DIR: Michael Winterbottom • WRI: Thomas Hardy • PRO: Michael Winterbottom, Melissa Parmenter, Sunil Bohra • DOP: Marcel Zyskind • ED: Mags Arnold • DES: David Bryan Cast: Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed, Roshan Seth
Two years from the controversial The Killer Inside Me, Michael Winterbottom returns to the big screen with Trishna, which offers a modern-day spin of Thomas Hardy’s penultimate novel, Tess of the d’Ubervilles. Regarded as a very significant piece of English literature, it has been adapted in a number of different mediums, with the most recognisable being Roman Polanski’s Tess, made in 1979 with Nastassja Kinski, and the 2008 four-hour TV adaptation, starring Gemma Arterton in the title role. It has also been made into a stage show on several occasions in the past, which comes as no surprise, because Hardy is one of those writers, like Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare, whose work can be interpreted in a number of different ways.
In the case of Trishna, Winterbottom has decided to transport it from the Long Depression-era Wessex setting of the novel to present-day India, with Slumdog Millionaire and Rise of The Planet of The Apes actress Freida Pinto starring as the titular Trishna, who accepts a job in a plush hotel in Jaipur after her father is injured in a road accident. While there, she catches the attention of the hotel owner’s son, Jay (Four Lions‘ Riz Ahmed), whom she later falls in love with, before moving to the glamorously-depicted Mumbai. However, as is also the case in Hardy’s source novel, things eventually take a turn for the worse for our young heroine.
All of this seems like perfect territory for Winterbottom, who has adapted Hardy’s work in two of his previous films (Jude and The Claim), and is a director of formidable talent when he is on form. In the case of Trishna, Winterbottom succeeds in applying the complexities and symbolisms of the Hardy book to a present-day location, but the film does have certain faults that stops it from being ranked alongside the very best Winterbottom films, like A Mighty Heart, 24 Hour Party People or Wonderland. In terms of the film’s good points, the cinematography of Marcel Zyskind and production design of David Bryan are of the highest quality, as they make good use of the film’s exotic locations, capturing perfectly the kind of world that Trishna has a desire to be a part of.
As expected, Winterbottom’s direction is sure-footed, ensuring that the varying segments of the film don’t feel disjointed at any particular stage. There are also fine performances from Pinto and Ahmed in the lead roles, who make a very believable screen couple. Unfortunately, the way their characters are depicted doesn’t quite work on screen, and while the filmmakers have remained relatively faithful to the novel (to the point that Hardy is the only one who has received a writing credit), some of the elements of the narrative don’t work quite as well within the confines of this film. Trishna, for instance, does seem all too willing to accept the circumstances she finds herself in, which makes it less of a surprise when matters take a turn for the worse for her in the film’s final act. Ahmed probably has the tougher task of the two, however, as his Jay takes on a sudden transformation from the charming young man we first meet to the increasingly unpleasant person he becomes during the film’s climax. The film’s depiction of gender inequality and class division is also rather muddled, and not entirely convincing, despite the best intentions of all involved. Nonetheless, as far being a modern-day spin on a well-told literary story, Trishna still rates as one of the better ones, and is certainly one of the best-made examples of a classic story getting the 21st century treatment. It is also refreshing to see Winterbottom having the courage to take liberty with certain elements of the book in his attempt to give the film a unique voice, and while Trishna is ultimately a flawed addition to his cannon, it still manages to highlight how effective his improvisational style of filmmaking can be.
Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Trishna is released on 9th March 2012