The Return of the Native (1994)

  • Time: 101 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Jack Gold
  • Cast: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Clive Owen, Ray Stevenson

Storyline:

Reddleman Diggory Venn drives slowly across the heath, carrying a hidden passenger in the back of his van. When darkness falls, the country folk light bonfires on the hills, emphasizing the pagan spirit of the heath and its denizens.

One review

  • People get caught up in all kinds of things in their everyday lives. Whether it’s their career, hobbies or other peoples’ problems, some individuals can’t seem to let go of their insatiable interest in certain things. Too much of anything isn’t good for you in general. However, the most toxic of all topics is getting trapped on a consistent basis is in one’s romantic life. Lovers fall for each other all the time, 365 days a year. What they don’t understand is how quickly overrun they can become with their emotions. Once this occurs they can become completely distracted and not even see the flaws in the person they desire or the mistakes they might make themselves. It can also cause that same person swamped with lust to neglect anything else that might required some kind of obligation. This is dangerous and must be stopped. For novelist Thomas Hardy, these were themes he focused on a lot. With other written works like Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, The Return of the Native also visited this subject.

    Eustacia Vye (Catherine Zeta-Jones), is an attractive young woman who lives on a heath in England, but wants to move to France. Her reason for this being that the rest of the town thinks of her as a modern day witch. She’s already known for partially seducing Damon Wildeve (Clive Owen), the soon to be husband of Thomasin Yeobright (Claire Skinner), of which Wildeve is more keen on moving away from the heath. That is until Clym Yeobright (Ray Stevenson), the cousin of Thomasin returns from France. When Eustacia and Clym first meet, they become quite infatuated with each other. Not long after they get married and move out of the heath, but not to France. In turn, Vye still longs for France and Wildeve hopes to see Vye once more. Adapted by Robert W. Lenski, the teleplay for this film operates in a way that shows just how muddled people’s emotions can get after finding the one they love. There’s lots of back and forth between characters and that’s normally how events like these happen. Lenski has written almost all teleplays.

    Primetime Emmy nominated director Jack Gold governed this picture. With drama genre films being his strength, Gold knows mostly how to keep the plot engaging. With the threads of Vye, Yeobright and Wildeve taking up much of the plot, Gold and Lenski also work in Diggory Venn (Steven Mackintosh), a field worker who had hopes of marrying Thomasin but was too poor to do so. The person behind this roadblock was Mrs. Yeobright (Joan Plowright). She also feared, like the rest of the town, that Eustacia was the cause of all problems. What doesn’t exactly work within the feature are two small areas. The first being that by the finale, one character thread is left unresolved. It’s so noticeable, it could make the viewer wonder if the production crew just forgot to film a scene or something. Second, the issue of how English was spoken at the time. According to the story, it is set in 1842, yet the way English is spoken sounds like it belongs to Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur (2004). And yet that took place way before the 1800s.

    The emotional drama that occurs throughout the running time though is executed properly by the cast. Since this film is much older now, it is quite a sight to see such big name actors in their younger years. Catherine Zeta-Jones as Eustacia Vye is quite the onlooker and is very skilled in getting what she wants from the people who can’t resist her. That is until she meets Cylm Yeobright. For Clive Owen as Damon Wildeve, it’s unusual seeing him play a character that’s not so caring of others. Owen doesn’t play it as a jerk, but is somewhat difficult to sympathize with. Ray Stevenson was the right choice to play Clym Yeobright. Stevenson plays Clym like a true gentleman and is also the one viewers should condole with mostly. Both Stevenson and Zeta-Jones have good chemistry on screen and are quite a pair (as some minor characters stated in the movie itself). What’s more surprising is that Owen and Stevenson would end up starring together a decade later in King Arthur (2004). Fancy that.

    For supporting characters, Claire Skinner as Thomasin is a caring young woman. Although she may seem slightly weak at first, she does manage to take hold of the reigns and lead the way occasionally. Steven Mackintosh plays rather an underrated and overlooked character as Diggory Venn. He’s also the best example of how patience pays off when it comes to treating your enemies with respect. Mackintosh was also in Brian Henson’s The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). For visuals, even for a TV film, the cinematography was very palatable by Alan Hume. Much of the picture contains the 1800s homes and surrounding grasslands in the country. It’s very beautiful to look at, even with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Hume also worked on Zeppelin (1971), Octopussy (1983) and Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983). As for music, another unreleased soundtrack this time by composer Carl Davis was well produced too. Containing a repeating main title, the tune isn’t completely memorable but does replay often.

    Looking past some very minor places within this feature, this old romance story is a fascinating drama that will keep the attention of its audience. The actors are younger than ever, the music has an outlining theme and the camerawork is very pretty.

    Points Earned –> 7:10

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