Under the Greenwood Tree (2005)

This sweet and sunny film was adapted from an early Thomas Hardy novel (surprise, surprise)!  Beautiful, educated, and sweet-tempered Fancy Day (Keeley Hawes) comes from Exeter to take the job of schoolteacher in the village of Mellstock to be near her sick father, a retired gamekeeper.  Dick Dewy (James Murray), his father, and a few of their friends are amateur musicians, so they sing carols on Christmas Eve.  He falls in love w/ Fancy at first sight when she comes to the window to praise their song. (Murray bears a striking resemblance to Stephen Campbell Moore, another young British actor.)

 

Dick is tongue-tied when he sees Fancy after church, but manages to invite her to a party. 

But the humble carrier (moving man) is not Fancy’s only admirer.  She catches the eye of successful, middle-aged farmer, Mr. Shiner, and the village’s new pastor, Parson Maybold (Ben Miles).

One man offers her security; another offers adventure.  But Fancy has great chemistry w/ Dick, who strives to win her affection, unaware that her father feels he’s beneath her.

This story covers Hardy’s main themes- rural/small town life, working vs. middle class customs, courtship between those of different status, and the individual’s search for a place in the world.

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Persuasion (2007)

In this  newest adaptation, a sense of urgency is infused into Austen’s last novel- a story of lost love found.   Anne Elliot (Sally Hawkins) becomes a woman of action (note all the running toward the end).  Also, the ending is changed in a (rather BIG) way- Capt. Wentworth doesn’t leave a letter tucked under some other paper for Anne to discover, as in the ’95 film version. 

Okay, I wasn’t TOO impressed w/ this film when I first saw it on PBS.  But when I saw it last week, I was VERY impressed by Penry-Jones’ subtle acting.  And talk about dashing… WOW! 

Anne, with an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people of real understanding, was nobody with either father or sister; her word had no weight, her convenience was always to give way — she was only Anne.

Though Hawkins is NOT how I pictured Anne, she does a fine job in portraying a sensible, warm-hearted, and low-key woman.  Anne is described as a bit of a faded beauty in the book.  (To use modern terms, she’s not the type that gets noticed in the club.)

Casting created some problems here.  Elizabeth is too old, Mary is too irritating and unpoised, and Mr. Elliot (Tobias Menzies from Rome) has zero chemistry w/ Anne.  The other actors suit their roles well, esp. Anthony Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as Sir Walter and Alice Kriege (the Borg queen in Star Trek: TNG) as Lady Russell. 

My favorite scene is when Wentworth ducks into the shop (to wait out the rain) and almost runs into Anne.  While discussing the sudden engagement of Louisa and Benwick, Wentworth reveals HIS true feelings.  It’s movie magic!   

Persuasion is in some regards a fairy tale.  Anne has to leave her home for a place she hates.  Her father spends too much money and her sisters ignore or take advantage of her kindness.  Wentworth reenters Anne’s life when she’s given up hope of marrying.  He isn’t taken w/ the charms of the Musgrove girls.  The heroine gets her prince, finally!

Here is my review of the ’95 film:

https://knightleyemma.wordpress.com/2008/07/23/movie-review-persuasion-bbc-1995/

“The Last of the Mohicans” (1992)

I recall first watching this film in 1995 during a high school English class.  It was on this past Sunday, so I checked it out again.  It’s full of action, stunning natural beauty (it was filmed in North Carolina), gorgeous music, and is very well-acted.

The hero is Nathaniel Poe (Daniel Day-Lewis, one of the finest actors of his generation), also known as Hawkeye, a white orphan adopted by a Mohican chief named Chingachgook (Russell Means) and raised alongside his own son Uncas (Eris Schweig).  Nathaniel is an expert marksman, tracker, and quite friendly w/ some of the white colonists (such as the Cameron family) of this wild frontier.  But he’s his own man, proudly saying that he’s “beholden to no one.”

Things change when the French and Indian War begins in 1757; the colonists are bound by law to join the militia and aid the British troops.  The men fear for their families.  What will happen if their wives and children are attacked while they’re away fighting at Fort William Henry?  Jack Winthrop, one of the young settlers and Nathaniel’s friend, goes to Albany to voice this concern.  General Webb grants the men permission to leave the militia if their homes are in danger.

Meanwhile, Cora (Madeleine Stowe) and her teen sister Alice (Jodhi May) are traveling to see their father, General Munro, at the fort.  They are accompanied by family friend, and Cora’s suitor, Major Duncan Hayward (Steven Waddington), more than a dozen soldiers, and a stoic Mohawk guide named Magua (Wes Studi).

All hell breaks loose when Magua (who is actually a Huron allied w/ the French) attacks the soldiers.  He’s then joined by more Huron men.  Chingachgook, Uncas, and Nathaniel rush in for the rescue.  When Magua takes aim at Cora, Nathaniel wonders why.

This film looks very authentic.  Day-Lewis is in top form for the very physically demanding role, as are the supporting actors.  Though this film was catagorized as a romance, I wished there had more a little more instead of the fighting.  Both Nathaniel and Cora (outspoken/determined) have a sense of nobility about them.

Nathaniel is larger than life-selflessly fighting for love of his father, brother, and Cora.  He’s also a romanticist-at one w/ nature, independent-minded, and noble in thought and action.  On the opposite end is Magua- a fallen warrior who’s “heart is twisted,” and fighting for revenge.  Both are formidable and memorable.