English filmmaker Winterbottom is remarkable both for the number of his films (17 in as many years) and their stylistic diversity.
His output includes docudrama, neo-noir, improvised comedy, sci-fi, even a gold-rush western, and if the risks he takes don't always come off, he's seemed incapable of making a boring movie.
This comes close. An adaptation of Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles, set in Rajasthan and Bombay, it looks ravishing but never comes to life.
The title character (Pinto, Slumdog Millionaire's Latika) is a village girl who catches the eye of Jay Singh (Ahmed), a wealthy young British-Indian who has come out to India to run his father's hotel.
Entranced by Trishna, Jay helps her out after an accident threatens to ruin her father; soon the two become lovers.
The consequences of love that attempts to bridge such a class divide are predictable enough anywhere; in an Indian context, the danger is almost palpable.
Winterbottom's script makes some clever adaptations in re-siting the story from England to the subcontinent and some of the resonances of the original (the industrialisation of Wessex becomes the commercially driven urbanisation of India), bring the original ideas to life in a new context. Marcel Zyskind's wonderful photography provides a portrait of India that is both ravishing and realistic.
But the conflating of two of Hardy's characters - the philandering Alec D'Urberville and the fundamentally decent Angel Clare - into the single figure of Jay is problematic because it requires him to make an abrupt transformation from hero to villain which is jarring and hard to swallow: even if we accept a worldly young British-born Indian would be so morally judgmental, it's a bit of a stretch to make him a sadistic creep as well.
Pinto's Trishna is irritatingly opaque, though the fault for that probably lies with Winterbottom who writes her as a simple victim, without complexity or nuance. The film feels much longer than it is and is a remarkably overwrought piece of work for a man normally noted for powerful restraint.
Cast: Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed, Roshan Seth
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Running time: 108 minutes
Rating: R16 (violence, offensive language, drug use, sex scenes
Verdict: Hardy transplanted to India never comes to life.