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Hardly Hardy

Kate Winslet
Joss Barratt

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Kate Winslet plays Thomas Hardy's Sue as a protofeminist--with quirks.

By Richard von Busack

'Jude' cleans the grit from a tragic novel

I AM LIKE Frederick Exley's coarse brother-in-law in the novel A Fan's Notes--a man who only knew one interesting fact about ancient Rome, that Brutus supposedly stabbed Caesar in the balls ... or so Plutarch claimed. The only thing I can remember about Thomas Hardy's 1895 novel Jude the Obscure is the scene in which Arabella the swineherd's daughter introduces herself.

She sees the hero, a dreamy young orphan--"the sort of man born to ache a good deal before the fall of the curtain on his unnecessary life"--with his hopeless aspirations to become a classical scholar. Arabella catches his attention by pitching a handful of boar genitals at him. These giblets are described, with Hardian finickiness, as "the characteristic part of a barrow pig, which the countrymen used for greasing their boots, as it was useless for any other purpose." Naturally, Jude and Arabella are soon swiving right in the pig stalls, and are thereafter married, unhappily.

Later Jude meets his cousin Sue, someone much more to his taste, who knows about the life of the spirit and not just the correct way to stick pigs. The relationship is cursed by their former marriages. Their luck worsens, and the upshot is that Sue succumbs to what a rational skeptic would call a fate worse than death.


Wired links for a Victorian novel:

Online text of novel Jude the Obscure.

Brief bio of author Thomas Hardy plus links to other sites.

Thomas Hardy fan page.

Official homepage for the movie.

Unofficial Kate Winslet homepage.

Richard von Busack's review of the director's previous movie, Butterfly Kiss.


All in all, a fine read. Hardy, who caused quite a stink with Jude, commented that "a marriage should be dissolvable as soon as it becomes a cruelty to either of the parties--being then essentially and morally no marriage." The novel is music to ears sore from the talk of family-values advocates, those whose "insistence on marriage" makes the fictional Jude's life a living hell.

Jude, the new film version, doesn't have the flexibility of a book that sprawls in time and space, and is marked by ghastly tragedy meant to display the consequences of a worst-case scenario. It's not a gritty movie; director Michael Winterbottom makes it a pig heart that Arabella throws. Winterbottom is, if nothing else, unashamedly depressing; his next project is titled Sarajevo, and one doubts if it will be about the Winter Olympics. The film conjures up an impressively daunting sense of Gothic gloom--a world, as Swinburne had it, "grown grey" from the cold breath of the pale Galilean.

Unfortunately, Kate Winslet, as Sue, looks too modern by half. Butterfly Kiss, Winterbottom's last movie, was about a pair of lesbian serial killers whose murder spree was justified by patriarchy. In Jude, Winslet plays the tricky, passive-aggressive Sue (rightfully accused of being a flirt in the book) as a protofeminist, with a few Holly Golightly­style girl-kook proclivities.

Jude (Christopher Eccleston), with his thousand-yard stare, hollowed cheeks and aura of failure, persistently reminds you of that other famous victim of a bad marriage, Al Bundy of Married ... With Children. As a film that could best be used as a fundraiser for Childless by Choice organizations, Jude makes you glad to be alive in 1996; however, it rarely gives you cause to be glad you were in the theater. It crushes your spirit by reminding you of how good you have it.

Jude (R; 123 min.), directed by Michael Winterbottom, written by Hossein Amini, based on the novel by Thomas Hardy, photographed by Eduardo Serra and starring Kate Winslet and Christopher Eccleston.

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From the November 7-13, 1996 issue of Metro

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