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Under the Greenwood Tree (2005): A Happy, Non-Tragic Thomas Hardy Love Story!


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TV Film Review: Under the Greenwood Tree (2005)

Under the Greenwood Tree is a light-hearted and, at times, rather humorous adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel of the same name from 1872. But here be no tragedy, no debasement, no ruination, no cruelty, no subterfuge. I know, I know, it doesn’t sound like Thomas Hardy at all, but it is! Here be, rather, a somewhat straightforward love story, a coming-of-age tale of a young, beautiful schoolteacher, who must choose her future companion. Yes, it’s the traditional marriage plot. And there are many eligible and worthy suitors sniffing around.

Under the Greenwood Tree is something of a loose adaptation of the book, produced by Ecosse Films and first shown in the UK on ITV during the Christmas season in 2005. The film is beautifully filmed, full of Hardy-esque, folkloric details – dancing, music, songs, cider-making, cider-drinking, calendrical celebrations, work rhythms, and on it goes. There are lots of scenic venues, beautiful costumes, and there is a great cast, including Keeley Hawes (no stranger to period pieces), Ben Miles, James Murray and Steve Pemberton.


The Adoration of Miss Fancy Day

The beautiful, new schoolteacher, Miss Fancy Day (Keeley Hawes), arrives in the village of Mellstock on Christmas Eve. Her ailing father lives as a gamekeeper on a neighboring estate, so she has come to this rural locale, following the completion of her education, to teach, to keep an eye on her father and to play the new harmonium, the organ, at the local church.

RELATED: Vintage Period Review: The Scarlet Tunic – A Treat for Thomas Hardy Fans

Carolers – members of the all-male church choir – call upon her that Christmas Eve, and the young, beautiful caroler, son of the local carrier (the village’s transportation man), is smitten from first sight. His name is Dick Dewy (James Murray). He’s uneducated, working-class, virility personified, guileless and wearing his heart on his sleeve. The vicar, Mr. Maybold (Ben Miles), also takes a shine to this newcomer. He is propriety and properness itself, educated, ambitious, handsome. And then, there’s Mr. Shinar, an older, wealthy landowner, who’s offering security and position, as only money can provide.

Under The Greenwood Tree

RELATED: Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters Saga – A Rare Period Gem

Making up Her Mind and Choosing Her Place

These are Miss Fancy Day’s suitors, and she must make up her mind, must choose. She must choose her place in the world and what she wants and who she wants. Her father demands that she marry into wealth, wanting to spare her the work-a-day sorrows and struggles of the poor, working class. She speaks French and Italian, dreams of traveling and exploring the world, and the ambitious Mr. Maybold can deliver on these dreams.

And then there’s the dreamy Dick Dewy, all grounded and unpretentious and good and working class, with steely blue eyes. Fancy and Dick have electric chemistry from the start, this basal physical connection. There are trysts and stolen kisses, lots of longing glances. Washing hands has never been so sensual and sexy. Our brazen heroine even gets her petticoats wet in a rather intense scene involving a certain bare-chested carrier and a riverbank.

RELATED: Romantic Moment of the Week – Far From the Madding Crowd’s Bathsheba and Gabriel

But Mr. Shinar proposes, and Fancy takes her time contemplating the offer. She waffles and puts on airs at times and doesn’t know what to do with others. And the seasons change. The Greenwood tree loses its wintry barrenness, budding in the spring, glorious in its full, green foliage during the long, hot days of summer, and all withering colors in the autumn, when there’s a wedding. Yes, a year in the life of Miss Fancy Day in the village of Mellstock. And who does she choose to marry?

See it!

RELATED: Vintage Film Review: Tess of the d’Urbervilles – A Beautiful Adaptation

A Hardy Tale with a Happy Ending

I rather enjoyed Under The Greenwood Tree. As a Hardy tale, I kept expecting the other shoe to drop, that some sort of tragedy was in the making. But it never came. It is truly a light-hearted story of love. It’s funny and sweet. The acting is excellent and the production is first rate. The church musicians provide a chorus of comedic relief throughout. So yeah, it’s fluff, foreseeable fluff, but that doesn’t make it any less delightful or sighingly good.

