Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 25 (1994) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
From 12th January to 16th February 1994 the BBC screened its six-part Middlemarch, produced by Louis Marks, scripted by Andrew Davies and directed by Anthony Page, six safe hands (too safe?). It has been issued as a two-cassette videogram (BBCV 5253, 1994) in two parts, the original episode-breaks removed; references here are to hour-minute-second of these tapes. The production is like a grand Folio Society edition.
The BBC Middlemarch is a browns-and-greens 'painterly' production, much of the extravagance of the original bled away. The two principals are given a dignity which Eliot did not make them suffer. Ladislaw (Rufus Sewell) loses his playfulness. He has no troop of 'droll children' to take nutting or for Punch-and-Judy style shows, and he never lolls on a sofa. He sings only in Italian and the ditty he improvises walking to church, during which he resembled 'an incarnation of the spring', is omitted. 'You know Ladislaw's look', remarks Lydgate, 'a sort of Daphnis'. There is no 'sunshiny laughter'. Yet it is in his uninhibitedness that Eliot represents Ladislaw as a force of nature, and as such Dorothea's fascination for him has the greater force and innocence. If Ladislaw is an intense and dishy youth merely, he becomes a sanctimonious adventurer. Sewell has a Chopin look, but there are no smiles at or from his Ladislaw. The same is true of Dorothea (Juliet Aubrey). In the novel she can make fun of herself, of her 'naughtiness' and 'great outbursts', but self-mockery seems hard to handle in the presentation of women in 1994. There is no problem with her sister, not because Sloanes (such as Celia) are inherently funny, but because they are able to send themselves up. (The Official Sloane Ranger Diary and its like are frequently found in their bathrooms.) Conscious self-parody is, it seems, something a serious female protagonist cannot do. So Dorothea is locked into more 'Victorian' earnestness than that of 1870. Eliot's Dorothea is a physical force, with 'powerful, feminine, maternal hands', still the person who as a girl showered kisses on the pate of her bald doll. In the crucial episode (I: 1.49.46 - 1.54.00) before Casaubon's seizure, the film drains her, whereas in the novel she is energized. She is seen copying, comforted in her labours by her maid Tantripp. She goes and quarrels with Casaubon, then retires in exhausted dejection. In the novel a Blake-like vitality is engendered when she returns to her desk: she writes and understands better. 'In her indignation there was a sense of superiority'. Then Casaubon's heart fails: Dorothea rises as he falls. The film does not allow either Ladislaw or Dorothea to be formidable. Five years ago Kenneth Branagh could have delivered Ladislaw's sunniness and Emma Thompson done the generosity of Dorothea.