Ibsen’s psychological study of the bored, sophisticated and desperate “new woman” of his time does not translate easily either to the television screen or to our more liberated era, despite fine acting from this British cast.
Hedda Gabler (Fiona Shaw, “My Left Foot”), Ibsen’s anti-heroine, begins married life to the colorless scholar Jorgen Tesman (Nicholas Woodeson) with very little enthusiasm despite the gift of a roomy if bleak villa from Tesman’s Aunt Juliane (Pat Leavy).
The arrival of Eilert Lovborg (Stephen Rea of “The Crying Game”), however, offers some hope for Hedda, who has held a flame for Lovborg for many years.
The play is further complicated by the fact that Lovborg has written a potentially important book that makes him a rival for a professorship that Hedda’s new husband has been counting on.
While the dark, intense production suffers from many of the usual problems of translating a play to the small screen, there may be other, more serious difficulties with Ibsen’s material today.
Hedda Gabler has long been considered one of the most difficult heroines in dramatic literature to portray, and the additional remoteness of television technology makes her even less accessible.
Furthermore, Hedda is certainly not a sympathetic character, and probably less so from a contemporary perspective than she was in Ibsen’s day. While contemporary women are certainly a long way from enjoying full equality with men , they have many more options in their lives than Hedda.
Although it is true that millions of people, men and women, suffer through loveless marriages, the possibility of divorce and the opportunity of women to gain at least some financial independence makes Hedda’s predicament seem less tragic to modern eyes.
As a result, the bored, self-centered and isolated Hedda is likely to be viewed with less pity today than a hundred years ago.
Fine performances by Shaw, Rea and Woodeson, along with competent, if overly dark direction by Deborah Warner, do not rescue the play from these fundamental problems that it presents for contemporary audiences.