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'Jude' May Bring You Down

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 01, 1996

"Jude," an adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel "Jude the Obscure," is not for the fainthearted. While reprising Hardy’s outrage over religious, academic and moral hypocrisy and (for the most part) treading the book’s depressing story path, it’s also determined to exult in the visceral side of life.

Viewers who have been conditioned by insipid Merchant-Ivory films to expect British classics to behave themselves are in for some jarring experiences: "Jude," directed by Michael Winterbottom, does not cut discreetly away for hog slaughter, a rather bloody birthing session, sexual activity and a few other surprising scenes.

„ To paraphrase a highly detailed plot, the movie’s about Jude Fawley (Christopher Eccleston), a 19th-century stonemason of humble beginnings who aspires to a life of learning at Christminster University. His studies are waylaid by a romance with the sweet, common Arabella Donn (Rachel Griffiths), the daughter of a pig farmer.

After they marry, the union turns sour. She leaves for Australia, and Jude finally journeys to Christminster. Continuing his studies, Jude meets and falls in love with his cousin, Sue Bridehead (Kate Winslet). But he makes the mistake of introducing her to his mentor, schoolteacher Mr. Phillotson (Liam Cunningham), who falls just as heavily for her. To Jude’s dismay, Sue becomes the teacher’s assistant and lover. After many trials and tribulations, Jude and Sue realize they belong together. But their unconventional, unmarried relationship dooms them to a chain of tragedies.

Eccleston and Griffiths are persuasive as, respectively, Jude and Arabella. But Winslet makes this movie hers. As the free-thinking social revolutionary who refuses life’s conventions, enjoys a good smoke, and inspires Jude to a life of romantic devotion, she’s alert and highly amusing.

"Jude," adapted by Hossein Amini, often looks good, and (thanks primarily to Winslet) flickers with humor. But it’s never consistently there for us. After a while, the dutiful recording of where the characters go -- whether it’s back to Jude’s hometown of Marygreen or back from Christminster -- loses all urgency. Between moments of shocking material, there are long periods of dramatic dreariness. Without the benefit of Hardy’s prose, the point of the movie is lost in the grim, grayish ether.

JUDE (R) — Contains nudity, sexual situations, violence to animals and other emotionally dire scenes.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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