Under the Greenwood Tree (2005)

November 28, 2011

Thomas Hardy will best be
remembered for depressing, sob-story tales (The
Mayor of Casterbridge
, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Woodlanders).
Whenever I see his name, tales involving unpleasant choices and moral complexities is what I think of but he is considered a “classic author.” When learning of Under the Greenwood Tree it didn’t seem
possible that he could write something even remotely close to Austen-esque but several years ago, I decided that this period piece was worth a look.
 

On a cold Christmas Eve night, the
educated daughter of a penniless village man arrives in the small village of Mellstock.
Fancy (Keeley Hawes) was raised a country girl but was sent away by her father Geoffrey
(Bleak Houses’ Tom Georgeson) to be
properly schooled in all social graces. Now all grown up, Fancy is only the
second person to reside in the village who has had a proper upbringing. The
first is Parson Maybold (Ben Miles) who was instrumental in bringing Fancy back
to the village as the children’s teacher. Brought up a simple country boy of
the town carrier, Dick Dewy (James Murray) has lived in Mellstock all his life
and while out caroling for Christmas, he sets his eyes on Miss Day and is
enchanted from that moment on.
Time passes and the two of them
become friends but that all changes after a kiss. Fancy’s only objective then is to avoid Dick, knowing that her father wants her to marry well. She is soon courted by
the wealthiest man in town, Farmer Shiner (Steve Pemberton) a bumbling, simple
man who is a kind sort underneath his faults. Fancy settles into a routine of
caring for her ill father and teaching while becoming part of the town’s new controversy
after Parson Maybold enlists her to play their new harmonium. Amidst Fancy’s
struggles to become part of the small village lies her desire for true love and
her conflict in seeing her father’s dreams realized.
What follows is a delightful little
romantic drama that leaves us with a feeling of enchantment and a goofy smile
long after the credit’s roll. I’ve not seen all of Thomas Hardys’ adaptations,
but know most of the stories as I do research on period films before making a
decision to purchase them. Mayor of
Casterbridge
is a thoroughly enjoyable story, but is so sad by the end and The Woodlanders is depressing
throughout, so when reading about Under
the Greenwood Tree
, it was very surprising to make not of everyone else’s glowing praises and confirming remarks that this was such a sweet-natured film. Needless to say it wasn’t
a mistake to add this period romance to my collection. 
BBC over the years has produced
and distributed many wonderful films that were written by such authors as
Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Gaskell and Jane Austen. This little charmer is no less splendid in its costumes, music
and acting. The costumes are gorgeous; the style isn’t always as flattering as
it could be, but I can’t deny that the gowns were lovely nonetheless – Fancy
looks quite exquisite during a scene in which she attends an elegant party. The
scenery was lovely as well, although nothing stood out quite as prominent as
the Greenwood Tree – the only real significance to this is the showing of time
passing. If you’ve seen Far from the
Maddning Crowd
, which is also by this author, the two stories are very
similar only ‘Maddening Crowd’ sets a more dramatic tone. Having seen the 1960’s version starring Julie Christie, it struck me how similar the two
are, and I thought it strange that he would write two stories so similar, but
they were indeed two separate tales and not merely separate adaptations with
different titles.
Acting was first-rate. Keeley
Hawes is really quite lovely and wonderfully brilliant in every role I’ve seen
her in. She has a way of bringing so much life and energy to the screen, even
in more dramatic scenes she really shines. Tom Georgeson was fantastic and it
was nice to see his character standing up for things quite unlike his character
in Bleak House. I’d never seen lead
James Murray in anything before this, but hope to see him in more costume
dramas; his portrayal of the smitten beau was great. His instant attraction to
Fancy is well played between both of them and really comes off on screen as
such, making their ‘love story’ appear genuine. All of the supporting cast is notable.
Parson Maybolds’ character does bring to mind the raged schoolteacher Bradley
Headstone from Our Mutual Friend, but
you can stand this character much
better than the previous. In my last viewing another thing more noticed was the
music, it was very beautiful. From the Christmas songs to the overall score, it
was pleasant to listen to; always fitting and setting the tone for the scene. 
One of the cutest scenes comes
when Fancy learns of something Dick did for her family and she happens upon him
while he’s collecting clams – the scene plays out as being simply charming. Under the Greenwood Tree is just a sweet
period piece with a fairy-tale feel that has made its way into my heart as an all-time favorite. Its hour and a half runtime is shorter than most of its genre,
but is a good choice if you are in the mood for a taste from this genre without
watching a four or six hour long mini series.
(Content: the only minor things worth
mentioning include a few kisses. The Dewey’s make a “cider” and once the men
get drunk before going to church. Fancy and Dick flirt on a few occasions, but
nothing ever comes of it nor is anything implied. Everything equates to a
PG-rating.)

8 Comments

  • Jessica

    November 28, 2011 at 1:25 am

    looks like something i'd like! cool:)

  • Livia

    November 28, 2011 at 3:45 am

    I was embarrassed by the awkwardness of the characters and situations in this movie, and I also had negative reviews corrupting my opinions-I don't know why I keep reading reviews like that even before the movie!

  • Charity

    November 28, 2011 at 4:04 am

    I was thinking about this film recently — I should give it a rewatch. I remember finding it entertaining when it aired, but for some reason or another it never made its way into my collection.

  • Ella

    November 28, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    I've heard a lot about this movie.
    Thanks for the Review!

  • Jemimah C.

    November 28, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    I've had "bad experiences" with Thomas Hardy ever since I read two of his books, Tess of the D'Urbervilles and The Mayor of Casterbrige. His writing style seemed too gloomy, too sad, too depressing. I wasn't so sure whether I wanted to try out another Thomas Hardy novel (or film) again, but Under the Greenwood Tree sounds quite interesting. I think I'd love to see this film!

  • Rissi

    November 28, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Jessica – this is adorable; you should check it out. =)

    Livia – oh that is too bad… I thought this was one of the sweetest tales I've seen. I am sorry is wasn't enjoyable to you.

    Charity – you should! I really want to watch it again too, and since it is Christmastime and the movie takes place – at least partially during that time frame, it'd be perfect. =)

    Enjoy, if you do see it again. =)

    Ella – you are most welcome. =)

    Jemimah – I know exactly what you mean. Hardy is far too gloomy for me most the time – I have to be in the "right mood" to re-watch any of his films. Trust me, though; this movie is the total opposite. It is as if Thomas Hardy didn't even write this one. It's so sweet, it is more like Jane Austen penned it. =)

    I think you'd like this one… enjoy it! =)

  • Ruth

    November 30, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    I ADORE THIS FILM. The end. :)

  • Rissi

    November 30, 2011 at 11:40 pm

    Couldn't have said it better myself, Ruth. =D

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