1996, R, 122 min. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Starring Christopher Eccleston, Kate Winslet, June Whitfield, Liam Cunningham, Rachel Griffiths.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Dec. 20, 1996
Based on Thomas Hardy's late 19th-century British novel Jude the Obscure, the more simply titled Jude has a strangely contemporary feel to it. Perhaps it's due to the way its protagonist ignores the moral, cultural, and religious conventions of his day; for all practical purposes, Jude Hawley (Eccleston) is a man ahead of his time, a man whose anachronism comes close to being a thing of tragedy. A poor boy from the country, he teaches himself Latin and Greek in preparation for university attendance, but a literal roll in the hay with a flirtatious Arabella (Griffiths) leads to a marriage of necessity, or so it would seem. When Arabella unexpectedly leaves him, Jude decides to realize his dream of a higher education and moves to the town of Christminster. Life there is a mixed blessing: His university application is rejected because of his social background, but he meets -- and instantly fall in love with -- his cousin, Sue (Winslet), a young woman who (like himself) has little use for societal do's and don'ts. Their fated and often tortured relationship is the crux of Jude, which doesn't sentimentalize the romance in their inevitable union. In the two leading roles, Eccleston and Winslet are a somewhat odd pairing at times, but the casting works because the characters they play are seldom in tune with each other. While Eccleston -- he played the accountant who goes off the deep end in Shallow Grave -- gives an excellent performance as the frustrated Jude, Winslet fares less well, in large part because Sue is a woman of contradictions which aren't meant to be fathomed. Director Winterbottom (Butterfly Kiss) and screenwriter Hossein Amini could have given the story a bit more resonance, particularly in character development, if they had allowed some of the scenes to go a little longer. This is a very episodic movie; some vignettes are abbreviated almost to a fault. Still, there's Eduardo Serra's beautiful cinematography (Who thought that the damp, overcast English landscape could look so romantic and inviting?) and Hardy's tale is a compelling one. Jude may not rank as one of the best adaptations of British novels to come to the screen in the past 10 years or so, but it's a notch above Masterpiece Theatre.