The Woodlanders (1997)

“Bittersweet.”

“The Woodlanders” is a superficial but tasty version of the lesser-known Thomas Hardy novel. Grace Melbury (Emily Woof), the only child of timber merchant, George Melbury (Tony Haygarth) returns home to her village after finishing her education. Grace was the childhood sweetheart of woodcutter Giles Winterborne (Rufus Sewell), and Grace and Giles grew up with an ‘understanding’ that one day they would wed. Grace doesn’t quite fit into her rustic surroundings any longer, and she longs for the company and attention of Mrs. Charmond (Polly Walker)–a woman who seems fashionable and modern by the villagers’ standards. Giles, in the meantime, is eager to renew his courtship of Grace, and he invites the Melburys for what he considers a grand evening in his humble cottage. Unfortunately, this only serves to convince Mr. Melbury that his daughter can do better than Giles.

The local doctor, Fitzpiers (Cal Macaninch) takes a fancy to Grace, and thanks to his social standing, Mr. Melbury encourages the match between Fitzpiers and Grace.

Thomas Hardy considered “The Woodlanders” to be his favourite novel, but as the story doesn’t quite reach the grand epic and tragic themes as “Tess” and “Far From the Madding Crowd”, it’s frequently overlooked. While it’s thrilling to see “The Woodlanders” on DVD, the script boils the plot down to its bare bones, and ignores the nuances of the novel. The characters of Marty and Mrs. Charmond are sadly underdeveloped, and Grace and Fitzpiers are simplified. That said, this period piece film is well acted and quite enjoyable. Hardy fans won’t be able to resist, and the film’s authenticity compensates–although not entirely–for the simplification of the plot and the main characters.

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