable. Those same opening scenes display a glorious, lush range, but this frequently degrades to a rather drab and flat palette.

     There are a significant amount of film to video artefacts present, plus a very visible data drop-out at 49:13. There are a number of scenes affected by colour shift and some halation present.

     There are no subtitles available on this disc.

     This disc is an RSDL disc, with the layer change placed at 93:52. It is not a particularly troubling change.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     There is one audio track available on this DVD which is English Dolby Digital 2.0.

     The dialogue was always clean and easy to understand. Audio sync did not present any significant problems.

     The musical score by Alan Lisk was relatively sparse and quite varied. The traditional folk music and more classically oriented pieces were rather charming and interesting, particularly the ambient folk music. However, there were other areas where the implementation of synthesised music seemed a strange choice for a period piece.

     There was no real surround presence, and the audio occasionally sounded somewhat distorted. The overall audio sound was somewhat flat.

     There was no subwoofer activity present.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


     There are no extras on this disc.


     The menu design is static and silent.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     There appears to be no difference between the two productions, so the choice is yours.


     This is really one for the diehard Hardy fans. Our modern sensibilities and manners sit uncomfortably with the trials of Tess. Waddell is excellent - shame about the rest of the cast.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Mirella Roche-Parker (read my bio)
Friday, March 19, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDSinger SGD-001, using S-Video output
DisplayTeac 76cm Widescreen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationTeac 5.1 integrated system
SpeakersTeac 5.1 integrated system

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