[hardy-l] New Adaptation of Return of the Native

Cortus Betty bcortus at HARDY-L.COM
Thu Dec 30 06:39:52 PST 2010


Dear Forum and POTM Members,

You may remember back in June of this year when new Forum member Ben Westbrook told us about a film he was in the process of making based on Thomas Hardy's Return of the Native.  I now have had the pleasure of viewing Ben's film adaption of the novel, and would like to make a few off-the-cuff observations about that experience.

First of all, it is important to keep in mind that any adaptation of an earlier work is an artifact in its own right, not just another version of the original, and for a group of young film-makers and actors to embark on a reinterpretation of a work as revered as one of Hardy's most important novels is in itself a daunting, indeed a courageous aspiration.  As this production by "Lickerish Media" retains Hardy's original title I will from this point on refer to Hardy's work as RN1 and, for the sake of brevity and to avoid confusion, to this new film as RN2 .   

The basic plot line of RN2 parallels with relative fidelity the major elements of Hardy's novel.  However, Ben has made it his own, not only by co-writing the script along with his sister Deena Bermudez, directing the production, even taking the lead role of Jack Emery  (Clym Yeobright avatar), but also by doing a very creditable job wearing each of these hats.  The framing portions of RN2, a brief opening scene, and the entirety of the final ones, are where the introduction of new material veers away significantly from Hardy.  In the original novel some critics have seen a certain amount of ambiguity in the events surrounding Eustacia Vye's death.  In RN2, without giving away too much of the plot, there is no such uncertainty. The tragic heroine, Colleen Bragg is murdered.  In another important departure from RN1 she is pregnant at the time of her death and is delivered postumously of a daughter in a hastily improvised Ceasarean Section.

Caroline Klidonas plays the role of Colleen Bragg in a competent manner, but the character she portrays is not Eustacia Vye.  Colleen is a fresh-faced lass from the hill country of Pennsylvania a century or so later, and although her restlessness at having to live in a far from stimulating environment is evident, she lacks the brooding intensity and eroticism of Hardy's  "Queen of the Night."  It is true, certainly, that the complexity of Eustacia's nature would be difficult for many a seasoned actor to capture.  Several of us on the Forum agreed that Catherine Zeta-Jones was not entirely successful in her attempt to do so when we discussed the Hallmark television production of RN1 some years ago.

Jessica Ilko as Dot (Thomasin), Matt Furham as Jeremiah Wilder  (Wildeve), and our own Ben as the lead actor are all convincing in their roles, and some of the less prominent characters are interestingly played as well.  Jodi Royer as Erma Jean Torgut (Susan Nunsuch) becomes more sinister and witch-like herself as she grows increasingly obsessed with Colleen's perceived witch-hood.  One of the minor performers, Marley Gross as the older Amos (Diggory Venn) struck me as particularly comfortable and appealing in what amounted to little more than a cameo appearance. The actors in general, both the young and the more mature, accomplish adequate, to very good, performances, although some of the minor characters could benefit from more on-screen experience. 

The setting of RN2 is lush, the woodland scenes beautiful, and the "Falls"  where the pivotal points of the story are filmed are particularly arresting.  The musical score, comprised mainly of recognizable tunes – hymns, traditional folk songs, and classical excerpts, provides a well chosen background for the various settings.  One small quibble – some of the transitions, where one scene fades into another, are a little choppy, especially in the shorter sequences toward the end.  But, all in all, RN2 is a thoughtfully crafted, and worthy retelling of a timeless story.  I hope you have the opportunity to view it, and to enjoy it as I have done.  I'm sure Ben would welcome your comments and questions.

Betty Cortus


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