The Woodlanders

 

 



Based on the novel by Thomas Hardy.
1997 River Films.
Director: Phil Agland.

FitzPiers: Cal MacAninch
Grace: Emily Woof

 

 

Shanghai Film Festival Awards: Best Film, Best Director.

Melbury, a self-made timber-merchant in the Dorset woodlands, idolizes his daughter Grace; but in his anxiety to better her, he destroys her life. He contrives a marriage for her to an eligible young doctor, FitzPiers - who soon tires of the narrow rustic society, and runs off to Europe with a rich widow. The laws of the time do not permit Grace to divorce him to marry the poor woodland labourer Giles whom she truly loves. When the erring husband returns, and penitently beseeches Grace to take him back, she at first refuses him outright. But soon she comes to acknowledge that she has no practical option but to 'make the best of a very bad matter' - and she comes to a wary, unromantic reconciliation with a husband who we know will betray her again.

Collaboration with director Phil Agland was, at the creative stage, a very happy experience. Our aim was to avoid that museum feel of Costume Classic that 'the Brits do so well', and instead achieve a film that inhabits the 19th century from within. It was this aspect of the film that, in the event, was to be the most favourably observed. Unfortunately, under pressure from distributors Pathé, the film was submitted to a second edit - clever, but morally unintelligent - on principles driven by the surface narrative; its inner emotional life thus bleeds away. (This cut also gets its narrative sequence into such a mess, it has recourse to a flashback, in this context an offensively crass device.) Worst of all, Pathé imposed a feminist ending: the original anti-romantic resolution - true to most marriages, in Hardy's world and ours - was brutally sheared away, thus closing the film prematurely on Grace's earlier transitory gesture of refusal: a crypto-Romanticism of the Politically Correct, that betrays both Hardy and his characters, and robs the film of any lasting meaning.