The movie “Tess,” directed by Roman Polanski, is based on the classic novel “Tess of the D’urbervilles” written by Thomas Hardy and published in 1892.  The story is set in the fictional Wessex County in England.

Tess’s Family is Related to the D’urbervilles

The first character we meet in the film “Tess” is John Durbeyfield, a drunken farmer, as he walked down the road to his home.  He was greeted by the local parson who called him “Sir John.”  When John asked for an explanation, the parson explained that John’s name, Durbeyfield was really D’urberville, the name of an old noble family who have relatives living nearby.

John Durbeyfield continued on home and told his wife and children that he had just learned that they were of noble blood.  He brought out a spoon with a regal crest, a family heirloom which had previously had no significance.  The couple decided that their oldest daughter Tess (Nastassja Kinski) should call on the D’urberville family that lived in the area in the hope that Tess might find work with them.


Nastassja KinskiCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                           Nastassja Kinski - Wikimedia

Tess Meets Angel

A fete called the village May Dance had just begun with all of the young girls in the area dressed in white, waiting for the males to arrive to start the dancing.  Three strangers walked by and inquired about the occasion.  They stayed to dance for a while.  One of the men was Angel Clare (Peter Firth) who joined the dance, but failed to notice Tess until it was too late and he had to leave.  Tess was disappointed.

Tess Meets the D’urbervilles

Tess was reluctant to present herself to the D’urberville family, but her parents finally persuaded her to do so.  She was able to drive there in a carriage and came upon the beautiful mansion where the D’urbervilles lived.  A young man approached her on the front lawn, and she asked him if she could speak to Mrs. D’urberville.  He said the woman was an invalid and did not see visitors.  He introduced himself as Alec D’urberville and presented Tess with some delicious strawberries and fresh flowers.  He arranged to have her meet Mrs. D’urberville who was blind, but very cordial.  They decided that she could come to work for them as the manager of their poultry farm.  The correspondence she received from them had the D’urberville family crest at the top, the same crest that was on Tess’s father’s spoon.


Roman PolanskiCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                              Roman Polanski - Wikimedia

Tess is Seduced

Tess soon learned that the family was really named Stoke and were not true D’urbervilles.  They had purchased the name to improve their social standing.  Alec D’urberville started pursuing Tess aggressively against her wishes and managed to seduce her on an outing which took them through a forest.  Tess left the D’urberville mansion and returned home in order to release herself from the grasp of Alec.  As a result of their encounter, Tess had a baby boy who lived only a few weeks before he passed away.  When the local pastor refused to give the child a Christian burial, Tess brought him to the churchyard late one evening and buried him herself.

Another Meeting with Angel Clare

To support herself, Tess took a job as a milkmaid for Mr. and Mrs. Crick who owned a dairy farm.  She and three other young girls milked the cows and helped with the chores.  There she met Angel Clare, the man who had not danced with her at the May Dance.  She reminded him of that day, and he said that he had planned to dance with her but he had to leave early.  Angel was the son of the local minister, but chose to be an apprentice dairy farmer with the aim of owning his own dairy farm one day. 

Angel and Tess fell in love and Angel told his parents that he was thinking of getting married.  They thought he was talking about a parishioner named Mercy Chant, a pious lady that they had singled out as a prospective bride for Angel.  Angel corrected them and said they would meet Tess soon and he was certain they would like her.

FarmhouseCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                            Farmhouse Where Tess Met Angel - Wikimedia

Angel Proposes

When Angel asked Tess to marry him, she turned him down and he was unable to figure out why.  Her mother had written her that she should tell no one of her bygone troubles.  Tess therefore used the excuse that there was trouble in her family when it was learned they were actually D’urbervilles.  She knew he had little regard for old noble families, and felt that it would make a difference to him.  Angel was relieved at the explanation.

Tess still felt guilty and wrote a letter to Angel in which she told him of her past life in the hope that he would accept her still.  She put it under his door, and waited the next morning for his reaction.  He was joyful and smiling, so Tess was relieved that the news had no bearing on their relationship.  A few days later, when she brought some flowers to Angel’s room, Tess realized that the note was still there, but under the carpet, and Angel had not read it.  She tore it up.

Angel and Tess are Married

Angel and Tess were married and took a carriage to a beautiful mansion where they would be alone for several days.  One elderly servant left after bringing them food for their dinner.  Angel presented Tess with his family’s jewels, a diamond necklace with matching earrings.  After dinner, Angel told Tess that he had a confession to make.  When he was younger and living in London, he had an affair with a much older woman.  It lasted just a few weeks, and he was sorry that it had ever happened. 


Thomas Hardy's HouseCredit: Wikimedia Commons

            Thomas Hardy's House Where He Wrote "Tess of the D'urbervilles" - Wikimedia

Tess Makes a Confession

Tess kissed him and then told him about her relationship with Alec D’urberville and about the baby, thinking that he too would forgive her.  Angel was shocked at the news.  He said to her “You are not the woman I loved.  You are the last in a line of degenerate aristocrats.”  He left to go outside.

Tess returned to the drudgery of the dairy farm.  There was no other place to go, and the milkmaids were the only friends she had.  One day, Alec D’urberville pulled up on his horse.  He convinced Tess to leave and to come live with him.

You will not hear the ending of this story here.  Read the novel “Tess of the D’urbervilles” or see this Roman Polanski film, “Tess,” if you want to learn the surprise ending. 

Director Roman Polanski

Director Roman Polanski was born in Paris of Polish immigrants.  They returned to Poland when Roman was three years old.  His parents were sent to a concentration camp, where his mother eventually died.  Roman was taken in by friends when this occurred.

Polanski aspired to be an actor and appeared in several films until he became interested in directing.  He moved to Hollywood in 1968 where he became a household name, particularly for his film “Rosemary’s Baby.”  His wife, Sharon Tate, while she was pregnant, was murdered by members of Charles Manson’s cult.  In 1977, Polanski was accused of having sexual relations with a minor.  While the charges were still pending, he left for Europe.  If he returns to the United States, he could face the possibility of going to prison.

In 2002, Roman Polanski won an Academy Award for Best Director for his film “The Pianist” but was not allowed to attend the ceremony.  Attempts to extradite him to the United States have been fruitless thus far.



Tess of the D'Urbervilles (Illustrated)
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