Jude (1996)


Our rating: 2 out of 5

Rated: R

reviewed by Jessica Van Dessel

Before Kate Winslet was Kate Winslet, she had a number of small, interesting roles.  One of these can be seen in the Michael Winterbottom film Jude.  This movie is based on Thomas Hardy's novel Jude the Obscure, and as the original title suggests, it tells the strange and convoluted tale of one man's life and longings.


Christopher Eccleston is Jude Fawley, a young working-class man in Victorian England.  When Jude was a boy, a schoolmaster fired him with a dream: to study at the prestigious university of Christminister. Jude lacks the money, social background and connections needed to gain admission to the university. Nevertheless, he teaches himself Latin and Greek and makes every plan to go. These plans are derailed by a local girl, Arabella (Rachael Griffiths). Seeing Jude's seriousness as a challenge, she seduces him and then, claiming pregnancy, compels him to marry her. They are ill-suited.  When no child is forthcoming from the supposed pregnancy, husband and wife have a falling out. Arabella conveniently leaves for Australia, and Jude is free to start again.


He heads straight to Christminister. Since he can't be a student, he supports himself by working as a stonemason. He keeps up his studies. He hopes. And he meets his cousin, Sue Bridehead (Kate Winslet). Sue is an independent working girl with unconventional beliefs. She challenges accepted social mores. She speaks her mind freely. Like Jude, she wants something from life, something that she can't quite define, something the world will not allow. Sue and Jude have an immediate connection. At first, they put it down to their kinship. But it quickly becomes apparent that their feelings go deeper than that. When Sue looses her job, Jude personally arranges for her to take a position with his old schoolmaster, Arthur Phillotson (Liam Cunningham). Arthur soon proposes marriage to Sue. She accepts, hoping this will cure the situation, but it only brings it to a head. 


 At this shaky point in their lives, an unimaginable tragedy occurs.  It will tear apart everything they have ever thought or believed--and they will not be able to cope with it in the same way. Jude is well made, with nice period details. Photography and music are both used in haunting ways to give that bleak, repressed English feel. The storyline sometimes seem rushed or forced, but this is probably the result of trying to condense a wordy Victorian novel into a two-hour movie. If the moviemakers shortchanged the plot, they didn't skimp on the characters. Each one strikes you as a fully drawn personality from the first moment they appear on screen. Some of this comes from the strength of the acting. Sue Bridehead was one of the performances that made everyone start to take notice of Kate Winslet, and Christopher Eccleston and the rest of the cast are of the same caliber. I like book-into-movie adaptations, but I'm very picky about how they're done. As such as adaptation, Jude holds up pretty well.


When Hardy's book was first published, literary critics nicknamed it "Jude the Obscene." While we needn't go quite that far with the movie, there are some content issues. The filmmakers were apparently under the delusion that nobody goes to see a "famous-dead-author" movie unless you spice it up. There are four fairly explicit sex scenes with full nudity. There are some disturbing portrayals of death, both human and animal. And there is the fact of Jude and Sue's adultery. The movie treats them as heroes for being willing to throw off the shackles of convention, etc. Religion is portrayed as something that causes you to close your mind and deny your true self. If society had only been more enlightened, Jude and Sue would have been happy. Maybe so.  But the movie's confused, directionless plot, showing us Jude and Sue's confused, directionless existence, leaves me with the feeling that life without God is indeed obscure. Jude remains an interesting and well-crafted film that's rather spoiled by too much titillation and political correctness.