Most costume dramas are either too short or far too long which makes adapting them a challenge. Though this 90’s Andrew Davies adaptation suffers from other unfortunate elements, one of them is certainly its length. The story itself is interesting yet it seems to linger in places that should have been cut.
Middlemarch (1994) BBC TV Miniseries Review
Eager to learn and do something productive with her life is the beautiful Dorothea Brooke (Juliet Aubrey). Along with her plainer, more fanciful younger sister, Celia, the girls are under the protection of their uncle, the foolish and wealthy landowner, Arthur Brooke (Robert Hardy). He shamelessly neglects his tenants housing which inspires Dorothea to work on new designs to make their tenants more comfortable.
Soon, a plain spoken reverend named Edward Casubon (Patrick Malahide), captures her attention. Being a bookish girl herself, Dorothea is curious about the man. She doesn’t see herself in a young marriage full of love but rather one where her husband can guide her and be a teacher rather than her equal. This upsets neighbor and would-be suitor Sir. Chettam (Julian Wadham).
Into Middlemarch walks the newly minted Dr. Lydgate (Douglas Hodge). Trained in Paris, Dr. Lydgate is soon the object of much conversation when the ladies learn his uncle is a baron. In particular the beautiful but spoiled Rosamond Vincy (Trevyn McDowell) sets her sights on him while her flighty brother (Jonathan Firth) continues to gamble away his money and he find himself on the brink of losing everything – including the heart of the woman he loves.
There are so many characters in this, and half of them cannot even be considered in a synopsis. Primarily the main protagonists are a group of younger society characters who become subject to gossip, scandal and victims of their own foolhardy in the ambitious politics of the era. Over the six-episode span, I must confess to some sense of boredom. The reason I suspect is twofold. However the biggest is the portions in the film that seem to lead to nothingness. Some period dramas are ten hours and never feel like they lag. We shut it off and wish there were more. Then there are those we struggle with. I’m not sure if this one doesn’t fill its time well or didn’t need it to begin with. Either way, it’s one that would benefit form a shorter length.‘MIDDLEMARCH’ (1994) BBC MINISERIES REVIEW #FWarchives #PeriodDrama Click To Tweet
Making up for some of the disappointments is this case of newcomer and familiar talent, some of whom you’ll enjoy trying to place. They’ve been in things such as Martin Chuzzlewit and Sense & Sensibility to the royal family in Bertie & Elizabeth and ITV’s The Paradise. Juliet Aubrey carries the movie well for a heroine whose attitude of being self-effecting comes to the point of being “too good.” Her kind heart asks for nothing in return, yet she would give away all that she possesses. Everyone around her is also well cast though some people royally test nerves. Also throwing a wrench in the perfectly laid plans of more than one person is the character of Will Ladislaw played well by Rufus Sewall.
Some of this dated filmmaking is painful. It may just be the DVD release, but this one suffers from shots in which the actors’ heads are partially cut off or the grainy picture that worsens in certain frames. Either way, this is in need of a remake. Scripted by the talented Davies, there may be few flaws but what there is seems significant. A handful of scenes linger too long on the actors reactions or conversations repeat too often. Costuming isn’t as lavish as other better known productions. Settings are stay limited in Middlemarch and its surrounding countryside though one visit to Rome shows some pretty grand architecture.
The series isn’t one I regret watching. George Eliot is pretty far down the scale when there’s Dickens, Gaskell and even Austen to be considered, so she’s not a favorite story teller. With exception to one of the story thread endings, there is a sense of dread hanging over the ending. I cannot shake the feeling that no one really gets the kind of ending one would wish. It’s more sobering than satisfying.
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Content; three people die, one is the result of foul play. Flirtations between married couples take place in bedrooms [a man “undresses” his wife once, no nudity]. Some tense moments occur in a marriage though there is no abuse. Suspicions arise that suggest an extra-marital affair, rumors that are false.