“Tap the cider, Mr. Penny, Sabbath or no.”
Thomas Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree is considered a slight novel when compared to the great tragedies–Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. Nonetheless it is a delightful tale, and this made-for-television film adaptation is an exquisite recreation of the novel. The main story is a pastoral romance set in the quaint village of Mellstock. The arrival of Miss Fancy Day (Keeley Hawes) sparks speculation amongst the gossipy villagers as to the identity of her future husband. Squire Shiner (Steve Pemberton) seems to be the likeliest candidate for Fancy’s hand. He’s the wealthiest man in the area, he’s obviously smitten by Fancy, and her father promotes the match. Parson Maybold (Ben Miles) emerges as another contender for Fancy’s heart, but Fancy is drawn to Dick Dewy (James Murray) in spite of the fact he’s not considered her social equal.
The courtship of Fancy Day is set against a sub-plot involving the Mellstock church choir. Parson Maybold wishes to replace the choir with a new organ, and he wants Fancy to usurp the choir’s traditional spot in church. Maybold considers this evidence of his progressive nature, but the villagers, who are bound to tradition, view Maybold’s behaviour unfavorably.
The film’s cinematography emphasizes the beauty of nature, and the relationships people have with the land. One of the film’s best scenes occurs when the local gentry attend a garden party–complete with musicians. The country folk stand outside the Squire’s mansion and watch the gentry arrive, but then they decide to have music of their own. The robust accordions and gay fiddles of the simple folk soon drown out the sedate ensemble playing anemically for the wealthy of Mellstock. The film’s playful, rustic spirit stays remarkably true to the novel, and while there’s nothing earth shattering here, Under the Greenwood Tree is a delightful adaptation of a gentle tale to be enjoyed by fans of British television costume drama.