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
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
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.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links