Classic Friday: Under the Greenwood Tree

A couple Christmas ago I received a copy of the 2005 film adaptation of Hardy’s novel – Under the Greenwood Tree. It stars Keeley Hawes (well known British actress, Spooks, Ashes to Ashes, and many Period Drama roles as well as she's married to the blue-eyed Darcy, Matthew Macfadyen) as Fancy Day and James Murray (an unknown to me at the time—not any longer—watch Primeval) as Dick Dewey. I shared the enjoyment of this film with my sister who is a Period Drama Junkie like myself. What can I say? We both loved it. And we have now added ‘Dick Dewey’ into our repartee when speaking of favorite Period men. The sensual hand washing scene alone will be spoken of for quite some time. Wonderful characterization of the local people and their quire or choir. And Parson Maybold played by Ben Miles (from the British TV show Coupling) was just terrific. All in all it was a great flick and a well-loved addition to my Period Drama collection even though it was only an hour and a half long. So many of the good ones are mini-series any more.

I enjoyed the film so much I decided to read the book. Now I love reading classic literature: Dickens, Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, Alcott, and on and on. But I've never been much of a Hardy fan before. This book is supposed to be the first of his Wessex novels when he returned to his family’s country roots. It is a pastoral story that rues the effects of the Industrial Revolution moving into the small country villages. It is also the love story of Fancy Day and Dick Dewey. Now as I read the book, I realized that the film version had veered quite a lot from the original text. I believe the important themes were included, but the plot was altered to what I believe was better than the original text. Sorry to all those Hardy fans but the plot was a bit dull and meandered about. I also disliked Fancy in the book. She was a bit too vain and featherheaded. She was much more likeable and interesting in the film. The one thing I wish they had captured in the film was the character of Parson Maybold. He came across quite pompous in the film but in the book he had a sweet, tender heart. I wonder why they changed this?

It really surprised me that I enjoyed the book less than the film. This was a first. I always love the depth and literary precision of these classic masters but in this instance I was a bit let down by the original. The one thing which remained consistent between the film and the book was Dick Dewy – true blue and very much in love. You gotta love that! I do heartily recommend the film especially if you love Period Drama. The book is a good read too and not overly long. A ‘light’ read for a Hardy novel in both length and content. I only wonder what Mr. Thomas Hardy was thinking when he created Fancy. What were his subtle sentiments toward Victorian womanhood??

How about you? How often has it happened that you liked the film more than the original novel?

Curious about this adaptation. Watch this fan video.


Maryann Miller said...

Nice post. This is not a story I was familiar with, and it is nice to find something new. You are right about films sometimes being better than the books, especially those books that are detail heavy. Film focuses more on the basic elements of the story, so the pacing is usually better.

Debra St. John said...

Great post. With so many books being made into movies these days, it's a good topic. I am not familiar with this particular title, but for me it seems to be if I've already read the book and they make it into a movie, I generally enjoy it. If, however, I've seen the movie first, and then read the book, I tend to not like the book so much.

Cindy K. Green said...

You are so right, Maryann. That often happens in the adaptions. The new Little Dorrit adapted by Andrew Davies for instance. In the book Amy Dorrit doesn't show up for like 60 to 70 pages and in the film he has the story begin with her since it is about her after all. With Under the Greenwood Tree it is a completely different case. There was a lot of creative license and really I couldn't blame them. ;)

Cindy K. Green said...

Hi Debra. I know I am usually the exact opposite. If I read the book first I often end up disliking the film unless they do an exception job. If I see the movie first I end up liking both.

The Editrix said...

Great post! :-) I recently watched Under the Greenwood Tree, and I was interested to know how the book compared with the film.

Not as good as the film - hmmm. . . that does happen with me sometimes - for instance, I liked the 2000 adaptation of Lorna Doone better than the book.