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Colyngbourne 18th Oct 2008 23:19

Middlemarch - BBC 1994
Just starting a thread on this since I've spent the last six and a half hours today ironing and watching the whole series: review sometime tomorrow.

But for now - *****

Yes, there is that much ironing and more in the household...

Colyngbourne 19th Oct 2008 10:14

Re: Middlemarch - BBC 1994
Three things: Patrick Malahide’s appearance as Charles Ryder’s father in the new Brideshead Revisited; a cold blowy afternoon and a pile of ironing equivalent to Kilimanjaro; and the notion that in 2009 Andrew Davies will be presumably carving his 6 hr. adaptation of this classic to the very bone for a 2 hr film: these led to a monster screening of Middlemarch in my living room yesterday.

The series well deserves a review here since it is one of the last that was given the time and budget that allowed for a full reflection of the themes in George Eliot’s book. With a short film treatment, as with Brideshead, the time constraints mean that scenes come charging by, fling a pithy bit of the literary jigsaw in your lap, saying “’ere, take a look at that” before heading off into the next thing. Faced with a jumble of such pieces – the role of religion, class difference, education, say – it’s hard to be bothered to work out how they fit together, and is easier to just sit and watch the pretty spectacle.

Well, here in the 1994 Middlemarch you have time to reflect as well as admire the scenery. The setting, whether the transformed town of Stamford or the stately homes and mansions of the upper echelons, is comfortably authentic (in so far as any of us can imagine the 1830’s) but does not draw attention to itself. It is happy to stay as background which becomes so natural that the action and dialogue can effectively rise above it, rather than the viewer getting the full-blown “how faithfully have we reproduced the table settings or croquet match of the late Georgian period?” effect (Joe Wright’s ’05 Pride & Prejudice being only one of the guilty parties, in my view).

Casting-wise, I’m not sure you could fault really anything here. Our familiarity now with Robert Hardy (esp. when both he and the late Elizabeth Spriggs reprised their characterisation here for Ang Lee’s Sense & Sensibility a year later) should not diminish how well his blustering bluffness serves the character of the loving but rather foolish Mr Brooke. For someone whose role is more passive and somewhat frustrated, Juliet Aubrey deserved her Bafta for Dorothea. The wealth of emotion that the script delivers throughout the series is remarkable: as many readers of the book find, there is complexity in each character, foolishness and a lack of self-knowledge to a greater or lesser extent. But the script allows the viewer to have great empathy with each and every one: we care about their predicaments – even the religious hypocrite Bulstrode is shown to be a man desperately struggling to rise above his past and unable to escape the shame, and even at its worst, his wife, suffering with him, is loving and forgiving. Their polar opposites, the Garths, are not above criticism either – Mrs Garth showing sharp disapproval of Fred Vincey’s early wastrel ways and trying to direct her daughter into a “more suitable” marriage.

Middlemarch the series is as like as a TV drama can approximate to Middlemarch the book – vivid, delightful, painful and distressing (I think I get upset over every main character, and the Bulstrodes just finish me off). There is enough colour and variety – the electioneering, the pub life, the railroad workers, the cottagers and hospital inmates – to fill out a full portrait of the town and its inhabitants. I suspect the Rev Farebrother will not feature heavily in the new film, nor Mr Featherstone’s long gate-rattling death and will-reading, and I can’t imagine that there will be time to show Dorothea’s earnest love and desire to marry Casaubon, let alone to give him the slow tragic realisation of his lost life and its unborn fruit. And to rival the most grotesque portrait here of the Bulstrode’s blackmailer, John Raffles, would be a feat indeed.

I can’t fault this series but for the smallest of things. Dorothea’s sister, Celia, is rather a blank and artificial, albeit a reflection of her character in the book, with far too many exclamations of “Oh Dodo!” The gravel was too noisy in one scene – but then gravel is noisy.

