There is something fascinating to me about Kate Winslet. Here is an actress who starred in one of the biggest films of all time, but I find her performances in the legion of smaller films she did before and after more interesting. There's something about her personality that strikes me well; she's alert, intelligent and she has wonderful timing when called upon. She always seems to seamlessly integrate herself into a character while also using facial gestures subtly to show emotions. She's one of the rare actresses today whose performances seem to suggest suprises - she keeps the audience uncertain and effectively introduces unexpected elements.
One of Winslet's finest performances is available for viewing in director Michael Winterbottom's 1996 effort "Jude", based upon Thomas Hardy's novel. The film stars Christopher Eccleston as Jude, a young man who has unfufilled dreams of making more out of his life and getting an education. Early in the film, he falls for an attractive young woman named Arabella (Rachel Griffiths, of "Hilary and Jackie"); while it's apparent that the two have feelings for one another, the marriage simply does not work. Soon, they've parted and gone their separate ways, with Jude continuing on his way towards his dream of education.
Once there, his application for university is rejected, but he runs into his beautiful younger cousin, Sue Brideshead (Kate Winslet). The two are playful and intelligent; both actors convincingly portray two people gradually opening up to one another. It's obvious that both share feelings that remain, at first, unspoken. When Jude tries to get her a teachers assistant job at the local school, she ends up falling in love with her co-worker, leading Jude to begin to reveal his feelings for her.
Unfortunately for the two lead characters, things don't work out and when things are just looking like they might - they don't. Admittedly, this is not a happy movie in the slightest, but it's a credit to both director Winterbottom and the actors that I was never too depressed by the proceedings to the level that I lost interest. Winslet and Eccleston give complex, subtle and highly enjoyable performances. While the 122 minute running time does start to finally get a bit lengthy, the two really held my interest for the majority.
"Jude" is an exceptional film that, while not without slight flaws, deserves praise for its rich, heartbreaking performances and beautiful cinematography.
VIDEO: Given that the Universal Studios logo is located on the back of this title, I believe "Jude" is probably one of the first of USA Films' titles that Universal is handling (Polygram originally held the rights). Whichever of the two studios was responsible for this transfer, they certainly did a fine job with this 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. There is a richness and clarity to the image that consistently dazzles the eyes, especially with the black and white opening, which looks exceptionally sharp and striking.
Flaws are few-and-far between throughout the presentation. A very light, very subtle amount of grain is occasionally present in scenes; rather than a rough appearance, the grain is fine, slight and intentional. Only very minimal edge enhancement was seen and no pixelation was spotted. The print looked fresh and new, as if the film has just come out a few days prior instead of six years ago. I often brought my chair near to the screen to give the crisp image an even closer inspection.
The film's color palette is slightly varied; most of the film offers a subtle, subdued color palette that is crisply rendered and suits the material well. A few scenes offer somewhat brighter colors, which look equally well-presented. Eduardo Serra's cinematography is exceptional in this film and it looks terrific here. However, I think I did notice a tiny problem: at about 28:46, my player kept stopping for what looked liked a fraction of a second. It was hardly noticable, certainly not irritating or explainable. But, other than that oddity, I was impressed with this effort.
SOUND: "Jude" is presented in Dolby 2.0. The film's audio is not very active, nor does it really need to be. The sound strikes a nice balance between music, sound effects and dialogue. Subtle audio details are crisp, easily heard and appreciated. Audio quality remained perfectly satisfactory, as the music and dialogue remained crisp and clear.
MENUS: The main and sub-menus are basic and non-animated.
EXTRAS: A short featurette, trailer and bios.
Final Thoughts: A grim, but very well-acted, haunting and compelling drama, "Jude" is worthwhile viewing. This title has been delayed, if memory serves correctly, for about a year now - while supplements are minimal, it's nice to see that care has obviously gone into the presentation. Recommended. Hopefully, Miramax will release Winterbottom's "Welcome To Sarajevo" on DVD in the near future.