“EMILY BRONTE’S WUTHERING HEIGHTS” (1992) Review

 

“EMILY BRONTE’S WUTHERING HEIGHTS” (1992) Review

I honestly do not know what to say about “EMILY BRONTE’S WUTHERING HEIGHTS”. I had heard so much about this adaptation of Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel. Yet, I have never seen it in the movie theaters. In fact, it took me a long time to finally come around viewing it. When I finally saw it, the movie produced a reaction I did not expect to experience. 

Unlike the more famous 1939 William Wyler film, “EMILY BRONTE’S WUTHERING HEIGHTS” proved to be an adaptation of Brontë’s entire novel. Unlike the famous Wyler film or the 1847 novel, this movie was set during the second half of the eighteenth century. Directed by Peter Kosminsky, the movie began with the arrival of a gentleman named Lockwood, who seeks to rent a Yorkshire estate called Thrushcross Grange from its owner – a middle-aged man named Heathcliff. The latter lives at another local estate called Wuthering Heights. While visiting Wuthering Heights, Lockwood has an encounter with what he believes is a ghost . . . the ghost of a woman named Cathy. This drives Heathcliff racing out of the manor house and housekeeper Nelly Dean to recount to Lockwood on what drove Heathcliff to behave in that manner.

The story jumps back to some twenty to thirty years later in which an earlier owner of Wuthering Heights, Thomas Earnshaw, returns from a trip to Liverpool with a young boy who or who might not be a gypsy in tow named Heathcliff. The latter manages to befriend Earnshaw’s daughter Catherine “Cathy”. However, Earnshaw’s son Hindley develops a deep dislike of the newcomer. He fears that Heathcliff has replaced him in his father’s affections. Several years later, Earnshaw dies. Hindley marries a woman named Frances and becomes the new owner of Wuthering Heights. He allows Heathcliff to remain at Wuthering Heights . . . but only as a servant. The one bright spot in Heathcliff’s life is his friendship with Cathy, which has developed into a romance between the pair. When Cathy and Heathcliff discover the Earnshaws’ neighbors, the Lintons, giving a party at Thrushcross Grange, Cathy is attacked by a dog when she and Heathcliff climb the garden wall. The Lintons take Cathy in to care for her and order Heathcliff to leave the Grange. Cathy becomes entranced by Edgar Linton, along his wealth and glamour; while Edgar falls in love with her. Edgar’s marriage proposal to Cathy and her acceptance leads to a major fallout between her and Heathcliff. The latter disappears without a trace for several years. And his return leads to jealousy, obsession and in the end, tragedy for him, the Earnshaws and the Lintons.

“EMILY BRONTE’S WUTHERING HEIGHTS” proved to be rather popular with moviegoers. Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of the brooding Heathcliff and the film’s adaptation of the entire novel left this film highly regarded by fans of period dramas. On the other hand, the majority of films critics were not impressed with this movie. Why they felt this way about the movie? I have no idea. I have yet to read a single review written by a professional film critics. I am simply aware that “EMILY BRONTE’S WUTHERING HEIGHTS” was not that popular with them. While many movie fans are inclined to quickly accept the views of film critics, I decided to see the movie for myself and form my own judgement.

When I first saw this film, I was surprised that it was set during the late 1700s and around the beginning of the 1800s. James Acheson, who had designed the Oscar winning costume designs for 1988’s “DANGEROUS LIAISONS”, created the costumes for “WUTHERING HEIGHTS”. And frankly, I believe he did a marvelous job in re-creating the fashions for the movie’s setting as shown in the images below:

 

