Dorothea Brooke’s greatest desire in life is to dedicate herself to some worthwhile purpose. She thinks she has found this purpose when she meets the scholar, Edward Casaubon, and marries him. It is not long before she is disillusioned. Tertius Lydgate is a doctor who wants to make great medical discoveries and reforms. He thinks the small town of Middlemarch is the perfect to pursue his ambitions, unaware how much the gossip in such a small town will affect him.
The 1994 miniseries adaptation of Middlemarch, written by Andrew Davies and directed by Anthony Page, is quite good. It has an impressive cast and manages to cover most of the story lines of the novel. It would be very difficult to dramatise the complex inner life of each character as portrayed by George Eliot, but a decent attempt was made here.
The main characters, Dorothea Brooke and Tertius Lydgate, are played by Juliet Aubrey and Douglas Hodge. It took me a while to get into Juliet Aubrey’s portrayal of Dorothea. The book portrayed a girl full of high ideals combined with youthful inexperience and ignorance. Juliet Aubrey gives a more mature idea than I got from the book. Once I got used to it, however, I enjoyed her quiet, earnest performance.
Tertius Lydgate’s decent from the able, ambitious, optimistic doctor to the despairing, unhappy husband was gripping and moving — not exactly fun to watch, but a very able performance by Douglas Hodge. His interpretation of Lydgate’s desperate attempts to keep affection between himself and Rosamond expressed the mood from the novel. Trevyn McDowell deserves recognition, too, for her portrayal of Rosamond as an “adorable cherub,” all clueless, persistent selfishness underneath, all the while maintaining perfect manners. She added a bit of color to the production, as well, with her pretty, light dresses — in contrast to the simple garb of the Garths and Dorothea’s more austere clothes and hairstyle.
Rufus Sewell was excellent as the volatile Will Ladislaw. His connection to Bulstrode was dropped, but I don’t think much of anything important was lost in the process. Will’s part in the story was greatly reduced, but Rufus Sewell makes what remains count.
Jonathan Firth and Rachel Power were delightful as Fred Vincy and Mary Garth. The movie ends with them becoming the “full owners of Stone Court” — not quite what happens in the book, but I suppose them becoming the “full owners Stone Court’s furniture” didn’t have quite the same ring. Anyway, Fred comes across as the same loving, well-intentioned, but spoiled young man as in the book. And Mary is just as fun-loving, sharp, and steadfast as George Eliot wrote her. As in the book, they add some welcome good sense and merriment to an often sombre story.
Though Dorothea and Lydgate are the main characters, the whole town of Middlemarch is just as important to the story (as might be imagined from the title). Middlemarch is a story of people trying to do good, great things in a world where pettiness and backbiting make that very difficult. The movie does a good job depicting the personality of the town. From listening to gossip in the tavern to throwing eggs at a political candidate, the power of the people to tear each other down was not lost.
All-in-all, a very able adaptation. It could have stood with being a little shorter — it clocks in at about six hours. (Watching Raffles was worse than reading about him.) Still, it would be difficult to condense such a long novel any more.