New 'Tess' for PBS

The Baltimore Sun

Unwed motherhood, alcoholism, lack of education, a hypocritical church - the themes that swirl around Tess of the D'Urbervilles just keep going around and around and coming back at us.

Perhaps, that is why Masterpiece Theatre - now simply Masterpiece Classic - keeps coming back to Tess. Two versions - one by Roman Polanski in 1980 and a second with Justine Waddell in 1998 - have already wowed the critics. But a new, four-hour version arrives tonight on PBS and concludes next Sunday.

This Tess is a star vehicle for the actress playing the title role, and Gemma Artertot is more than fine enough to carry trouble and travail that was a woman's lot in 19th-century England.

Masterpiece has a new host in Laura Linney. Gone are the period sets where hosts like Alistair Cook once sat and casually offered up tidbits about the author or the historical epoch in which the drama was set. If nothing else, the chatter helped the viewer settle in.

But these are more frenetic and austere times, it seems. No time for comfy sets. But it's Linney, and she will be more than just fine with most viewers. (9 p.m. Sunday, MPT-Channels 22 and 67) ***

Late-night guests - Actress Keira Knightley visits Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Gospel group Third Day sings on Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.

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