Another aspect of “WUTHERING HEIGHTS” that impressed me proved to be the performances. I do not know what led Peter Kominsky and the Casting Department to choose Ralph Fiennes for the role of Heathcliff, but I believe that fate or something divine led them to select the right actor for this role. Honestly, he did a fantastic job in portraying such an emotionally and morally chaotic character like Heathcliff. Some people were a bit put off by Juliette Binoche as both Cathy Henshaw and Catherine Linton. They had a trouble with her slight French accent. I have to be honest . . . I could barely notice her accent. But I thought she did an excellent job in portraying Cathy’s vain and capricious personality, along with daughter Catherine’s no-nonsense, yet compassionate nature. The movie also featured some excellent performances from Sophie Ward as Isabella Linton, Simon Shepherd as Edgar Linton, Janet McTeer as Nelly Dean, Jeremy Northam as Hindley Earnshaw, Jason Riddington as Hareton Earnshaw, and Jonathan Firth as Linton Heathcliff. Overall, I thought the cast was pretty solid.

And yet . . . I must confess that I am not a fan of this adaptation of Brontë’s 1847 novel. I honestly do not care that the movie was a faithful adaptation that covered not only Heathcliff and Cathy’s generation, but that of the younger generation. I am not a fan. One of my problems with this film was Kominsky’s direction. He did a fine job in directing the actors. But I found his overall direction of the film rather problematic. Quite frankly, I thought the entire movie seemed like a rush job. Perhaps he was hampered by Anne Devlin’s screenplay. The latter tried to shove Brontë’s entire narrative into a movie with a running time of one hour and forty-five minutes. I am sorry, but that did not work. Watching this film, I finally understood why William Wyler only shot the novel’s first half back in 1939.

Another major problem I had with the film is Brontë’s novel . . . or the second half. I am not a major fan of the 1847 novel. But if it had ended liked Wyler’s movie, I would have been satisfied. Personally, I have always found the second half of the novel rather boring; especially with Heathcliff running around like some damn mustache-twirling villain. And the taint of borderline incest certainly did not help, considering that Catherine Linton spent most of her screen time being torn between two men that happened to be her first cousins.

My final problems with “EMILY BRONTE’S WUTHERING HEIGHTS” are rather aesthetic. As much as I enjoyed James Acheson’s costumes, I cannot say the same about the hairstyles worn by the cast. Exactly who was in charge of the film’s hairstyles? Because that person seemed unable to surmise that the film was set in the late 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century. Some of the cast had modern hairstyles. And a good deal of the women cast members looked as if they were wearing rather bouffant wigs. One last problem I had with “WUTHERING HEIGHTS” was Mike Southon’s cinematography. I suppose the 1990s ushered in the age of naturalistic lighting for period dramas. The problem is that I could barely see a damn thing! Especially in the movie’s interior shots. I find it rather difficult to enjoy a movie or television production in which the lighting is so dark that I found myself depending more on the dialogue than the images on the screen. Worse, even some of the exterior shots seemed a little darker than usual. Was this a case of Southon adding to the film’s Gothic setting? I have no idea. And honestly, I do not care, considering that . . . again, I could barely see a damn thing.

I wish I could say that I enjoyed “EMILY BRONTE’S WUTHERING HEIGHTS”. I really do. There were some aspects of the film that I liked – namely James Acheson’s costumes and some first-rate performances from a cast led by Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes. But I found the movie’s running time too short for an effective adaptation of Emily Brontë’s novel. Either the film should have been longer . . . or it should have followed the example of the 1939 film and only adapt the novel’s first half. Overall, I found this movie rather disappointing.

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“FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” (1998) Review

“FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” (1998) Review

For years, I had made an effort to avoid any novel written by Thomas Hardy and any movie or television production based upon his works. This has nothing to do with how I felt about the quality of his work. My attitude sprang from my reading of his 1886 novel, “The Mayor of Casterbridge”, when I was in my late teens. I found the latter rather depressing and suspected that most of his other works possessed the same downbeat tone. As I grew older, I discovered a tolerance for stories with a downbeat or bittersweet ending. This led me to try Hardy again and so, I focused my attention on the 1998 miniseries, “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD”.

