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Woodlanders, The (1997, Emily Woof, Rufus Sewell)

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Phil Agland is best known as the director of the award winning Channel 4 series Beyond The Clouds and Shanghai Vice but this, his first feature film, shows he can also take fiction and render it magical. Thomas Hardy’s tale, adapted by David Rudkin, is set in the mythical Wessex, among the community who make their living from the forest. Rufus Sewell is Giles Winterbourne, a woodsman, whose heart is given to Grace Melbury (Emily Woof), the daughter of his boss.

But, when she returns home from finishing school, she has her sights set higher and settles on local doctor Fitzpiers (Cal Macanich). But within weeks of their wedding, feeling he has married beneath him, he takes up with the local aristocratic widow Mrs Charmond (Polly Walker), leaving Grace at home, restless, lonely and beginning to wonder if she was right to have spurned Winterbourne. Inevitably, as her misery grows and his concern for her mounts, the pair have to decide on their destinies.

Agland’s documentaries were praised not just for content but for the ravishing camerawork and he brings this to The Woodlanders – every scene is framed with a master cinematographer’s eye but done so naturally that the viewer is gently taken into Hardy’s Wessex rather than dragged. The four leads all plays to their strengths and Sewell is particularly strong as the puzzled, deserted lover but it is Woof who steals the picture with The Times writing, ‘[she] offers a performance so strong and affecting that her mismatched marriage to a dashing doctor becomes a matter for our tears.’ while Neon simply said, ‘Up there with Far From The Madding Crowd ‘.

production details
UK | 98 minutes | 1998

Director: Phil Agland
Writer: David Rudkin, based on Thomas Hardy’s novel

cast
Rufus Sewell as Giles Winterbourne
Emily Woof as Grace Melbury
Tony Haygarth as Mr. Melbury
Cal Macaninch as Dr, Fitzpiers
Jodhi May as Marty South
Polly Walker as Mrs. Charmond

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