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  Scarlet Tunic, The Hardy har har
Year: 1998
Director: Stuart St. Paul
Stars: Jean-Marc Barr, Emma Fielding, Simon Callow, Jack Shepherd, John Sessions, Lynda Bellingham, Thomas Lockyear, Andrew Tiernan, Gareth Hale, Lisa Faulkner, Roger May, Laura Aikman, Eric Redman, Jean Heard, Tom McCabe
Genre: Drama, Romance, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: In 1802, towards the end of the Napoleonic wars, foreign soldiers train in Britain as part of the king’s hussars, in preparation to take back their homeland. Dr. Edward Groves (Jack Shepherd) and his daughter Frances (Emma Fielding) welcome troops stationed near their estate, including dashing Prussian officer Mattheus Singer (Jean-Marc Barr). Groves invites ambitious businessman Humphrey Gould (John Sessions) to court his daughter, but shortly after Frances accepts his proposal, he disappears. As gossip suggests Gould is seeing another woman in the city, Frances begins an affair with the soulful and sensitive Mattheus. She also arranges an assignation between his lovestruck brother Christophe (Thomas Lockyear) and Amy (Lisa Faulkner), the local groundskeeper’s daughter. But trouble looms when, weary of the belligerent Fairfax, the Prussian hussars consider deserting the army.

A British costume drama that seems to have fallen through the cracks. The Scarlet Tunic is based on an eight-page novella by that notorious barrel of laughs, Thomas Hardy. Filmed, appropriately for Hardy, in Dorset, it is a handsome production well served by an achingly lovely score by John Scott. Less earthy and layered than the marvellous Tess (1980) or Far from the Madding Crowd (1967), the film has a cosy, Sunday teatime feel that leaves it a most agreeable viewing experience, if somewhat lacking in substance.

Yet the core love story is impeccably played and often moving. Former stunt director Stuart St. Paul indulges picturesque incidents like the shot of the lovers beside crashing waves, which renders this almost a fable as seen through the eyes of the child, Dotty (Laura Aikman), who becomes their go-between. Given Hardy’s reputation, an ending of sunshine and lollipops seems most unlikely, although St. Paul tweaks the Amy-Christophe subplot in order to wrap things up on a slightly more upbeat note. In the DVD’s “Making Of” documentary, St. Paul admits “that isn’t Hardy”, but the warm-hearted tone does not damage the integrity of the story.

Since this is the kind of story the British film industry does so well, it comes as no surprise that it is impeccably acted. Both by the principal leads and a host of familiar character actors and television stalwarts. Lookout for comedian Gareth Hale as the belligerent groundskeeper Mr. Parsons, and Lynda Bellingham as housekeeper Emily Marlowe, who shares a touching moment of tenderness with Dr. Groves. Jean-Marc Barr, best known as the lead in Luc Besson’s The Big Blue (1988), gives one of his better performances and cuts quite a dash as the likeable Mattheus, while Emma Fielding compliments him perfectly. The blood and bullets conclusion skirts melodrama, but much like Shakespeare, gives a sense that the lovers’ sacrifice goes some way to rebuilding a family.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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