Based upon Hardy’s 1874 novel, “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” told the story about a young woman named Bathsheba Everdene, who had recently inherited her late uncle’s prosperous estate. Possessing a vain, yet independent and naïve personality, Bathsheba finds herself torn between three men who wish to marry her:

*Gabriel Oak – a failed sheep farmer who is hired by Bathsheba as a shepherd for her farm

*William Boldwood – a prosperous farmer and Bathsheba’s neighbor, who develops a romantic obsession toward her

*Sergeant Francis “Frank” Troy – a dashing Army sergeant, who turns to Bathsheba not long after his planned wedding to a local girl named Fanny Robin fails to take place.

The story begins with Bathsheba living on a farm with her aunt, Mrs. Hurst. She meets Gabriel Oak, a former shepherd who has leased and stocked a sheep farm. Although the pair develops a close friendship, Gabriel falls in love with Bathsheba and eventually proposes marriage. Valuing her independence too much, Bathsheba refuses and their relationship cools down. Gabriel’s fortunes take a worse for turn, when his inexperienced sheep dog drives his flock of sheep over a cliff, bankrupting him. Bathsheba, on the other hand, inherits her uncle’s prosperous estate in Westbury. Their paths crosses again, and she ends up hiring Gabriel as her new shepherd.

However, Bathsheba has also become acquainted with her new neighbor, the wealthy farmer, John Boldwood, who becomes romantically obsessed with her after she sends him a Valentine’s Day card as a joke. He sets about wooing her in a persistent manner that she finds difficult to ignore. But just as Bathsheba is about to consider Mr. Boldwood as a potential husband, Sergeant Frank Troy enters her life and she becomes infatuated with him. Unbeknownst to anyone, Frank was set to marry one of Bathsheba’s former servants, a young woman named Fanny Robin. Unfortunately, the latter showed up at the wrong church for the wedding. Humiliated and angry, Frank called off the wedding. While Bathsheba finds herself in the middle of a rather unpleasant love triangle between Boldwood and Frank, Gabriel can only watch helplessly as this situation develops into tragedy.

I might as well be honest. “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” did not strike me as completely tragic. It did not prove to be tragic at the same level as stories like “The Mayor of Casterbridge” or “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”. In fact, the story did not even have a tragic ending (for which I am grateful). But there was something . . . I cannot put my finger on it . . . there was an undertone to the story that I found both fascinating and disturbing. And it all revolved around the character of Bathsheba Everdene. Personally, I feel that she was one of Hardy’s best creations. Bathsheba proved to be a curious mixture of virtues and flaws that I fear is becoming increasingly rare among fictional female characters.

One one hand, Bathsheba was an intelligent woman who quickly learned to manage an estate and lead a group of workers who harbored doubts about her, due to her gender. She also had the good sense to realize she lacked the experience or talent to deal with some aspect of estate managing and turn to someone who could help her – usually Gabriel Oak. On the other hand, Bathsheba also proved to be a vain young woman, who seemed a bit too concerned about how others thought about her. This vanity led her to hide her previous friendship with Gabriel . . . to the point that she insisted they maintain an employer-employee distance from each other. Bathsheba also possessed a slightly cruel streak that led her to thoughtlessly play an unkind joke on John Boldwood by sending him a Valentine Day’s card with the words “Marry me” scribbled on it. Ironically, Bathsheba also proved she could be just as obsessive as Boldwood, when she fell for Frank Troy and realizes after their wedding that he had continued to love his former fiancée, Fanny Robin. It was this combination of positive and negative traits that made Bathsheba such an interesting and ambiguous character. And Bathsheba’s ambiguous nature seemed to have a strong impact on Hardy’s tale.

Through Bathsheba’s relationship with Gabriel Oak, audiences received glimpses of the day-to-day realities of business and life on a 19th century farm. Audiences also got a chance to view Bathsheba through Gabriel’s eyes – despite his love for her, he seemed to harbor a realistic view of her. Through her relationships with neighbor John Boldwood and husband Frank Troy, audiences got the chance to see Bathsheba deal with obsession from both sides of the fence – whether she was the object of Boldwood’s obsession or Frank was the object of hers. Now that I think about it, I find it odd that a major character would experience obsession from different perspectives in that manner. How strange . . . and yet, satisfying in a way.

