Hardy adaptation is a fitting end to another strong society season
The books of Thomas Hardy seem to be out of fashion at the moment. Not so long ago there were several TV adaptations which won plenty of praise, but other periods and themes have become more fashionable.
That lack of interest doesn't bother Michael Winterbottom.
He has made no fewer than three films based on Hardy novels – and his latest involvement with Hardy forms the basis for Film Society's final film of its current season.
Winterbottom is a director I admire for his refusal to get tied down to a particular genre.
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His films range across almost the whole cinema canon, but he seems to have a special affinity with Hardy. Jude (1996) was a dark version of Jude the Obscure, while The Claim (2000) is based on The Mayor of Casterbridge.
Trishna is a take on Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Like The Claim, which was set in Canada, Winterbottom has chosen to relocate the story – of a young, girl who is seduced and then abandoned by an older man – to another place, this time modern day India.
This decision is typical of the bold approach Winterbottom takes to his films. It's also a very calculated one. In many of Hardy's stories, the female characters are often exploited and abused by men. Hardy explored the hypocrisies that he saw in the male-dominated world of Victorian England, where women were possessions, to be seen and not heard.
By taking Tess to India, Winterbottom sees similarities between the world Hardy saw and described and the way in which India is developing as it emerges from the rural economy it has largely been dependent on since independence, into one of the world's economic powerhouses.
It is a world which is still based on traditional values, where men are still dominant in many respects and where women play a subservient role. Trishna – played by Freida Pinto – is young, pretty and intelligent, but her parents are peasants and she is growing up in an environment where opportunity is scarce and it's easy to see potential being unrealised.
But Trishna catches the eye of Jay (Riz Ahmed), the educated son of a wealthy businessman.
Jay is typical of the modern young Indian, an entrepreneur who sees opportunity – in this case, the chance to create a chain of luxury hotels which will cater for rich, Western tourists – and sets out to make the most of it.
He becomes entranced by Trishna and promises to take her away from the poverty that seems to be her lot. Trishna falls for him, hook, line and sinker and they move to Mumbai, where they live together.
The early part of their relationship is characterised by mutual love, but it is not long before Jay reveals that he has another side to his character, that of a callous exploiter who merely sees opportunity to gratify himself.
This is explored in a totally different way in the original novel through the use of two different characters; but Winterbottom is always ready and willing to take a risk and he does so with this device.
It's fair to say that it works. Once in the city, Jay's attention wanders and it's soon clear that he is losing both interest and patience with Trishna.
It's been suggested that one reason for his personality shift lies in the fact that he can't tell whether he is an Indian or from the West and is torn between the two.
Jay's chilling indifference to Trishna causes her huge emotional distress. As often in such cases, she initially blames herself. But when Jay continues to spurn her, the treatment that she is subjected to eventually makes her take matters into her own hands.
The film is stunningly photographed and makes the absolute most of the colour and vitality of modern day India.
The performances from both Freida and Riz are really strong and Winterbottom's direction points up the conflict that both of them have to wrestle with as they try to come to terms with who they really are and where they belong.
All in all, this is a strong climax to what has been a fine season and one that befits the Society's 60th anniversary.
Film Society now gears up for the Lincoln Film Festival, which opens on May 31.
There will be more information about the films and events in the festival over the next four weeks. The Society's new season begins on September 6 and membership opens on July 2.
For information about the Festival or about joining for next season, visit the Society's website or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Trishna (15); showing at The Venue, Friday May 24, 7.30pm
2.30pm Saturday May 25: Family Film Club: Oz, The Great and Powerful (PG)
7.30pm Wednesday May 29 – Robot and Frank (12a)
7.30pm Thursday May 30 – The Stone Roses – Made of Stone (live satellite relay)