STUDIO: Miramax
MSRP: $29.99
RUNNING TIME: 95 Minutes

The Pitch

"It’s like every other Victorian social drama, but Emma Thompson’s not involved with it."

The Humans

Rufus Sewell, Emily Woof, Polly Walker.

The Nutshell

Emily Woof is Grace Melbury, the daughter of a middle-class timber merchant on the moors of England. When she returns home after years of schooling, she does everything she can (and, being a Victorian-era woman, that’s not much) to distance herself from her humble origins. She snubs Giles (Rufus Sewell), the young tradesman who has loved her since they were children; she makes an effort to secure herself in the company of a high-born lady (Polly Walker); and she marries a visiting doctor, who also has his eye set on entering society.

Because this is based on a Thomas Hardy novel, Emily gets screwed over royally (peasantly?) in all of her plans. If you’ve ever read Hardy’s "Tess of the d’Urbervilles," an English major staple, you know what I mean.

It is a well-known fact that dancing women have very poor eyesight.

The Package

The audio quality is poor; the video quality is quite acceptable. Audio is simple Dolby Digital 2.1, but mixed incredibly poorly. I had to sit with one finger on the remote so I could raise the volume during dialogue sequences, then lower it quickly when a sound effect or piece of music kicked in.

The video is in 2.35:1 and I have no complaints with the transfer. Especially in the dark (and there are a lot of scenes in the gloom and dark), the blacks are deep and I noticed no artifacting or enhancement around the points of light, such as lanterns and fires.

There are no special features. The menu doesn’t even try to fake you out by listing a features section, and populating it with things like subtitle selection.

The Lowdown

Victorian-era novelists had a lot at their disposal to distinguish themselves from one anther: use of language, degrees of reliance on plot devices, humor, melodrama. It’s not hard to distinguish between a Jane Austen novel and a Thomas Hardy novel. So, I’m dumbfounded as to why the screen adaptations of these novels are so similar. Is it that ancient curse, the one which reads, "We had to lose some stuff in the translation"? Is it our opinion of Victorian culture, saying that every man really was that stiff and every woman was that devoted to ideals?

Whatever the reason, The Woodlanders is not a new experience. I do appreciate how it’s structurally similar to Sense and Sensibility; but where that film is full of flippant comedy, interrupted by short periods of drama, this one is full of tragic drama, interrupted by short periods of Rufus Sewell staring mournfully into space. In the higher society, The Woodlanders says by way of context, life’s problems are resolved with witty dialogue; down here, with death.

Emily Woof carries the film all by herself, and she does a good job with what she has. It’s a challenge, I imagine, to be the lead in a film where Fate gets all the action, where all you get to do is react. Rufus Sewell, in his role as the honorable and spurned young man, has exactly two states: quietly intense and, on rare occasions, cocky.

"Did you bring a pistol?"
"No. Did you?"

As a social drama, The Woodlanders is well-managed and has a pleasantly unraveled ending. As a film, it’s too familiar, too tied to the styles of its contemporaries.

Overall 6.0 out of 10