Tess is an adaptation of Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, a story given too many adaptations that are often extremely similar.
Roman Polanski’s arguably only romance film, Tess, is one his critically best accepted works, and the performance of 18-year-old Nastassja Kinski, along with Paris, Texas, is probably the high point of her career. “Without Mr. Polanski’s name in the credits,” wittily stated the New York Times, “this lush and scenic Tess could even be mistaken for the work of David Lean.” This great compliment is wholeheartedly justified–Polanski created one of the best literary adaptations to date. His inspiring vision was greatly empowered by the terrific screenplay he was helped to write by Gerard Brach and John Brownjohn. Interested to see what makes for a truly great adaptation of a 19th century classic? Take a look at this scarce screenplay we were lucky enough to stumble upon.
Polanski’s roots as a genre filmmaker clearly ground him with an interest in every visual aspect that produces a period drama and pays far more attention to auteur like detail than most period feature film directors. Instead of merely obeying period accuracies and avoiding anachronisms (the main key to many lesser quality period dramas) Tess uses Hardy’s narrative as an excuse to film a very season based film, exploring all of the potential colours and light that is produced in the countryside.
“Tess of the D’Urbervilles” is what you might call a feminist story – it deals with issues like sexism, rape, victim blaming, sexuality, social class,and religion. Published in 1891, Thomas Hardy writes with a subtly that is pure art form as he criticizes many Victorian ideals, including direct judgement of the church and its skewed principles. But what’s really great about this book is that it directly parallels issues that still haven’t been resolved today. Hardy was so ahead of his time when he wrote “Tess” that aside from being borderline scandalous, it was almost completely dismissed during his lifetime.
Screencap from the final scene of Roman Polanski’s film Tess which was dedicated to his late wife Sharon Tate. In 1969 when she departed England for her final trip back to the USA, Sharon left him a copy of Thomas Hardy’s book along with a note telling him that the book would make a good film. It would end up being the last note Roman would ever receive from Sharon.