Content Note: Rated PG.

Where to Watch: DVD.

You can buy on Amazon (affiliate link).


Photo Credits: Ecosse Films/ITV1/BBC.

OVERALL RATING

Four corset rating

“Hello, Gorgeous.”

ROMANCE RATING

Five heart rating

“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.

I have loved none but you.”

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Welcome to The Silver Petticoat Review, the kindred spirit destination for lovers of romance and Romanticism. We cover both modern and classic film, literature, & TV from around the world and specialize in Old-Fashioned Romance, Period Dramas, Classics, Romanticism, and Modern Romanticism without the excess of explicit content and unsentimental cynicism. We promote content ranging from G to PG-13 minus a few exceptions for artistic reasons and/or genre interest. For more information, see Old-Fashioned Romance 101 and Romanticism & Modern Romanticism 101.
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About The Author

Jessica Jørgensen

A lover of words, stories and storytellers since her youth and just plain curious by nature, Jessica embarked on a very long academic journey that took her across a continent (from Canada's west coast to its east) and even to the other side of the globe, where she currently lives an expat existence in Denmark. She now trails many fancy initials behind her name, if she ever cares to use them, and continues to be ever so curious. She's a folklorist, a mother, a wife, a middle child, a small town girl, a beekeeper, an occasional quilter, a jam-maker. She curates museum exhibits, gets involved in many cultural projects for this and that, collects oral histories when she can find the time and continues to love stories in all their many and varied forms. The local librarians all know her by name.

6 Comments

  1. Sumaya Paruk

    I adored this! It was my second Thomas Hardy film, after watching The Return of the Native. I hadn’t then known much about him, and how depressing his other works are. I’m glad this one turned out to be so enjoyable…and with a happy ending!

    Reply
    • Jessica

      Yeah, I tend to avoid Hardy if I can. Oh, I’ve read some of his stuff way back when at university, and they’re all very thought-provoking and well-written and tragic and depressing and rather bleak, and such things have their merits…But when you’re in the mood for just a happy little story, well, Hardy is not usually your go-to guy…So this was a real revelation!

      Reply
  2. Eduarda Graciano

    I can’t help to remember of the beautiful “Far From the Madding Crowd”, one of my favorites! ♥
    I love Thomas Hardy and didn’t know this book (never came to Brazil) or movie.

    Won’t even read your full review because I don’t want to catch any spoilers. lol But I’ll save to read it later.

    xx

    http://www.cafeidilico.com/

    Reply
    • Jessica

      “Far From the Madding Crowd” is a great one — and sort of one of the less tragic Hardy stories. Bathsheba does survive and eventually find love after all (-: But if you can find “Under the Greenwood Tree”, well, do give it a watch. I’ve never read the book, so I can’t comment on how the film and the book compare/differ. Apparently, though, this is one of his earliest works, so before he found his tragic stride (-:

      Reply
  3. Kirsty Pearce

    This little under-rated diamond of a film is one of the sweetest period dramas I’ve had the pleasure of watching; I first discovered it years ago through one of my earliest introductions to fan-videos, and promptly fell in love within the first 5 minutes. All of the characters are so well written and developed, and Dick in particular is just such a fantastic leading man, all quiet determination and adoration. I adore the themes explored, the hilarious hints of humor from the church musicians, the way we leave the characters and how they arrive at their happy beginnings.

    This was such a fun review to read, and I think you’ve done the film justice, so thank you for that!

    Reply
    • Jessica

      Thank you for the kind words, Kirsty (-: This film has been a surprise treat for me. I watched it for this review and just enjoyed it immensely. So, it definitely needs a bigger audience — it is truly pleasurable viewing. And yes, Dick is — well, Dick is so beautiful and sincere and just solid goodness…Time to see it again (-:

      Reply

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Welcome to The Silver Petticoat Review, the kindred spirit destination for lovers of romance and Romanticism. We cover both modern and classic film, literature, & TV from around the world and specialize in Old-Fashioned Romance, Period Dramas, Classics, Romanticism, and Modern Romanticism without the excess of explicit content and unsentimental cynicism.

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