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From the Past

Films on the to-do list

  • Armageddon Time
  • Black Widow
  • Chimes at Midnight
  • The Killing of a Sacred Deer
  • Last Christmas
  • Remember Sunday
  • Shazam! 2
  • Thor: Love and Thunder
  • Spy Guys

The Woodlanders (1997)

Film review: The Woodlanders (1997), directed by Phil Agland

The Woodlanders is based on a novel by Thomas Hardy, set in the woodlands somewhere in 1800s England. There’s Marty South (Jodhi May), who is urged by some sleazebag to cut her hair off and sell it, and her friend Giles Winterbourne (Rufus Sewell) the woodcutter, and I fully expected the story to be about them. After all, they seemed to be exchanging glances, right?


Ever since he was a child, there was an understanding that Giles would wed the daughter of the reasonably well-to-do Mr Melbury (Tony Haygarth). When said daughter, Grace (Emily Woof), comes home from having been schooled all proper like, Melbury thinks she’d be better off marrying someone better off than a woodcutter.

And lo and behold, there’s a new doctor in town, Dr Fitzpiers (Cal Macaninch), and he quickly appears quite smitten with Grace. Courting ensues. But is he the right man for her? Will he give her a happy ever after, when he won’t even celebrate happy events with the other woodlanders, because he doesn’t think they should associate with that kind of society? And what about Giles?

Also starring Polly Walker as rich bitch Mrs Charmond, Walter Sparrow as Old Creedle, Sheila Burrell as Grandma Oliver (who decides not to donate her skull to science after all, for fear of losing her soul), and Michael Culkin as Percombe.

I have to admit not being too familiar with the works of Thomas Hardy (yet), but if you’re expecting passions like the Brontës and fwuffy wuv like Austen, think again. This is not a happy story, by any means. In fact, the description said something about a woman “trapped in a loveless marriage”. I was just waiting for the unfortunate union, but it seemed odd at first. The way Grace and the doctor looked at each other was not far off the way you’d expect Lizzie and Darcy to behold one another. How could that possibly lead to a loveless marriage?

Well, somehow, it does, and it’s easy to say that she was a fool for marrying the man in the first place. I can understand him being quiet, soft-spoken and not wanting to make a big deal of getting married. (Heck, we didn’t want to make a big deal out of it either.) I understand if he’d rather retire to the peace of his own bedroom than being amongst a bunch of rowdy people too, because that’s exactly what I would have wanted to do. But when we find out that he hasn’t just retired there for introverted coping reasons, but because he’s a stuck-up jerk … well, then I find it hard to sympathise. He’s on par with St John Rivers for being a cold git.

So what of Giles? He’s there in the background on occasion. Thought the plot would split so that if he can’t marry Grace, she’d go marry the doc and he’d go marry Marty. Not really. Marty is so little involved in the plot that you could easily remove her character altogether and not miss out. Don’t get why she was in it at all, to be honest. What a wasted opportunity.

Giles as a character seemed like a very nice and kind man. The only thing that kept distracting me every time he appeared on screen was Sewell’s droopy eyelid. And let’s be honest, if something as silly and insignificant as that is found to be distracting, then it’s fair to say that the people acting in the scene weren’t too engaging, nor the script. The film is set in a beautiful piece of woodland and is very atmospheric, but holy crap what a brooding emo-fest it is! Marty loves Giles (apparently) who doesn’t love her, because Giles loves Grace. Grace, in turn, loved Giles once and now doesn’t love her doctor husband, but maybe she loves Giles after all.

And then, the supposedly well-educated Grace is too naive to trust her instincts before the marriage (only to find out later what she thought had happened actually did happen), and the whole situation at the very end is really … first of all, if someone’s cold from having been out in the rain, don’t leave them collapsed just inside the door, put them next to the burning fire to keep them warm. And also, why not just run after said person originally and beg them to stay? Or for that matter, why leave your own home instead of staying to either a) talk and tell him to fuck off, and/or b) kick that two-timing bastard out?

But I digress. The only people I felt any real sympathy with were Giles and Marty, but Marty is hardly in the film at all (as previously mentioned), and Giles doesn’t exactly get a lot of screen time either. The Woodlands is not quite as miserable and gloomy as Wuthering Heights, but not too far off. Except Hardy’s characters lack the passion and conviction of Emily Brontë’s, but on the other hand, you can actually like them, ever so slightly.

Hardy wasn’t happily married himself, apparently, but instead of getting a divorce (which was sketchy at the best of times, which this film highlights) or write escapist fiction where everyone ended up happy at the end, he was a right misery guts. How uplifting. Not.

3.4 out of 5 too-narrow woodland roads.


An easily distracted and over-excited introvert who never learns to go to bed at a reasonable time. Enjoys traveling (when there's not a plague on), and taking photos of European architecture. Cares for cats, good coffee and Boardwalk Empire. A child of her time, she did media studies in school and still can't decide what she wants to be when she grows up.

6 thoughts on “The Woodlanders (1997)

  1. I streamed The Woodlanders on Netflix a couple of months ago.    I did not care too much for Giles even though he was such a good man.  I thought he was too accepting of the situation and could have gone after his beloved better than he did.  I guess I cannot help comparing him to Heathcliff or even John Thornton & Mr. Darcy.  As broody as Mr. Thornton is he still had more passion in him than Giles.  I loved Grace’s last parting words to her husband at the end.  Good for her!  I mostly found Grace to be pretty bland in showing emotions though.  All in all I did enjoy this movie.      

  2. thank you Traxy,  i sooo agree with your review (you did not miss a stitch). apart from the expectation of marrying Grace i did not see any ‘beloved’ type behavior, i wasn’t even sure that he did love her – that’s why i thought that Marty had a chance.  the only people who showed what they really wanted in the movie (some passion) was Grace’s father (he insisted on her  marrying the Doc), that sleezebag (who coaxed Marty to cut her hair) and Mrs Charmond.
    i also agree with Collarcitybrownstone about how she felt about Giles but not the comparisons – this movie/story and it’s characters (not the actors) are far out of N&S’s and P&P’s league.  
    i watched this movie to the end, hoping to see straw spinned to gold..

  3. Yup, definitely. Say what you want about Heathcliff, but at least there’s a bit of fire in him. When Cathy “has” to marry Linton, he doesn’t exactly look like a sad puppy, saying “but I thought WE were getting married. But we’re not? Ho hum, never mind, I’ll live.”

  4. Yeah, just seems rather … passion-less all around, save for your examples. Such a shame! I was also watching for the straw to be spun into gold, but it just kept on being straw. 🙁

  5. Good review. I hadn’t heard of this one before. Now I’m thinking I’ll save it for a rainy day . . . not on the top of the list, but it still may hold some interest!

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