Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 34 (2003) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
The classic novel provides a tempting invitation for the contemporary film-maker: almost certainly it will have period costume, indoor amusements - preferably a dance, even better a ball - lavish, preferably country-house settings, consonant with outdoor amusements like a hunt or at least two or three riding sequences, and moral dilemmas which are often sexual and can be presented in modern terms - the only terms the viewing public is thought to accept. Then there is the plot, which can easily be altered or adjusted - modernized is the cosmetic word - to appeal to viewers who haven't read the novel but like to be associated with its cultural ambience, and viewers who have read it but wish to experience this alternative mode and exercize their critical judgements at the same time.
Daniel Deronda the novel meets all the above criteria, and the adaptation opens with a gambling sequence, graduates to an archery meeting introduced by an overhead Busby Berkeley-type shot, then a ball, a ritual dance being sexual prelude in both. It is concerned with a search for identity, thus mirroring the current vogue for family investigating family, and has layers of morality and sexual coercion calculated to integrate George Eliot into twenty-first century viewing criteria. The de iberate historical setting is changed while retaining the period's visual and cosmetic appeal. In the television film of Daniel Deronda George Eliot's 1864-66 (with British Empire and European Nationalism references) becomes 1874 (what's in a decade?), a gifted musician volunteers the fact that he is a Jew (in the novel he is multi-racial, 'being a felicitous combination of the German, the Sclave, and the Semite'), minor characters with plot importance disappear at the blink of a lens or the drop of a chapter, the Princess becomes the Contessa, and in the third of three episodes there is a rush to get everything in with excisions and explanations effectively making for incoherence. Did we really need a very clean and very brief Hand and Banner sequence of static irrelevance? Can anybody believe that George Eliot intended Sir Hugo Mallinger to be just ham and not a contextualized committee man of 'splendidly null' effect? George Eliot's dialogue does not require adjustment or updating or, worst of all, filling in, as with the screen Grandcourt's 'It's my turn now' to the shockingly traumatized and hysterical Gwendolen, presumably ·about to be forced on their wedding night and certainly subjugated thereafter.