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WOODLANDERS, THE

SYNOPSIS:
In the woodland Wessex community of Little Hintock, laconic woodsman Giles Winterbourne (Rufus Sewell) lives in a cottage belonging to the lady of the manor, Mrs. Charmond (Polly Walker). Peasant girl Marty (Jodhi May), who sells her hair to wigmakers, is attracted to Giles. However, Grace (Emily Woof), daughter of local timber-merchant Melbury (Tony Haygarth), returns home from finishing school. Giles and Grace were once childhood sweethearts, but class barriers now stand in their way. Grace marries young Dr. Fitzpiers (Cal MacAninch), and the happy newlyweds depart on their honeymoon. Fitzpiers' true snobbish colours begin to surface, and his philandering ways eventually lead Grace back to Giles.

"The Woodlanders is essentially an observation and depiction of Victorian class structure and snobbery in a small community. The strengths of the film are the picturesque settings and stand-out performance of Emily Woof, who brings insight and great presence to the role of Grace. It is a time gone by when life is unhurried and class distinction paramount. It is primarily a visual film, with scenery is to drool over, sensitively captured by Ashley Rowe. But the pace is slow and at times tedious, and while characters may be intricately drawn in Thomas Hardy’s prose, the screenplay fails to ignite much passion, making us care little for the characters and what happens to them. The film’s focus throughout is on Grace, whose daughterly obedience outweighs her own search for happiness. Woof is totally engaging as the country girl whose expensive schooling does not change the very essence of her self. Rufus Sewell is darkly brooding as Giles, whose moral restraints bring him heartache. Polly Walker’s role is a small one, but as always, she exudes a glowing screen presence. The Woodlanders is a gentle film, coloured by a lyrical score by George Fenton, whose delights will mainly be appreciated by lovers of period films not overly critical of a lack of soul."
Louise Keller

"The trouble with adapting Hardy, is that his themes are so complex, that a workable screenplay is a tall order. The Woodlanders is a bare-bones approach to the novel, depicting a tale of tragic love in its form, as the backbone of this rather disappointing and meandering film adaptation. One can tell that director Phil Agland is a documentary film maker; his inexperience in narrative cinema is clearly prevalent. Though glorious to the eye, pretty pictures expertly framed are not enough to drive a movie which should have a greater emotional impetus. Performances by all, except that of the exquisite Emily Woof, are inexorably dull, so much so, that there is no connection between character and audience. Rufus Sewell, Britain's next big thing, is particularly disappointing, thus Giles' tragedy is dissipated as a result. Certainly, on a purely cinematic level, there are some fine touches, from the exquisite cinematography, to the beautifully evocative music of George Fenton. But those things notwithstanding, there is no energy in Agland's direction, no sense of narrative skill, so the film, despite its lush look and visual beauty, remains an empty, soulless piece, a film with so much possibility within an emotionally empty and shallow shell."
Paul Fischer

"Storytelling skills need honing to a sharp edge before an attempt can successfully be made to adapt any novel, never mind Thomas Hardy. From what is a complex, sociographic and emotionally ripe work, the filmmakers have wrought boredom. The characters are partly drawn, their motivations and feelings are vaguely hinted at but never shown, the events of their lives are patchily strung together and we are left with an unrewarding if pretty film, with a dullness that even affects the actors. But in defence of Rufus Sewell (from Paul, above) I found in him the only character I cared about. He had some sense of a real person about him. But even so, I would not recommend you spend your money or your time."
Andrew L. Urban

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 2
Mixed: 1
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WOODLANDERS, THE (PG)
(UK)

 

CAST: EmilyWoof, Rufus Sewell,Cal MacAninch, Tony Haygarth, Jodhi May, Polly Walker, Walter Sparrow, Sheila Burrell

DIRECTOR: Phil Agland

PRODUCER: Barney Reisz, Phil Agland

SCRIPT: David Rudkin (based on the novel by Thomas Hardy)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ashley Rowe

EDITOR: David Dickie

MUSIC: George Fenton

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Andy Harris

RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes

 

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: New Vision

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 2, 1998







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