It was a delight to see this again; (daughter #1) watched it all with me and loved it: loved Ladislaw (Rufus Sewell in full Romantic poet mode); was moved for all the key characters and really got into the life of Middlemarch. Which means, from us both, it is thoroughly deserving of its


Colyngbourne 19th Oct 2008 10:24

Re: Middlemarch - BBC 1994
As a short adjunct to the end of my review, I must mention the shortness of the concluding overview at the end of the drama - something which has been criticised. It is nothing more or less than what is in the book of course: like the foreshortened swift ending of Mansfield Park, Eliot wraps up the story with a brief "what happened to...?" section. This does make the end of the drama a little truncated but it's only inappropriate if you're expecting a long drawn-out farewell to the town (a la LotR: Return of the King, yes? Surely, no.) It is the most appropriate climax to finish with some of the moving words of George Eliot herself, voiced by Judi Dench:


Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

vald 19th Oct 2008 12:13

Re: Middlemarch - BBC 1994
I watched this again recently Col, and listened to the audio version, and have to agree with you. It is one of my all-time favourite books, and I thought that the tv adaptation was wonderful. I remember it being praised loudly at its first showing, and launched a pre-P&P Davies onto the world, as a brilliant period adaptor, although I know he had done other things. I thought all of the cast were excellent, but I particularly loved Douglas Hodge, starting with grand ambitions, but scuppered by his own weakness and silly wife. I also loved Casaubon and Dorothea, I couldn't fault them, and of course, Rufus Sewell, in full dark and brooding glory was, well....mmmm, (why isn't there a smiley for lip-smacking?) I didn't realise Elizabeth Spriggs had died, I loved her, and as you say, she had a great partnership with Robert Hardy. It was, in my opinion, the start of the great Beeb period back-catalogue, which includes P&P, Our Mutual Friend, Martin Chuzzlewit, Wives and Daughters, The Way We Live Now, He Knew he was Right, Cranford, etc. I know they have always done period drama, but if you watch the older stuff now, it does suffer, often looking stilted and slow, very ofen studio-bound, and leaving us (me) wishing they would redo them now with the time, budget, and technical advances they now have. Long, slow, leisurely series, without feeling as if they are dull and drawn out, given the treatment they deserve. But that doesn't mean that they always get it right, *cough OLIVER TWIST cough*. Even with a stellar cast and all the production credentials you could shake a stick at, things don't always come together. I'm hoping for great things from Little Dorrit, although I don't know much about the production, except that I saw it starts next week and has Matthew MacFaddyen in it, which is, for me, a good start!

Colyngbourne 19th Oct 2008 14:24

Re: Middlemarch - BBC 1994
I agree, vald. Some of the adaptations - especially in the last few years - have just not hit their mark but there was a good six to ten years of serious drama being produced, almost exclusively by the BBC. And it was the moment that Davies was ushered into the limelight, although unfortunately now to the degree that no-one else has much of a chance of developing their scripting muscles. As poised and deliberated as his Middlemarch was his adaptation of To Serve Them All My Days in 1980, 13 hours of fine quality TV.

Beth 19th Oct 2008 15:48

Re: Middlemarch - BBC 1994
Oh, for a large basket of ironing and a blustery afternoon! Great review, Col. Makes me want to grab Middlemarch from the shelf and dig in so I can then rent the BBC series.

vald 19th Oct 2008 16:11

Re: Middlemarch - BBC 1994

Originally Posted by Colyngbourne (Post 99514)
And it was the moment that Davies was ushered into the limelight, although unfortunately now to the degree that no-one else has much of a chance of developing their scripting muscles. As poised and deliberated as his Middlemarch was his adaptation of To Serve Them All My Days in 1980, 13 hours of fine quality TV.

I think we're getting some other writers coming through now Col. David Nicholls did a fine job with Tess recently, and he's doing Far From the Madding Crowd. He also did a great job with Much Ado About Nothing a few years ago for the beeb. I loved his modern adaptation. I do long for something like TSTAMD again though, those long, lovingly rendered adaptations.

amner 6th Jan 2017 11:13

Re: Middlemarch - BBC 1994
I'm reading Middlemarch for the first time and (spoiler) loving it. Do we have a thread for the book...?!

(I sound like a new member.)

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