Although the plot for “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” focused strongly on the romantic dynamics between Bathsheba, the three men in her life and the Fanny Robin character; I was pleased to discover that Philomena McDonagh’s screenplay also gave audiences many glimpses into the lives of the farmhands that worked for Bathsheba. The miniseries delved into her relationship with her workers and their own perspectives and hangups over whether she could handle being the owner of prosperous farm. As with her relationship with Gabriel, Bathsheba’s relationship with her workers allowed the audiences to appreciate the realities of life on a 19th century farm.

The production values for “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” seemed pretty top-notch. Well . . . most of them. I had no problems with Adrian Smith’s production designs. I thought he did an excellent job in re-creating mid 19th century Wessex. Rosie Hardwick and Paul Kirby’s art direction contributed to the movie’s overall look, along with Nic Ede’s costume designs. I find it interesting that this version is set between the late 1850s and 1860, especially since the other two adaptation are set in the 1870s . . . the same decade as the novel’s publication. Although I admire John Daly’s use of the locations in Derbyshire, Cheshire and Wiltshire as substitutes for Wessex, I did not care for the cinematography very much. I found it slightly too dark and the color did not hold up well in the following seventeen to eighteen years.

The cast, on the other hand, struck me as first-rate. It is a pity that very few ever comment on Paloma Baeza’s portrayal of Bathsheba Everdeen. Frankly, I thought she did an excellent job in conveying both the character’s ambiguities, charm and intelligence. More importantly, she did a first-rate job in carrying such a large production on her shoulders, at such a young age. Nathaniel Parker’s portrayal of Gabriel Oak proved to be the production’s emotional backbone. But the actor also did an excellent job in conveying his character’s quiet passion, along with his jealousy and growing despair over Bathsheba’s relationships with both John Boldwood and Frank Troy.

John Terry was at least a decade older than the John Boldwood character at the time this miniseries was filmed. However, I do not believe that this decade old age difference hampered his character one whit. He gave an outstanding performance as the love-sick, middle-aged farmer who developed a growing obsession over the young and pretty Bathsheba. At first, I had some difficulty is viewing Jonathan Firth as the dashing, yet egotistical Frank Troy. I fear this had to do with my inability to view the actor as the roguish type. And I was not that impressed by the sword demonstration scene between his his character and Baeza’s Bathsheba. But the more I watched Firth on the television screen, the more I found myself impressed by his performance . . . especially by the time his character had married Bathsheba and began to reveal his less than pleasant traits to his new wife. Natasha Little gave a very charming, yet sympathetic performance as the hard-luck Fanny Robin, whose mistake in showing up at the wrong church for her wedding to Frank, proved to be so disastrous. Fortunately for Little, the screenplay allowed her to portray Fanny as an individual with her own set of emotions, instead of the mere plot device that Hardy had portrayed in the novel. The production also benefited from solid performances by Tracy Keating, Gabrielle Lloyd, Linda Bassett, Phillip Joseph, Rhys Morgan, Reginald Callcott and Sean Gilder.

“FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” may have suffered from questionable photography, but I certainly had no problems with other aspects of the productions. Its 216 minutes running time allowed screenwriter Philomena McDonagh and director Nicholas Renton to create a superb and detailed adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel. Also, top-notch production values (aside from the photography) and excellent performances from a cast led by Paloma Baeza and Nathaniel Parker added a great deal to already well done miniseries.

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R.I.P. Nigel Terry (1945-2015)

Ranking of “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” Movies

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With one more season of “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” left with David Suchet as the famous literary Belgian detective, I thought it would be nice to rank some of the series’ feature-length movies that aired between 1989 and 2010. I have divided this ranking into two lists – my top five favorite movies and my five least favorite movies: 

 

RANKING OF “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” MOVIES

Top Five Favorite Movies

1-Five Little Pigs

1. “Five Little Pigs” (2003) – In this beautifully poignant tale, Hercule Poirot investigates a fourteen year-old murder in which his client’s mother was erroneously convicted and hanged for.

