Terminal casting choices let down Winterbottom's latest Hardy adaptation.
Prolific genre hopscotcher and occasional provocateur Michael Winterbottom galvanises his affinity for Thomas Hardy by transposing perhaps his most famous novel, 'Tess of the d’Urbervilles', to modern-day Rajasthan. Here we meet Trishna (Freida Pinto, back in passive victim mode à la Slumdog), a poor provincial lass forced to turn breadwinner after her father is involved in a nasty motor accident.
Her salvation arrives in the form of Jay (Riz Ahmed), a well-groomed Brit who’s in the region for a spot of culture sampling with some loutish mates. He sweeps Trishna off to Jaipur and the more affluent environs of one of his father’s stately hotels, securing Trishna a job and hastening his romantic advances.
But when things get serious, Trishna, overcome with guilt, runs home. Jay follows her and once again convinces her to leave with him, this time to Mumbai. For a while they’re happy, but the spark quickly fizzles out.
Trishna is less literal than Winterbottom’s two previous Hardy adaptations, Jude and The Claim. Yet in decanting the source’s themes – class, tradition, the ills of modernisation – onto such a vivid contemporary canvas, the director has achieved a more immediate potency than Polanski’s Tess and the comparatively wholesome 2008 BBC serial.
India is a complex and alluring character here, sumptuously photographed by Winterbottom’s regular DP Marcel Zyskind. Regrettably, however, it’s a backdrop that overshadows a pair of inadequate central performances.
Ahmed’s overzealousness means that Jay’s transition from level-headed nice guy to abusive panto tyrant is unconvincingly swift. Pinto, meanwhile, is dangerously out of her depth. The downside of those knockout good looks is that she appears much more at home twirling her L’Oreal-endorsed locks in between episodes of Corrie than unpicking the nuances of a seminal naturalist protagonist over 90 minutes.
Winterbottom adapts Hardy. Again. This could be special.
Plenty to admire, but some terminal casting choices.
Where Winterbottom takes us next is anyone’s guess. We’re slowly losing interest, though.