Under the Greenwood Tree (2005)

Reviewer: Rissi C.


Thomas Hardy will best be remembered for his depressing tales; The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the D'Urbervilles and The Woodlanders, but he will no doubt go down as a classic author. In all his novels I'm familiar with, something tragic occurs. The surprising exception is Under the Greenwood Tree, a period piece lighthearted enough to find a spot on my shelf. 


On a cold Christmas Eve night, Miss Fancy Day (Keeley Hawes) arrives in the small village of Mellstock. Having been raised a country girl, she was sent away by her father Geoffrey (Tom Georgeson) to be properly educated. Now grown up and raised with the best manners and a high education, Fancy is only the second person to live in the village who has had a proper upbringing. The first is Parson Maybold (Ben Miles), who arranged for Fancy to come and begin teaching the children of the village. 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. As time passes, Dick and Fancy become friends, but that changes after a simple kiss. Fancy then begins to avoid Dick, knowing her father wants her to marry well. She receives the richest man of the town Farmer Shiner (Steve Pemberton), a bumbling, simple man who is kind underneath his faults.


Fancy settles into a routine of caring for her ill father and teaching, while becoming part of town controversy after Parson Maybold enlists her to play their new harmonium, thereby doing away with the choir that has been providing the music for many years. Amidst Fancy's struggles to become part of the small village lies her desire for true love and her hope of making her father happy. When Mr. Shiner proposes, Fancy is torn between that desire and her own happiness. What follows is a delightful romantic drama that leaves you feeling charmed and with a smile on your face after its over. I've not seen all of Thomas Hardy's adaptations, but know most of the storylines, since I do research on period films before making a decision to purchase or rent 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 hear everyone say how sweet and light it was.


Needless to say, it wasn't a mistake to add this period romance to my collection. The 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. Their more recent production of Bleak House was just as grand and gives me the anticipation that they aren't done with producing such marvelous mini series. Under the Greenwood Tree is no less splendid in costumes, music and acting. The costumes are gorgeous; the style isn't to my immense liking, but I cannot deny the gowns were lovely nonetheless. Fancy looked quite exquisite in the scene in which she attends an elegant party. The scenery was lovely as well, although nothing stood out quite as prominently as the Greenwood Tree, whose only real significance is the showing of the seasons changing. If you've seen Far from the Maddening Crowd, which is also by this author, the two stories are very similar only the former sets a more dramatic tone. Just recently seeing the 1960s version starring Julie Christie, I realized how similar they are and thought it strange that he would write two stories so close in their ideas, but they were indeed two separate tales.


The acting was first-rate. Keeley Hawes is really quite lovely and wonderfully brilliant. She has a way of bringing so much life and energy to the screen. Tom Georgeson was fantastic and nice to see standing up for things on occasion, unlike his character in Bleak House. Id never seen James Murray in anything before this, but hope to see him in more costume dramas; his portrayal of the smitten Dick was great. His instant attraction to Fancy is well played between both of them and really comes off on screen as such; making it very believable that they are in love. All the supporting cast is notable; there really wasn't a bad job in the bunch. Parson Maybold's character does bring to mind the raged schoolteacher Bradley Headstone from Our Mutual Friend, but you can stand this character much better. 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.


The only two minor things mentioning come when Fancy and Dick are seen alone together kissing. The town gossips about it and Fancy's father reprimands her, asking if she knows what people are saying, to which she replies nothing happened." The other is that the Deweys make a cider press and 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. 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; it was quite sweet and romantic. Under the Greenwood Tree is a charming period piece with a fairy-tale feel that I don't regret having added to my collection of favorites. Its hour and a half runtime is shorter than most of its genre, but it never seems overly short. If you enjoy this charming drama with a manageable runtime, I would also recommend the new release Miss Potter. Its another adorable costume film that is fairly short and still will satisfy your need for something without the long runtime.

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