on October 18, 1996 by Lael Loewenstein
   Faithfully adapted from Thomas Hardy's novel, Jude (minus the Obscure) is a gorgeous film, stunningly photographed by Eduardo Serra ( The Hairdressser's Husband) and gracefully acted with impressive restraint by Christopher Eccleston in the title role. It's also a difficult film to like because it is, simply put, a downer.
   The story of a stonemason with intellectual aspirations, the film follows Jude Fawley through his short-lived, unhappy first marriage to farm girl Arabella (Rachel Griffiths of Muriel's Wedding) to his university career. Along the way, Jude meets and falls madly in love with his bright, thoroughly modern cousin Sue Bridehead (the radiant Kate Winslet of "Sense and Sensibility"). When Jude and Sue decide to live together unmarried, flouting society's conventions, they set off a chain of events that eventually escalates into fatal tragedy. Through Serra's lens, the lush English countryside is so heavily rain-drenched that the foul weather seems a harbinger of things to come. Director Michael Winterbottom keeps his scenes tense and focused and his pace brisk, while Adrian Johnston's original score strikes just the right balance between period and modern. Most especially, the film succeeds thanks to Eccleston's dignified performance: Proud but not arrogant, determined but not pig-headed, noble but far from elitist, Jude has an inner grace that illuminates even the film's darkest moments." Starring Christopher Eccleston, Rachel Griffiths and Kate Winslet. Directed by Michael Winterbottem. Written by Hossein Amini. Produced by Andrew Eaton. A Gramercy release. Drama. Running time: 123 min. Screened at the Cannes fest. Opens NY/LA 10/18
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