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Old 19th Oct 2008, 10:14   #2
Colyngbourne
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Default 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

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