2-After the Funeral

2. “After the Funeral” (2006) – When a relative of a deceased man questions the nature of his death at a family funeral, she is violently murdered the following day and the family’s solicitor requests Poirot’s help. Better than the novel, the movie has a surprising twist.

3-The ABC Murders

3. “The A.B.C. Murders” (1992) – In this first-rate adaptation of one of Christie’s most original tales, Poirot receives clues and taunting letters from a serial killer who appears to choose his random victims and crime scenes alphabetically.

murderonthelinks

4. “Murder on the Links” (1996) – While vacationing in Deauville with his friend, Arthur Hastings, Poirot is approached by a businessman, who claims that someone from the past has been sending him threatening letters. One of my favorites.

5-Sad Cypress

5. “Sad Cypress” (2003) – Poirot is asked to investigate two murders for which a young woman has been convicted in the emotional and satisfying tale.

Top Five Least Favorite Movies

1-Taken at the Flood

1. “Taken at the Flood” (2006) – In this rather unpleasant tale, Poirot is recruited by an upper-class family to investigate the young widow of their late and very rich relative, who has left his money solely to her.

2-The Hollow

2. “The Hollow” (2004) – A favorite with many Christie fans, but not with me, this tale features Poirot’s investigation into the murder of a successful doctor at a country house weekend party.

3-Appointment With Death

3. “Appointment With Death” (2008) – In this sloppy adaptation of one of Christie’s novel, Poirot investigates the death of a wealthy American widow, during his vacation in the Middle East.

4-Hickory Dickory Dock

4. “Hickory Dickory Dock” (1995) – In a tale featuring an annoying nursery rhyme, Poirot’s secretary Miss Lemon persuades Poirot to investigate a series of apparently minor thefts in a university hostel where her sister works, but simple kleptomania soon turns to homicide.

5-One Two Buckle My Shoe

5. “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe” (1992) – Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp investigates the alleged suicide of the Belgian detective’s dentist. Despite the heavy political overtones, this movie is nearly sunk by a premature revelation of the killer.

“HICKORY DICKORY DOCK” (1995) Review

“HICKORY DICKORY DOCK” (1995) Review

Every once in a while, Agatha Christie wrote a novel in which she used a nursery rhyme as its title. This turned out to be the case for her 1955 novel, “Hickory Dickory Dock”. Forty years after its publication, ITV aired an adaptation of the novel for its series, “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”.

“HICKORY DICKORY DOCK” began with a rash of thefts committed at a student hostel in 1936 London. Since her sister is the hostel’s warden, Miss Lemon recruits her boss, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, to investigate what appears to be a case of kleptomania. It does not take him long to discover the identity of the thief – a chemistry student named Celia Austin, who had stolen the items to attract the attention of psychiatry student Colin McNabb. However, it seems Celia only stole a few petty items. She was not responsible for a missing stethoscope, light bulbs and boracic powder. She also did not cut up and conceal a rucksack. When Celia is discovered the following morning, dead from an overdose of morphine, Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard eventually realize that someone tried to make her death look like suicide.

Although the novel was written and set in the 1950s, screenwriter Anthony Horowitz and director Andrew Grieve transformed the story’s setting to 1936. One, all of the “POIROT” movies and episodes are set in the 1930s, regardless of when they were made. Due to the change in setting, Horowitz and Grieve included a subplot that featured the Jarrow March and Member of Parliament (MP) Arthur Stanley. Also, all non-white and Continental European characters (aside from Greek-born hostel owner Mrs. Nicoletis) were deleted from this television adaptation. Also, the pair replaced an Inspector Sharpe with recurring character Chief Inspector Japp.

