Difficult love between first cousins at the end of the 19 century, when this kind of relationship was religiously and socially proscribed. Stiff film adaptation with great actors and beautiful pictures.
As a child Jude Fawley (Christopher Eccleston) gets inspired to learn, when teacher Richard Phillotson (Liam Cunningham) moves away, because he wants to go to nearby Christminster University like Phillotson. He is set hard on learning Latin and Greek by himself and neglects all other aspects of life.
Arabella (Rachel Griffiths), the daughter of a pig farmer, imposes herself on Jude in her extroverted way, and for the first time he takes interest in something else than studying. They have to marry because he gets her pregnant, but this marriage doesn't make him happy. His aunt Drusilla (June Whitfield), who raised him, believes that the family is jinxed and their marriages are never happy.
Arabella senses Jude's unease and leaves him, supposedly not pregnant, to go to Australia. Jude finally moves to Christminster, works there as a stonemason and continues to study to get permitted to the university. He meets Sue Bridehead (Kate Winslet) for the first time and instantaneously falls in love with her. She turns out to be his cousin and they bond closely, but platonically.
Jude provides Sue with employment at Phillotson's school and soon she moves with Phillotson to Manchester. Jude gets rejected by the university and follows them. After Sue spends an innocent night at her cousin's, her school suspends her and she decides to accept Phillotson's proposal. Aunt Drusilla dies and Sue doesn't turn out to be contentedly married either. Phillotson magnanimously allows her to go with Jude. Together both of them are really happy for the first time, but their extramarital and consanguine relationship is religiously and socially taboo.
Then Arabella shows up again and leaves their child with Jude, who already has two children with Sue. Their live gets tremendously more difficult and their love is put to an acid test.
"Why a film works out or not, often depends on very simple things. Sometimes it touches the heart. And sometimes it doesn't", said director Michael Winterbottom in an interview. Winterbottom is regarded as one of the most important European directors, but his 1996 film adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel "Jude the Obscure" doesn't manage to touch the heart, although Winterbottom has done everything properly.
The story about a stigmatized love affair of first cousins is quite interesting for the most part, the film is photographed beautifully, the cast, especially Kate Winslet, is fabulous and the music taken by itself is not bad at all, but the film as a whole doesn't work out. The film is rather stiff and intellectual as its main character Jude. It equals to an inanimate reproduction, for on account of the closeness to the novel many a turn and incidence follow one another in a short time, which doesn't leave much room for true feelings to bloom. Even when deep emotions are portrayed, the audience is left out in the cold.
At the end it's nice to know that all involved have made better films: Kate Winslet "Titanic", "Iris" or "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"; Christopher Eccleston rather supporting roles in "Elizabeth", "eXistenZ" or "The Others"; and Michael Winterbottom the more political films "In This World", "A Mighty Heart" or "The Road to Guantanamo".