Saturday, 4 October 2008

Roman Polanski's Tess revisited

The BBC are running their new version of Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbevilles, which is a perfectly natural and interesting thing for them to do given the public's liking for grand old books well-mounted, and this sorry tale in particular. Gemma Arterton, about to take her bow as this year's Ill-Fated Bond Girl (as well as the face of a new Bond Girl fragrance) takes the lead. I caught a few minutes the other night and it all looked fine and affecting enough. But the age you are counts when you come to these things, doesn't it? Back in 1979 aged 9 I was desperate to see Roman Polanski's big-screen Tess, just because of the utterly indelible impression made on me by its poster featuring Nastassja Kinski, who definitely at that time eemed to me the definition of an angel on earth. I eventually got to see the film a couple of years later on video, and it haunted me, as the saying goes. I only had an idea, albeit a fascinated one, of who Polanski was. It took me another year or so to find his memoir Roman and learn that Tess was a book Sharon Tate kept by her bedside and urged upon her late husband; that his version was a form of uxuriousness, a debt of love; and that Polanski never needed to be told that the world is cruel. So yes, Kinski's beauty was a big factor in luring me to Tess the movie, and I became her dogged fan over the next 5 years as she appeared in about 43 movies, of varying distinction. But Tess was also the start of my love of Polanski, and the near-ancient sense of fatalism and sadness that underlies his work. He was the right man for Tess, whatever they said at the time.

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