What can I say about “HICKORY DICKORY DOCK”? Honestly? I did not like it very much. I find this very interesting, considering that the movie featured two actors that I happened to like very much – Jonathan Firth and Damian Lewis. But their presence in the movie could not save it for me. Frankly, I believe that Horowitz did a piss poor job of adapting Christie’s novel. Mind you, I have never been a fan of the 1955 novel anyway. But Horowitz’s script only made it worse.

Of all the changes in this adaptation, the only one that did not bother me was the addition of Chief Inspector Japp. Mind you, I could not see someone that high up in the Scotland Yard hierarchy investigating a series of murders at a student hostel. But since the City of London is under Scotland Yard’s jurisdiction, for once Japp’s presence does not seem out of place. I wish I could say about some of the other changes . . . but I cannot.

For some reason, Horowitz had decided to include the Jarrow March into the story. Why? It really had nothing to do with the story. Also, the March actually occurred in October 1936. Yet, “HICKORY DICKORY DOCK” was set in April 1936. The screenwriter tried to justify this change by transforming MP Arthur Stanley into a Labour politician (he was a Conservative) and connecting him to the march. Worse, he changed the politician’s year of death from 1947 to 1936. To deepen the connection, Horowitz allowed one of the students to be a Political Science major and discover that another student – the murderer – was Stanley’s offspring. And you know what? It did not work. Because in the end, the Jarrow March still proved to be an unnecessary addition to the story.

By changing the story from the 1950s to the 1930s, Horowitz screwed up with another character’s portrayal. American student Sally Finch claimed to be studying in Britain on the Fullbright Program. The Fullbright Program did not exist until 1946. And although Sally proved to be a spy for British Customs that was investigating a smuggling ring within the hostel, she retained her American accent. Which led me to wonder how an American subject ended up working for a British government agency. And why did Horowitz eliminated all of the non-white characters from Christie’s novel. Mind you, her portrayal of some of them (especially one Mr. Akibombo) struck me as wince-inducing. But I do not see this as a good excuse to eliminate them all together. And one of them – a Jamaican student named Elizabeth Johnson – proved to be a very interesting character. Alas . . .

One last aspect of “HICKORY DICKORY DOCK” really annoyed me. Like other Christie adaptations with a nursery rhyme title (think “ONE, TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE”), it used heavy-handed literary symbols to connect the story with the title. The real connection between the story and the title proved to be the name of the road where the student hostel was located – Hickory Road. Yet, director Andrew Grieve decided to include the occasional shots of a mouse roaming around the hostel and an old fashioned clock (both make up part of the famous nursery rhyme), with a few voices whispering – “Hickory dickory, hickory dickory!”. I found it very annoying. Grieve finally made use of the mouse by allowing it to scare Miss Lemon, giving the revealed murderer a chance to attempt an escape. This led to a prolonged and ridiculous foot chase that, unfortunately, has been a hallmark of the “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” series – especially in the 1990s.

Was there anything about “HICKORY DICKORY DOCK” that I liked? Well, most of the performances stuck me as top notch. I especially enjoyed the performances of Jonathan Firth, Damian Lewis, Polly Kemp, Gilbert Martin and Elinor Morriston as some of the students at the hostel. It was nice to see that Pauline Moran was given a bigger presence in the story as Poirot’s efficient secretary, Miss Lemon. Both David Suchet and Philip Jackson were superb as Hercule Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp. Horowitz included an entertaining subplot in which Japp found himself as a house guest at the detective’s flat, while his wife was out of town. I never felt more sympathy toward the man, as he was forced to endure Poirot’s brand of Haute cuisine. The movie could also boast a first-rate production, thanks to production designer Rob Harris. He did an excellent job of re-creating mid-1930s London. He was ably helped by Peter Wenham’s art direction and Andrea Galer’s convincing costume designs.

