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Case Number 12507: Small Claims Court

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Hedda Gabler

Koch Vision // 1981 // 78 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jesse Ataide (Retired) // December 1st, 2007

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All Rise...

Judge Jesse Ataide watches as Emma Peel become a real lady.

The Charge

Proof that great literature does not necessarily make great cinema.

The Case

Like Medea, like Emma Bovary, Hedda Gabler is one of the great confounding female characters in Western literature. Is she a villain? Is she a tragic figure? Many reasons and justifications can be brought forth to support either argument, but to the consternation of literary critics and college students alike over the years, Henrik Ibsen's creation refuses to fall into neat categorization. She is as much a mystery today as she was when she first appeared on German stages just over a century ago.

Hedda Gabler is the story of a beautiful, fashionable and wealthy society woman who decides in a moment of desperation to settle down with a thoughtful, kind-hearted but thoroughly unremarkable academic named George Tessman. It is implied that even before the honeymoon was over, Hedda had grown tired of her new husband (though to be fair it also sounds like he spent the whole time researching for his book on handicrafts in Medieval Europe), and by all indication, Hedda will now have to resign herself to a dull life as a respectable housewife. Things dramatically change, however, when a lover from Hedda's past reappears with a bestselling book to his name but also many emotional scars and vulnerabilities, and Hedda seizes upon the situation, suddenly consumed with the desire to have "power over someone's destiny." Unsurprisingly, Hedda's meddling leads to great tragedy for all involved.

An actress playing Hedda is essentially walking on a tightrope—emphasize her qualities as a villain too strongly and you end up with a rather one-dimensional character, but play her too sympathetically and her monstrous behavior in the final two acts fail to make any sense whatsoever. While not out-and-out demonizing her, Diana Rigg (On Her Majesty's Secret Service) certainly leans towards the former interpretation, playing Hedda as a cold, tightly-wound woman with a chip on her elegantly tailored shoulder. As a result, her performance comes off as rather flat, lacking any indication of an interior life that would help generate some good-will on the audience's part.

Rigg's shortcomings are unfortunate, particularly because she is asked to carry this entire production herself. As a film, this version of Hedda Gabler is rather static and more than a bit stagy, essentially a filmed version of a stage production. The other actors lack memorability, though Elizabeth Bell has some nice moments and it's nice to see Kathleen Byron (who played the rather Hedda-like Sister Ruth in Black Narcissus back in the 1940s) show up in a supporting role. But the film lacks any visual sense and has that flat, yellow-hued look of a late 1970s made-for-TV movie.

The image quality of this DVD is serviceable (the film doesn't really require otherwise), and the audio track does what it's supposed to, namely allow for the dialogue to be heard with clarity. There are no subtitles or extras of any kind.

As a DVD and as a film there is very little to distinguish or recommend Hedda Gabler—it's a release that seems more appropriate for a classroom setting where Ibsen's play is being taught and discussed than an enjoyable evening at home.

Not guilty, but just barely.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 78

Perp Profile

Studio: Koch Vision
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 78 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Drama
• Foreign
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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