Jude the Obscure (serial)

Jude the Obscure is a British television serial directed by Hugh David, starring Robert Powell, Fiona Walker, and Alex Marshall, first broadcast on BBC Television in early 1971. It is based on Thomas Hardy's novel Jude the Obscure (1895).

Jude the Obscure
Based onJude the Obscure (novel)
by Thomas Hardy[1]
Written byHarry Green[1]
Directed byHugh David[1]
StarringRobert Powell
Fiona Walker
Alex Marshall
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of episodes6
Producer(s)Martin Lisemore[1]
Running time270 minutes[1]
Original networkBBC Two[1]
Original release6 February (1971-02-06)[1] 
13 March 1971 (1971-03-13)[2]


The action is set in England in the late 19th century. Jude Fawley (Robert Powell) is a young stonemason’s apprentice living in the village of Marygreen with his Aunt Drusilla. His former schoolmaster, Richard Phillotson (John Franklyn-Robbins) leaves the village to take up a college appointment in Christminster, a university city based on Oxford. Jude has the ambition to study at Christminster and become a clergyman and is learning Greek and Latin. Meanwhile, he is seduced by Arabella Donn (Alex Marshall), a pig-keeper’s daughter, whom he marries when she claims to be pregnant. Arabella leaves him and emigrates to Australia. Jude then completes his apprenticeship and moves to Christminster, where he works as a mason, hoping to enter the university, but he is turned down for admission by the dean of Cardinal College. He meets and falls in love with his cousin, Sue Bridehead (Fiona Walker), but she marries Phillotson. However, Phillotson later allows Sue to live with Jude.

Arabella returns, and Jude divorces her, and Sue also gets a divorce from Phillotson. But Arabella has brought with her a son of Jude's, born after she left him, and sends Young Jude to live with his father. Jude and Sue have two small children of their own and are expecting a third, but are being ostracised for living together unmarried. Jude is sacked, and the family moves from town to town in search of work. Young Jude believes the children are the source of these troubles, murders Sue's two children, and hangs himself, leaving a suicide note. Sue then has a miscarriage. She comes to believe she is being punished by God for leaving her husband, so she returns to him. Jude, heartbroken, remarries Arabella, but he makes a final visit to Sue in freezing weather, is taken ill, and dies, aged only thirty. Sue is left to an unhappy life with Phillotson.


The six episodes are titled:[2]

  1. At Marygreen
  2. To Christminster
  3. To Melchester
  4. To Shaston
  5. To Aldbrickham
  6. Christminster Again


The serial was first broadcast in Britain on BBC Two between 6 February and 13 March 1971, in six 45-minute episodes, and then in the US on Masterpiece Theatre from 3 October to 7 November 1971.[1] In Britain, it appeared on Saturday evenings from 9:35 to 10:20 p.m., thus timed to be kept away from younger children.[3] The production was well received in Britain and the US and according to one critic "helped promulgate the British miniseries on PBS".[4]

One reviewer described the serial as a dark production and especially pertinent in the context of recent reforms to divorce law.[5]

John Leonard, writing in Life magazine as "Cyclops", noted "a surprising amount of sex, lots of bells, and bad weather". He considered that “an absorbing if not enthralling several hours of drama ... falls completely apart into silliness”, and that Alex Marshall as Arabella "steals the series".[6]

Home media

The production was issued on VHS video in 2000 by BBC/Warner[7] and is also available on DVD.




  1. Paul J. Niemeyer, Seeing Hardy: Film and Television Adaptations of the Fiction of Thomas Hardy (2015), p. 262
  2. Jude the Obscure episodes at bbc.co.uk, accessed 29 December 2018
  3. Ellen Baskin, Serials on British Television, 1950-1994 (Scolar Press, 1996), p. 105
  4. Jerry Roberts, Encyclopedia of Television Film Directors (2009), p. 118
  5. Simon Avery, Thomas Hardy – The Mayor of Casterbridge / Jude the Obscure (Macmillan, 2008), p. 143
  6. Cyclops, "Hardy fans have to be hardier" in Life magazine dated 5 November 1971, p. 13
  7. Gale, A study guide for Thomas Hardy's "Jude the Obscure" (Cengage Learning, 2015), p. 8
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