Despite a good deal of top-notch performances – especially by David Suchet, Philip Jackson and Pauline Moran, a convincing re-creation of 1936 London and an entertaining subplot featuring Poirot and Japp; I cannot say that “HICKORY DICKORY DOCK” is a favorite mine. To be honest, I found it a bit disappointing, thanks to some unnecessary changes to Christie’s novel by screenwriter Anthony Horowitz. Oh well. You cannot win ’em all.

“MIDDLEMARCH” (1994) Review

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“MIDDLEMARCH” (1994) Review

Many years have passed since I first saw “MIDDLEMARCH”, the 1994 BBC adaptation of George Eliot’s 1871 novel. Many years. I recalled enjoying it . . . somewhat. But it had failed to leave any kind of impression upon me. Let me revise that. At least two performances left an impression upon me. But after watching the miniseries for the second time, after so many years, I now realize I should have paid closer attention to the production. 

Directed by Anthony Page and adapted for television by Andrew Davies, “MIDDLEMARCH” told the story about a fictitious Midlands town during the years 1830–32. Its multiple plots explored themes that included the status of women and class status, the nature of marriage, idealism and self-interest, religion and hypocrisy, political reform, and education. There seemed to be at least four major story arcs in the saga. Actually, I would say there are two major story arcs and two minor ones. The first of the minor story arcs focused on Fred Vincy, the only son of Middlemarch’s mayor, who has a tendency to be spendthrift and irresponsible. Fred is encouraged by his ambitious parents to find a secure life and advance his class standing by becoming a clergyman. But Fred knows that Mary Garth, the woman he loves, will not marry him if he does become one. And there is Mr. Nicholas Bulstrode, Middlemarch’s prosperous banker, who is married to Fred’s aunt. Mr. Bulstrode is a pious Methodist who is unpopular with Middlemarch’s citizens, due to his attempts to impose his beliefs in society. However, he also has a sordid past which he is desperate to hide.

However, two story arcs dominated “MIDDLEMARCH”. One of them centered around Dorothea Brooke, the older niece of a wealthy landowner with ambitions to run for political office, and her determination to find some kind of ideal meaning in her life. She becomes somewhat romantically involved with a scholarly clergyman and fellow landowner named the Reverend Edward Casaubon in the hopes of assisting him in his current research. Dorothea eventually finds disappointment in her marriage, as Reverend Casaubon proves to be a selfish and pedantic man who is more interested in his research than anyone else – including his wife. The second arc told the story about a proud, ambitious and talented medical doctor of high birth and a small income named Tertius Lydgate. He arrives at Middlemarch at the beginning of the story in the hopes of making great advancements in medicine through his research and the charity hospital in Middlemarch. Like Dorothea, he ends up in an unhappy marriage with a beautiful, young social climber named Rosamond Vincy, who is more concerned about their social position and the advantages of marrying a man from a higher class than her own. Dr. Lydgage’s proud nature and professional connections to Mr. Bulstrode, makes him very unpopular with the locals.

After watching “MIDDLEMARCH”, it occurred to me it is one of the best miniseries that came from British television in the past twenty to thirty years. I also believe that it might be one of Andrew Davies’ best works. Mind you, “MIDDLEMARCH”is not perfect. It has its flaws . . . perhaps one or two of them . . . but flaws, nonetheless. While watching“MIDDLEMARCH”, I got the feeling that screenwriter Andrew Davies could not balance the story arcs featuring Dorothea Brooke and Tertius Lydgate with any real equilibrium. It seemed that most of his interest was focused upon Lydgate as the saga’s main character, instead of dividing that honor between Lydgate and Dorothea. While the miniseries revealed Dorothea’s unhappy marriage to Casaubon, Davies’ screenplay in the first three episodes, Davies did a first rate job in balancing both hers and Lydgate’s stories. But Lydgate seemed to dominate the second half of the miniseries – the last three episodes – as his story shoved Dorothea’s to the status of a minor plot arc. Mind you, I found the Lydgates’ marriage fascinating. But Davies failed to deliver any real . . . punch to Dorothea’s story arc and especially her relationship with her cousin-in-law, Will Ladislaw. If I have to be honest, Dorothea and Will’s relationship following Casaubon’s death struck me as rushed and a bit disappointing.

