GRIM RAPTURE

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Jude Fawley, the Dorset country lad in Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure, doesn't want much--just to go to a university and live happily with his one true love, his cousin Sue Bridehead. But in the England of the 1880s, the peasant class was a prison from which few escaped, and love beyond the laws of propriety makes the lovers outcasts. Yet Jude stays stubbornly true to his desperate dreams. He will read his Latin authors and endure his pariah status with Sue "as long as it takes for the world to change."

Jude, a careful, finally powerful film adapted by Hossein Amini and directed by Michael Winterbottom, places its hero and heroine in the context of a society that rejects their mild bohemianism. Jude (Christopher Eccleston) studies for the sheer pleasure of the text; Sue (Kate Winslet) flaunts her agnosticism and struts in bars, turning a cigarette into a smokestack (a gesture used so well in Francois Truffaut's Jules and Jim, the classic film about the perils of loving a liberated woman). They are also the modern homeless: their evictions from "decent" homes set up an atrocity that still shocks 100 years after the novel was published.

The two young stars give the film its grim rapture. Eccleston's Jude is not crippled but strengthened by the burden of carrying a love for someone reluctant to accept it. When he's with Sue, his gaze speaks love so loudly she might have to cover her ears. Winslet is worthy of his and the camera's scrupulous adoration. Her teasing sneer of a smile makes her a very contemporary presence. So she's perfect for Sue, a modernist ahead of her time. Take Gwyneth Paltrow's elegance, mix in Drew Barrymore's naughty wiles, and you have a hint of Winslet. She is a star of her time. And Jude is a handsome showcase for her gifts.