The Weekend’s TV: Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Sun, BBC1,
Massive, Sun, BBC3

The main thing to say about Tess of the D’Urbervilles is that it looks lovely, which is the point of any costume drama: fidelity to Thomas Hardy’s bleakworld-view isn’t going to shift overseas broadcast rights and DVDs; it’s frocks and rolling countryside you want. Possibly it’s a bit too lovely. The opening scene of David Nicholls’s adaptation had Tess and the other local maidens dancing around in their best frocks on a picturesque if inconvenient clifftop, wearing more gleaming white fabric than in a Persil advert. This is the problem for costume dramas: they can’t afford to remind the viewer too explicitly just how grubby and laborious life was in the days before indoor hot running water, automatic washing machines and biological powder, and there’s not muchpoint in complaining about it.



Still, in one respect, Nicholls’s adaptation was notably, and I think wrongly, sanitised: the point at which Tess becomes, in Hardy’s phrase, “maiden no more”. The story – apologies if you know this – begins withTess’s father, John Durbeyfield, being told by the local parson that he’s a scion of the D’Urbervilles, one of the oldest and, long ago, richest families in the county. With his horse dead in an accident, and the family desperate for money, Tess (Gemma Arterton) consents to visit the wealthy D’Urbervilles at their seat a few miles off, introducing herself asacousin. Here she meets the suave Alec D’Urberville. I can’t help wishing that Hans Matheson had the curling moustache that Hardy makes great play with, but even with a smooth upper lip, his lascivious leer pushes the envelope of caddishness. At his first glimpse of Tess, you could almost hear his inner monologue drawl “Ding dong!” He has her taken on as manager of the estates poultry – largely, as everybody but she immediately works out, so that he canexercise his charms on the spot.

After a night out at the local village, Tess gets into a row with drunken workmates, envious of her favoured status. Alec duly pops her on his horse and they ride off, but he then pulls the equine equivalent of the old “Oh dear, we’re out of petrol” line. Left alone while he supposedly looks for help, Tess falls asleep. Alec returns, finds her and... well, the rest is left to your imagination, both in the book and, to a surprising extent, in the television version. As filmed by David Blair, this was one of the murkiest things I’ve ever seen, physically if not morally. Tess’s profile was a shadow only slightly paler than the night around her; Alec, bending over her, loomed only a shade darker than the trees. To film it so indistinctly must have taken some nerve (most of us want to see what’s happening on our televisions), but sadly the ambiguities of the image didn’t extend to the soundtrack, where Tess could be heard screaming in protest. You were left in little doubt that this was a rape, not a seduction; but this certainty isn’t in the original. In the book, confronting Alec,Tess tells him that if she loved him, she wouldn’t loathe herself so much “for my weakness”; television preserved the exchange, except for those three words.

What goes on here is the idea that Tess might have given in to Alec, that the distress she suffers is shame rather than the trauma of a victim. We can’t, apparently, cope with the idea of sinanymore, only with crime. This kind of whitewashing is infinitely more distorting and depressing than any amount of physical prettification. The television version has a lot on its side: the locations are, as I say, pretty; Arterton is gorgeous; the music – pastiche Vaughan Williams – is, admittedly, a bit sickly, but the narrative strolls along easily enough; and the acting is mostly fair to middling. The exception is Anna Massey, who is quite brilliant as Alec’s ancient, blind mother, bringing a natural querulous authority and slyness that wipes everybody else off the screen; sensibly enough, the script has beefed her part up a fair bit. But judging by the first episode, it seems that the Victorian country boy Hardy was more broadminded about sex, more prepared to allow his heroine some failings, than cosmopolitan 21st-century television types. Go figure.

According to the Radio Times, Massive is a “hip” new sitcom about Mancunian mates setting up a record label. But I am well past 40 and a dedicated Radio 3 listener, and there wasn’t a single pop reference here I didn’t get – what sort of a definition ofhipnessisthat? The mates are Shay and Danny, played by Carl Rice and Ralf Little, who evidently hasn’t been deported to the Moon in reprisal for Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps after all. We have a sorry excuse for a legal system in this country. Damian Lanigan’s script has a sprinkling of good lines, mostly delivered by Johnny Vegas, as Shay’s thieving dad. “Prison’s all right,” he said. “Couple of years, read a book, do some sit-ups and out the other end.” But too many of the jokes are predicated on the assumptions that fat girls are unattractive but frequently gagging for it, and that alcoholics do the funniest thing.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all