This adaptation of George Eliot’s Silas Marner is well done. Ben Kingsley is excellent as the titular Silas Marner. He believably shifted from the wronged and angry man to the miser to a loving father. The child who plays baby Eppie, Elizabeth Hoyle, is absolutely adorable! Her childish prattle is charming. The interaction between her and Silas is delightful. The scenes with Silas play cooking with her and cleaning her off after she’s been in “de tole hole” (the coal hole) were especially sweet. The movie has little details from the book, such as Silas piecing together his broken brown earthenware pot which he had carried water in for years. In the book, this incident shows “that the sap of affection was not all gone” from Silas, despite his narrow, withering life (see chapter 2).
Although this movie does quite a good job of condensing the story, in a couple of places it failed to give the impact of the book. For anyone who doesn’t know the story, Silas Marner is falsely accused of a theft. He leaves his home and goes to Raveloe, where he secludes himself for fifteen years, his only contact with the outside world being comprised of buying the supplies he needs for weaving and selling the cloth. His only pleasure comes from the golden guineas he receives for this cloth. When his gold is stolen from him, he is forced to look to others for help. One night, he thinks his guineas have been returned, but instead of the hard coins, he feels the soft curls of a child. The child’s mother is found dead in the snow outside. Silas adopts the child, naming her Hephzibah, or “Eppie” for short. Unknown to anyone but her birth father, Eppie is actually the daughter of Godfrey Cass, the son of Silas’s landlord.
In the movie, Silas is shown eating at Dolly Winthrop’s house before he loses his money. This shows Dolly’s kindliness, but lessens the impression of Silas’s reclusiveness. Then, after he adopts Eppie, there are a number of scenes showing her growing up. These are beautiful, well-done scenes, but they only show Silas and Eppie together. Excluded are scenes portraying the way Eppie connected Silas to the outside world, ending his solitary life. I think a scene with Silas and the child Eppie in the town together, not avoiding people, would have made a nice balance to the earlier scenes of Silas there alone, shunning notice.
Another criticism is the deletion of Silas’s apology to Jem Rodney (played comically by Jim Broadbent). After he loses his gold, Silas accuses Jem of the theft. He simply wants his gold back and Jem was the only person he could think of who might have taken it. Jem had spent the entire evening with others at the Rainbow, however. Silas’s memory is stirred when Mr. Macey tells him, “Let’s have no accusing o’ the innicent” (ch. 7) and he apologizes to Jem. Though the movie left in the accusation, it skipped the apology.
One last criticism is the movie’s portrayal of Silas’s reluctance to discipline Eppie. In the book, Silas doesn’t want to punish Eppie because is it painful to him to hurt her and he is afraid she will love him the less for it (both selfish reasons, if you think about it). In the movie, instead of simply shying away from hurting Eppie, Silas declares, “I don’t hold with punishment. Nobody’s got the right. It sours a person.” Punishment for wrongdoing is a protection and simply an unavoidable part of life. Despite his statement, however, Silas does try to punish Eppie for running away by shutting her in the coal hole, as he does in the book. The experiment is a failure, as Eppie just takes it for fun.
Godfrey Cass (played by Patrick Rycart) does not exude the latent, young, open-faced good-nature that the book gave me the impression of. But, after all, Godfrey begins the story already somewhat soured by his bad marriage and his brother’s blackmail. Jenny Agutter embodies the pretty, sweet, prim, and inflexible Miss Nancy Lammeter (the woman Godfrey loves) to perfection.
All-in-all, this adaptation does an excellent job of portraying a story which focuses on the inner life of two men. So much of the story happens instead Silas’s head that dramatizing it must have been a challenge. Again, Ben Kingsley did great with this part. The movie’s screenplay was written by Louis Marks (also the producer) and Giles Foster (also the director). I enjoyed the music by Carl Davis very much. It is pretty and suits the style of the movie. The pacing of the movie is good. The settings and costumes are simple and appropriately rustic, with some pretty scenery.
There is little bad content to be concerned about in this film, even for children. I noticed Godfrey swearing once (there may be more that I didn’t notice) and his father enjoys poking his maids in places he shouldn’t a couple of times. One character is an opium addict, but this is clearly shown as harmful to herself and, in fact, leads to her death. A birthing scene is dramatized and could be frightening (the woman’s labor is difficult and the child is stillborn). The skeleton of one of the characters is found and the camera lingers on it.
This is only trivia, but I thought it interesting that Patsy Kensit, who plays the eighteen year old Eppie, and Patrick Rycart, who plays her father, went on to act the lovers Louka and Sergius Seranoff in an 1989 adaptation of the play Arms and the Man. Patsy Kensit also went on to play Hetty Sorrel in a 1992 adaptation of another of George Eliot’s novels, Adam Bede (also directed by Giles Foster).
This is part of the Eliot Project, in which “Sophie” of A Reasonable Quantity of Butter and I read through all of George Eliot’s novels and watch a few adaptations of them. You can read “Sophie’s” review of the 1985 adaptation of Silas Marner here: “BBC’s Silas Marner, (1985)”.