Review: Kate Winslet, Christopher Eccleston Shine in 'Jude'

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday May 24, 2022

Review: Kate Winslet, Christopher Eccleston Shine in 'Jude'

Sandwiched in between her first two Oscar-nominated turns in Ang Lee's "Sense and Sensibility" and James Cameron's colossal hit "Titanic," Kate Winslet made two films that were released in 1996: Kenneth Branagh's "Hamlet," where she played Ophelia, and a lesser-known period piece, "Jude," directed by Michael Winterbottom.

Based on Thomas Hardy's "Jude the Obscure," the film received mostly favorable reviews but was poorly received at the box office. It then, ironically enough, slipped into relative obscurity. "Jude" has been near-impossible to acquire on any format in the U.S. (it had a very limited release on DVD and laserdisc) until now; it's been released on Blu-ray, thanks to Kino Lorber.

Jude Fawley (the oh-so-underrated Christopher Eccleston) is a working-class 19th century stonemason who longs for an education. He moves to Christminster and briefly marries flighty country gal Arabella (Rachel Griffiths, perfectly cast), thinking she was pregnant. She then ups and leaves him. Jude soon meets and falls for his cousin, Sue Bridehead (Winslet), an unconventional woman who shares his feelings but marries his former schoolteacher (Liam Cunningham). Jude and Sue find their way back to one another but, with three children in tow, they learn society is not kind to those who refuse to marry, leading to a tragic ending.

The emotionally devastating final reel is an attack on class, societal conventions, and religion — all in one. It also contains one of the most haunting, gut-eviscerating scenes in modern cinema.

It's perhaps the unrelentingly grim and austere tone of "Jude" that kept audiences away... that, and the fact that it never received a decent marketing campaign, nor was it released wide. It's a true shame, because it's this insistence on the harsh, forbidding, and foreboding that makes it such an exceptional work.

Winslet is captivating and heartbreaking in a performance that should have gotten Oscar attention, and Eccleston matches her in intensity and passion. Both mine the subtleties and nuances of these rich, difficult characters.

Hossein Amini's ("The Wings of the Dove") adaptation is fairly faithful, except in the latter portion, where important final details are left out of the narrative. Hardy's work was so criticized at the time — especially by the church — that he ceased writing novels.

Winterbottom ("Welcome to Sarajevo," "The Claim") is a gifted, significant filmmaker whose work has never quite received the attention it deserves. "Jude" shows off his skills as a master helmer.

The Blu-ray visuals are excellent, except in certain instances where images appear to be hazy and unfocused. It's hard to tell if it's the transfer or a deliberate artistic choice.

The disc features a keen, knowledgeable commentary track by film aficionados Daniel Kremer and Scout Tafoya.

"Jude" is a remarkable work that boasts a singular and daring early performance by Kate Winslet, as well as outstanding work by Christopher Eccleston, an actor who deserved more subsequent challenging career choices.

Blu-ray Extras Include:

  • New Audio Commentary by Film Historian/Filmmaker Daniel Kremer and Film Critic Scout Tafoya

  • Theatrical Trailer

  • Reversible Art

    "Jude" is available now on Blu-ray.

    Frank J. Avella is a film journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep and a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. Frank is a recipient of the International Writers Residency in Assisi, Italy, a Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, and a NJ State Arts Council Fellowship. His short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com) and won awards. His screenplays (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW) have also won numerous awards in 16 countries. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute