A Spring Mantel

comments: 92


A few weekends ago, I spent not a small amount of time watching various movie versions of Thomas Hardy's novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles: the 1979 version with Natassia Kinski, the 1998 version with Justine Waddell (who is one of my favorite actors, and who you might know from the brilliant Wives and Daughters), and the 2008 version with Gemma Arterton.

I first read Tess of the D'Urbervilles in high school and have re-read it a few times since. It is a maddening and ambitious and tragic and symbolic novel on so many levels; I won't get into a textual analysis or even summarization here because that is way beyond my skill-level today (or any day, I'm sure) but, without giving any spoilers or details, be warned that this is a heavy movie. As difficult as it is, almost every spring I have the urge to revisit this story, especially in movie form. Several weeks ago, on a blustery Friday afternoon, I rented all three of the above versions (from our stellar local indie video store), stopped and got a latte, and settled in for a viewing. I started with the most recent 2008 BBC version featuring Gemma Arterton. I had seen it before, when it first came out a couple of years ago and was on cable, but for some reason, watching it this time, I was moved like I have rarely been moved by a movie. I finished it the next day, then put in the 1998 version. I watched about forty-five minutes of it (I had seen it before, as well) and popped it back out; I put in the 1979 version. Again, I watched only until about halfway through her time at the dairy and took it out, too. Then I put the 2008 version back in and watched the whole thing again.

From the 2008 BBC version of Tess of the D'Urbervilles

It's true that it was really cold, really rainy, and I had nothing else to do. But honestly, I don't think the earlier versions hold a candle to this one. I was just so mesmerized by Gemma Arterton, who, in my opinion, turned in one of the most moving performances I've ever seen in my life, that I just couldn't stop watching. I have to admit that I sobbed both times, and possibly even more the second time.

From the 2008 BBC version of Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Part of what choked me up, aside from the breathtaking and soulful Miss Arterton (as well as the other performances, which I think are brilliant) and the brutal, sad plot, is the stunning beauty — and implied fragility — of the scenery. If you watch the extras on the DVD, they talk about the filming locations (according to the BBC web site [unfortunately, none of the trailers there work for me], the movie was filmed in several places around western England in the spring of 2008). They discuss how the director made a conscious decision to include these big, long shots where you frequently see just one character walking alone across miles of open countryside, and there is something very vulnerable and profound about those images in particular to me. So many of the other scenes of the woods in springtime (especially the scene where she and Angel are talking under the tree) also really stuck in my mind and are still floating around there.

This past Friday I put together a Tess-inspired spring mantel for our living room.


The flowers are all fake (even we here in Oregon don't have such blossoms yet), except for the pot of clover all the way to the left that Andy bought at the nursery when we went. But the arrangement and the colors made me feel peaceful. I thought of ikebana and of gentle things.


I added a little sprig of blooming pink daphne to that little blue creamer, and found a tiny, real bird's nest (at an antique booth) to put under the cloche that Amy gave me for my birthday.


Lovely mantle, I love all those pretty gentle colurs. :)
Vivienne x

I love the Gemma Arterton Tess too. My daughter and I had a good old weep on the sofa over that one a couple of weeks ago? She got a pretty angel tattoo to remember the filming of that series.

I have neither read the book nor seen the movies, but from the still you've shown it looks beautiful. I cannot remember why I never read any Hardy. I will have to find a copy and try it.

OOOhhhhh! Another movie to put at the top of the ole Netflix queue--THANKS! I just watched Lost in Austen last week (originally a TV miniseries, I believe) about a modern woman who gets stuck in the Pride and Prejudice novel) and it was so much fun, now I am in the mood for more like it!

A good movie, a good cry... what bliss.

I really love Thomas Hardy and Tess was the first book I ever read of his. I've yet to watch of movie adaptation of that book, though. I do love a tragic Hardy tale.

Lovely mantle. I wish I could get mine to look like this.

