February 4, 2013 12 Comments

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.

‘MIDDLEMARCH’ (1994) BBC MINISERIES REVIEW. George Eliot period drama adaptation review plus information on the series content. All text © Rissi JC

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.

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‘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.  

(Disclosure: this post does contain affiliate links; if you buy anything through these links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. Thank you to anyone who makes a purchase through these links. Read the disclosure page for details.)

You can find Middlemarch with an Amazon BritBox add-on subscription

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.

About Rissi JC

amateur photog. #bookblogger. downton abbey. inspys. internet-photo-shy. writer. the aspiration is to someday write professionally. a girl can dream, right?

Rissi JC

amateur photog. #bookblogger. downton abbey. inspys. internet-photo-shy. writer. the aspiration is to someday write professionally. a girl can dream, right?

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  • rachel February 4, 2013 at 2:02 PM

    i think it is hard for you to speak to favourite authors since you don't read the books so much as watch the adaptations. for those familiar with eliot, her works on screen reflect her greater social statements. so, if you're not working on that level, i can see how the plot seemed meaningless for you. It was filmed around the same time as Martin Chuzzlewit —the BBC came a long way in being able to make film-making with a standard the way we see it today.

    • Rissi February 4, 2013 at 4:45 PM

      True, it is, Rachel. However, I always point out that I don't read the book and am judging it on the adaptation so that readers understand I am not "rating" it by the literary standards. Thanks for pointing that out (I have clarified more exactly what I was saying).

      I "got" all the social issues that came up yet was still annoyed that everything seemed so pointless. It just seems like with so much strife to go through, there should be more satisfaction for the viewers and the characters. Perhaps that is the happy-ever-ever part of me talking. ;D

      Yes, indeed, BBC has come a LONG way. Still enjoy those 90's adaptations but gosh, instead of David Copperfield or more Jane Austen, I wish that producers would consider something like this or Martin Chuzzlewit. :)

      Happy you stopped by, Rachel!!!

  • Ella February 4, 2013 at 4:56 PM

    Even though it sounds long I think I would enjoy this.
    Thanks for the review!!!

    • Rissi February 4, 2013 at 5:07 PM

      Oh, yes! You probably would, Ella. Normally I don't mind long miniseries but this one could have benefitted from some cut scenes. Nevertheless, it's an interesting miniseries.

  • Anonymous February 4, 2013 at 9:38 PM

    thanks so much! I have looked up SO many how-to's… it just doesn't work! I don't know how to link them and all that. :) my email is julietspurplesky@gmail dot com. :)
    great review; this sounds interesting!

    • Rissi February 6, 2013 at 2:04 AM

      No problem, Juliet! I've been a bit busier these last couple of days, but you will hear from me before the week is out (I promise). Until then, I must beg your patience. :)

      It was interesting – enjoy if you decide to see it. :)

  • Katherine February 5, 2013 at 12:46 AM

    Thank you for commenting on my blog!
    Hope to see you around some more! =)

    P.S. I love Castle! (header;)

    • Rissi February 6, 2013 at 2:03 AM

      My pleasure, Katherine. Thank you for visiting – stop in again anytime. :)

      Aw, thank you! I've always had fun designing headers and with Castle, what could go wrong!? :)

  • birdienl February 8, 2013 at 11:58 AM

    I've watched this quite a long while ago, it was one of the first of my period drama collection which I bought on DVD (good memories!). I can't remember being bored, I really liked this, for all the different storylines running through each other and all the interesting characters.

    Though George Eliot for me is not as much a favourite as Austen or Dickens, I still enjoy reading her works and I've enjoyed Middlemarch most of all. It is often mentioned to be her best work and from the books I've read so far by her (4), I have to agree with that.

    • Rissi February 8, 2013 at 6:37 PM

      Ironically, Birdienl, when watching this for the first time, I don't remember being "bored." Perhaps in re-watching it, I realized just how much I prefer Dickens or Gaskell (also re-watching Cranford). A lot of my "issue" is the dated filmmaking. When you experience the gorgeous costume dramas of today, it's hard to watch these painful productions. :)

      My favorite Eliot adaptation is Daniel Deronda. Love the cast and the happy ending. :)

    • birdienl February 8, 2013 at 7:55 PM

      Oh yes, Daniel Deronda is indeed quite lovely! Hugh Dancy, a gorgeously costumed Romola Garai and indeed a happy ending. But the book Daniel Deronda I felt dragged a bit and had quite some long philosophical parts about the Jews. Middlemarch was written more smoothly, with constantly something happening.

    • Rissi February 9, 2013 at 12:48 AM

      Yes, it sure is! I totally need to watch 'Deronda' again now I've seen this miniseries a second time. :)

      That's great to know about the book Daniel Deronda, Birdienl. I don't much care for books that cannot hold my interest. As far as interlocking stories, Middlemarch does seem the better script; there is so much going on. For me, the big thing is the dated production. I would LOVE to see this one re-made.

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