TBT: The Mayor of Casterbridge (2003)


This is not my favorite Thomas Hardy novel, but it’s hard to deny the appeal of Ciarán Hinds as the alternately idiotic and stubborn and then remorseful but still proud and stubborn titular character in The Mayor of Casterbridge (2003).

The story begins with an already archaic notion of a man — Michael Henchard (Hinds) — selling off his wife and infant daughter in a drunken fit. Years pass and he’s cleaned up his act, renounced booze, and become an upstanding citizen, a prosperous businessman, and the mayor. His former wife, Susan, comes back as the man who purchased her and became her “husband” has died. To make up for things, Henchard marries her again and “adopts” his now-grown daughter, Elizabeth-Jane (Jodhi May). Of course, Henchard had been planning to marry another woman who he’d had an affair with (yeah, guess he hadn’t cleaned up his act too much). That lady, Lucetta Templeman (Polly Walker) comes to town after she gains an inheritance and makes life uncomfortable for Henchard. Plus, Henchard has an energetic employee, Donald Farfrae (James Purefoy) who soon overtakes him in the business. Several love stories overlap, fortunes rise and fall, and ultimately, Henchard dies alone and relatively unloved because of his many mistakes. It’s not a happy tale, but it is just in a way.

The acting is beautiful throughout, which is a good thing because the costumes are rather snoozy. No specific date is noted in the three-part miniseries. The novel was published in 1886, but no bustle gowns are in view. Instead, the gowns look rather 1840s-1850s-ish, aka our reviled death of fashion period complete with derpy bonnets. So you know this is an excellent production if I watched and enjoyed it in spite of the sad frocks!

The Mayor of Casterbridge (2003)

It starts out like this.

The Mayor of Casterbridge (2003)

But it gets a little better. I can see the appeal of James Purefoy around this time!

The Mayor of Casterbridge (2003)

But the beautiful tragedy that Ciarán Hinds plays so well really does it for me.

The Mayor of Casterbridge (2003)

Jodhi May gets one “nice” dress, & I use that term reservedly.

The Mayor of Casterbridge (2003)

OK, the story is set in a small country town, so I don’t expect high fashion from anyone.

The Mayor of Casterbridge (2003)

But I just can’t with the bonnets. They are the worst.

The Mayor of Casterbridge (2003)

Even the usually super sexy Polly Walker is forced into bonnet-dom.

The Mayor of Casterbridge (2003)

Red kind of distracts from the bonnet, I guess.




Have you seen this adaption of The Mayor of Casterbridge? Is Ciarán Hinds or James Purefoy your fave? Do bonnets make you gag?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

12 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    I’m not a fan of Hardy so I tend to bypass any adaptations of his work. Especially those with derpy bonnets. I am not sure that the excellent acting on Mr Hinds’ part could convince me otherwise.. Besides anyone knows that the Mayor would have become a MP, leaving Purfoy’s character to run the business.. And he would still have affairs. That’s the way the patriarchy was then, now and forever more. I prefer Mrs Gaskell.

    • heatherbelles

      I had to study the novel for my A-levels, so I remember watching this adaptation a couple of years later.

      I mostly remember thinking the books was well enough written, but not exactly a ‘fun’ or read.

      But then, the whole selection of what we studied wasn’t exactly the type to fill you with warm and fuzzy thoughts on human natures – , Silas Marner, The Changeling, The Go-Between, The Handmaids Tale and King Lear!

      I think I enjoyed this adaptation though, from what I remember, but much like the book ‘once was enough’

  2. Aleko

    I also can’t believe Victorian Englishmen in their shirtsleeves for a dance, even if the dance is taking place in a tent or a barn or wherever that is. There are white tablecloths and good wineglasses, the men all have smart waistcoats and cravats and clean white shirts and the woman are all wearing nice dresses, so it’s not as though they were all just taking a break from haymaking or some such and just decided to have a bit of fun. This has to be a proper pre-planned social occasion, for which a man would put on his good coat and keep it on.

  3. Gray

    Hahaha..l love the 1840s and even the bonnets. But I also understand your complaints about the period. There’s something about it’s austereness I like. I like the silhouette. And there’s variety in the men’s looks. When designing in this period there’s nothing to “hide behind” and you must use subtleties to create character.
    But it certainly isn’t as much fun as bustles.

  4. Fran in NYC

    I remember years before this version, Masterpiece had an adaptation with Alan Bates playing the Mayor and Anna Massey as Lucetta. I can’t remember any other casting, just that the story was depressing as hell!

    • M.E. Lawrence

      Oh, yes, I remember that one! Bates and Hinds–two of my favorite Brit actors, and both of them well cast as the Mayor. Hardy really is pretty depressing, but I like him anyway. (A pity about the era, though–perhaps my least favorite for female dress and hair styling.)

  5. MelMc

    Everyone has their hair up. Did the Hairpin Suppression League feel bad for the dumb looking bonnets and increase their hairpin allowance? Pity-pins.

  6. Janet Elaine Nickerson

    Is it a requirement for bonnets to be derpy? Inquiring minds want to know…

  7. Nzie

    I know some love Hardy; I don’t have any opinions as I’ve never read anything by him, and I also don’t think I’ve watched any adaptations of his work. So I don’t know if based on this description I would watch it. I like some elements of the 1840s dresses, like the kind of… fan pleating? on bodices. I prefer hats to bonnets, some of which are quite derpy. But credit to them for hair up and actually having the bonnets, I guess?

  8. Giselle

    gasp not the bonnets! Anything but the bonnets!

    At least the men’s outfits aren’t too awful… and James Purefoy’s acting can distract from even the worst wardrobes. #PurefoyIsPureJoy

  9. Charity

    I have a vague memory of watching this when it was new, and wanting to kick many of the characters repeatedly. But I feel that about all Thomas Hardy’s characters. I think the only adaption I like is “Return of the Native,” and that’s mostly for a super young, super gorgeous Catherine Zeta-Jones in the lead.


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