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'Greenwood Tree' a romantic escape to dullsville

''Under the Greenwood Tree" is so slight, you practically forget it by the closing credits. This week's installment of ''Masterpiece Theatre" quickly evaporates into the ether of nice classic adaptations that nice themselves out of relevance. It's a sweet, pastoral nothing.

The movie, tomorrow at 9 p.m. on Channel 2, is loosely adapted from the Thomas Hardy novel as a simple tale in which three men fall for the new schoolteacher, Fancy Day (Keeley Hawes). Ashley Pharoah's script doesn't delve very far into matters of class and industrial progress, nor does it take any significant subplot byways. It's a straight-ahead, predictable romance among a quadrangle of familiar types.

Mr. Shiner (Steve Pemberton) is a wealthy heathen who thinks his money can buy Fancy's interest. Parson Maybold (Ben Miles) is a pompous, cultured pastor who tries to charm her while teaching her to play the harmonium. And Dick Dewy (James Murray), you guessed it, is the handsome and strapping young man who loves her, despite warnings that he's not as classy as she is.

Fancy, stuck in the middle of all this courtship, is drawn toward Dick and his animal magnetism. But she desperately wants to please her aging father and fulfill his wish that she marry well. ''I won't go until I see you embrace your destiny," he tells her. Meanwhile, all the sweet locals are speculating about which man Fancy will choose.

Mild escapes aren't a bad thing; not every installment of ''Masterpiece Theatre" needs to have the heft of ''Bleak House" or ''The Virgin Queen." But ''Under the Greenwood Tree" is so extremely weightless and bland it doesn't succeed in casting you adrift in the nostalgia of natural beauty and idyllic times. It has as much flavor as a stale puff cookie.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at

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