Thankfully, the virtues outweighed the flaws. Because “MIDDLEMARCH” still managed to be an outstanding miniseries. Davies did a more or less excellent job in weaving the production’s many storylines without any confusion whatsoever. In fact, I have to congratulate Davies for accomplishing this feat. And I have to congratulate director Anthony Page for keeping the production and its story in order with allowing the latter to unravel into a complete mess. More importantly, both Page and Davies adhered to George Eliot’s ambiguous portrayal of her cast of characters. Even her two most ideal characters – Dorothea and Lydgate – are plagued by their own personal flaws. Some of the characters were able to overcome their flaws for a “happily ever after” and some were not. The period between the Regency Era and the Victorian Age has rarely been explored in television or in motion pictures. But thanks to “MIDDLEMARCH”, I have learned about the political movements that led to the Great Reform Act of 1832. A good number of people might find Eliot’s saga somewhat depressing and wish she had ended her story with a more romantic vein in the style of Jane Austen . . . or allow Dorothea and Lydgate to happily achieve their altruistic goals. However . . . “MIDDLEMARCH” is not an Austen novel.

I am trying to think of a performance that seemed less than impressive. But I cannot think of one. I was very impressed by everyone’s performances. And the ones that really impressed me came from Juliet Aubrey’s spot-on performance as the ideal and naive Dorothea Brooke; Jonathan Firth, whose portrayal of the spendthrift Fred Vincy turned out to be one of his best career performances; Rufus Sewell, who first made a name for himself in his passionate portrayal of Casaubon’s poor cousin, Will Ladislaw; Peter Jeffrey’s complex performance as the ambiguous Nicholas Bulstrode; Julian Wadham as the decent Sir James Chattam, whose unrequited love for Dorothea led him to marry her sister Cecila and develop a deep dislike toward Will; and Rachel Power, who gave a strong, yet solid performance as Fred Vincy’s love, the no-nonsense Mary Garth.

However, four performances really impressed me. Both Douglas Hodge and Trevyn McDowell really dominated the miniseries as the ideal, yet slightly arrogant Tertius Lydgate and his shallow and social-climbing wife, Rosamond Vincy Lydgate. The pair superbly brought the Lydgates’ passionate, yet disastrous marriage to life . . . even more so than Davies’ writing or Page’s direction. And I have to give kudos to Patrick Malahide for portraying someone as complex and difficult Reverend Edward Casaubon. The latter could have easily been a one-note character lacking of any sympathy. But thanks to Malahide, audiences were allowed glimpses into an insecure personality filled with surprising sympathy. And Robert Hardy was a hilarious blast as Dorothea’s self-involved uncle, the politically ambitious Arthur Brooke. What I enjoyed about Hardy’s performance is that his Uncle Brooke seemed like such a friendly and sympathetic character. Yet, Hardy made it clear that this cheerful soul has a selfish streak a mile wide. And despite his willingness to use the current reform movement to seek political office, he is incapable of treating the tenants on his estate with any decency.

“MIDDLEMARCH” could not only boast a first-rate screenplay written by Andrew Davies, first rate direction by Anthony Page and a superb cast; it could also boast excellent production values. One of the crew members responsible for the miniseries’ production was Anushia Nieradzik, who created some beautiful costumes that clearly reflected the story’s period of the early 1830s. I was also impressed by Gerry Scott’s use of a Lincolnshire town called Stamford as a stand-in for 1830-32 Middlemarch. And Brian Tufano’s photography beautifully captured Scott’s work and the town itself.

Yes, “MIDDLEMARCH” has a few flaws. And the photography featured in the latest DVD copy seems a bit faded. But I believe that it is, without a doubt, one of the finest British television productions from the last twenty to twenty-five years. After all of these years, I have a much higher regard for it than when I first saw it.