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  M.   September 12, 2008

Andy Welch talks to the newest Bond girl about playing Thomas Hardy’s eponymous heroine and the differences between period drama and Hollywood blockbusters

Despite spending the last few months in some of the world’s most glamorous locations filming one of the year’s most anticipated films, Gemma Arterton still describes filming Tess Of The D’Urbervilles as the best time of her life.

When you consider the amount of time she spent during shooting of the forthcoming Bond film getting up close and personal with buff leading man Daniel Craig, that praise seems even more startling.

“I loved every minute of it,” says Gemma, excusing herself while tucking into a big fruit salad. “I haven’t eaten yet, I’m starving.”

The new adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s story begins on BBC1 on Sunday. It’s divided into four hour-long parts and promises to be among the most faithful retelling of the classic tale to date.

Now regarded by critics and scholars as the author’s finest work, Tess Of The D’Urbervilles sent shockwaves around the literary world when it was first published in 1891.

The novel’s themes of love, betrayal, violence and at times bleak imagery didn’t sit well with cultural commentators of the day, who criticised the book and its eponymous heroine for an apparent lack of decency.

Hardy, however, thrived on challenging Victorian attitudes, and as a result the story still feels modern.

“Tess really got under my skin and I didn’t have to try,” explains Gemma, 22, who read the novel several times while preparing for the role.

“Tess is such a heroine in every sense of the word, and I desperately wanted to play a part like that.”

For those unfamiliar with the story, it begins with Tess’s father, Jack Durbeyfield, being told he has links to a long-extinct aristocratic family, the D’Urbervilles.

Being a penniless farmer, he wants to explore his rich ancestry further. Tess’s mum Joan – played in this adaptation by Gavin And Stacey writer Ruth Jones – decides Tess should pay a visit to the wealthy D’Urbervilles to ‘claim kin’.

Tess reluctantly agrees, and upon arriving at a stately home, bewitches her ‘cousin’ Alec D’Urberville, who tries to woo her before offering her a job on his farm.

Once there, Tess starts on a tragic path, but giving any more away would ruin it for newcomers to the powerful story.

Hardy’s novels are set in the semi-fictional county of Wessex, and, unlike other adaptations of his stories, this version of Tess is filmed in and around the areas he used for inspiration – Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset, with some additional scenes shot in Gloucestershire.

“We shot outside so much,” Gemma says.

“The weather was really extreme, which was quite spooky, it changed from one hour to the next.

“I felt the weather was an omen, really. One day it was snowing really heavily, like a blizzard, and a line from that day’s script was ‘on a clear day, you can see the veil of the great dairies, but there aren’t any clear days’.

“It was true, but then five minutes later it stopped, everything thawed and the sun came out for a scene when we needed it to.”

While filming her scenes Gemma learned to milk cows, carry chickens, chop swedes and muck out stables.

“All that was so funny because I’m such a city girl,” says Kent-born Gemma.

With new Bond film Quantum Of Solace now in the bag and ready for its October release, plus a couple more big films in the pipeline, Gemma’s star is well and truly on the rise.

Blessed with great talent and stunning looks to match, it would be easy for her to get carried away, but she remains down-to-earth, arriving to our meeting on her own, and openly chatting about shopping on the high street – she used to like Primark until reports surfaced of alleged unethical practices – and the joys of a Sunday roast dinner.

She’s not focused on Hollywood either: “I don’t worry about if it’s on TV or a film. It’s just the story and script I’m interested in. If they’re good, then I’ll do it.”

Tess Of The D’Urbervilles begins at 9pm on BBC1 this Sunday

Source: The Press And Journal

– Magazine Scans: TV Easy (UK) – September 13-19, 2008, thanks to Lorna
– Magazine Scans: TV Quick (UK) – September 13-19, 2008, thanks to Lorna