Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 34 (2003) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
In November 2002, 'my' adaptation of Daniel Deronda finally reached the screen, on BBCl. The production had been anticipated for years, and many people must have wondered what made it take so long.
Middlemarch, in 1994, had been a great labour of love for all involved in the production, and was received so well that it's not an exaggeration to say that it revived the reputation of the Classic Serial, and the then sagging reputation of the BBC itself. I was keen to adapt more George Eliot, and the BBC were favourably inclined.
I had, shamefully, never read Daniel Deronda, so I took it on holiday with me to the Seychelles, and read it on the beaches there, a slightly surreal experience. But I was utterly gripped by it - so different from Middlemarch. There was no attempt to portray a whole society - Daniel Deronda brilliantly illuminates particular small groups, and the concentrated, almost operatic intensity of the relationships, made me eager to put the story on to the screen. The women, in particular, fascinated me: Gwendolen, Mirah, and the Princess; three very different ways of being a woman. The whole book seemed to me to be possessed by a soaring passionate female voice, and one of the first things I thought was that the title music should not be orchestral, but a solo female voice (one idea that survived all the way through all the scripts to the final production).
Another thing that struck me was how boldly filmic the whole thing is. The book is full of great 'movie moments': the highly dramatic start, in which Daniel meets Gwendolen's eyes across the crowded casino; Mirah's attempted suicide and rescue (I could see her agonisingly slow descent into the water, buoyed up by her voluminous skirt); the Archery Picnic; the Whispering Stones; and perhaps most dramatic of all, Grandcourt's drowning.
Many critics (most famously F. R. Leavis) have maintained that the Gwendolen/ Grandcourt story is vastly superior to Daniel's own; but I wanted Daniel's search for identity, which is inextricably linked to his search for love, to be at the centre of the dramatization.