It's funny, it took me a really long time to warm to Gemma Arterton as Tess, though by the end of the run (I watched it as it aired in the UK) I was won over by her entirely. I think Justine Waddell may still be my favourite Tess, though the overall quality of that production is not nearly so high as the 2008 version.

Hmm. I suppose I'll just have to watch them both again right through to decide!

Tess was perhaps the first 'grown up' book that I read in my early teens and it devastated me for days after I finished it (teenage angst, hormones, what can I say...). I haven't seen the 2008 production but your review definitely makes me rush out and find it. Lovely mantel arrangement. C.x

I read Tess of the D'Urbervilles back in college and it was one of the books that has "stuck" with me the most. I have never seen any of those film versions. Sounds like I'll have to get my hands on that 2008 version.

Oh Tess, poor, poor, Tess. My heart goes out to her.

Ack, funny! I just finished re-doing my mantle too -- this very minute. Finally got the Valentine's Day stuff put away and springy things out. Yours looks perfect -- so tastefully done -- as always!
And I love the 2008 Tess movie too. Although, Thomas Hardy is hard for me to read (& watch) -- so sad & the injustice is so troubling, and sadly, real. Anyway, this is a beautifully made version, isn't it -- so utterly poignant. Reading about it here makes me want to watch it again -- think I will.

My 16 year-old great-niece is a lover of all things Jane Austen, so the 2008 version sounds ideal. I love being able to introduce her to yummy finds such as this. I see a movie night in our future. :)

Also, we've recently moved back into our renovated home (after living away for 14 months) and your mantel is an inspiration to dress the mantel in my sitting room in spring-ish pretties. Thank you!

Loving your mantle. I have a thing for cloches too! Are those vases from my friend Ikea? Absolutely gorgeous. Thank you for the inspiration!

Oh...your mantle is so pretty - it must look wonderful at night with the candles and lights.

My only viewing was the 1979 version and I think I was too young to watch it. The injustice and the part with the ceiling agitated me so much that I haven't been able to approach it again. But you make me want to watch the 2008 version...

Oh I love love love Tess of the d'Ubervilles and now I need to watch all of those movies so badly! I remember the 1979 version with Natassia Kinski quite well.

Thanks for the inspiration!

I love Hardy and remember the beautiful Natassia Kinski version - will have to find the others as well. I love Jude the Obscure as well- is there a film of that?
Love your mantel- it is so fresh and is suggestive of Tess herself.

Gorgeous post (and mantle)...am off to order Tess xx

Oh no! What happens to Tess? When one of the romantics (even the fictional ones) suffer heartache I consider it a strike to us all!

I loved this adaption of Tess too. I think Gemma was wonderful throughout - she has a lovely mix of sweetness and sexiness that is quite compelling. My Mum lives in Dorset and we are off to see her at Easter -I can't wait to sit beside the beautiful sea there and see the spring flowers. All my family holiday's were spent there as a child, it's very unspoilt. I find Hardy pretty tough - always so sad and full of class resentment. The beauty of the scenery (in film adapations) makes him somehow more bearable as it always lifts the sadness of the story. Thanks for your blog, I love it, Fx

I am going to have to watch the most recent version...any maybe read the book again. In the spirit of honesty, I will say that I read the book once in 8th grade and I thought it was the worst book I'd ever read. I *hated* it. I think part of the intense emotion I felt towards it was because I thought I'd love it. So...I'm thinking now that I'm older I need to give it a revisit - inspired by you! So, thank you!

Nothing like the BBC versions of these classics:-)

Ah Tess. I love Hardy. My second son is named after Gabriel Oak (I tried for Angel Clare, but my hubby was having none of it!)And being a English West Country girl, I completely agree about the gorgeous scenery. How clever to express it all through a mantlepiece :) Laura x

You are so talented with all of the fresh cute little things you do to your home.

I have never read Tess before, but always intended to. So now I shall do just that. I just requested it be sent (for free from Amazon) to my Kindle.

This book is one of my all time faves. I'll have to check out the movie version.

So, maybe I've found my next book! Great post.

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com