“What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other?” - George Eliot
George Eliot (pseudonym of Mary Ann, or Marian, Cross, née Evans) who was born November 22, 1819, in Chilvers Coton, Warwickshire, England and died December 22, 1880, London, is an English Victorian novelist. She developed the method of psychological analysis characteristic of modern fiction. Her major works include “Adam Bede” (1859), “The Mill on the Floss” (1860), “Silas Marner” (1861), “Middlemarch” (1871–72), and “Daniel Deronda” (1876).
At the weekend we watched a mini-series based on her novel “Daniel Deronda”, which is also Eliot’s last novel. The BBC production directed by Tom Hooper was excellent, and it starred Hugh Dancy, Romola Garai, Hugh Bonneville, Jodhi May, Greta Scacchi and Edward Fox. As with similar BBC costume dramas, this was an amazing production looking and feeling extremely authentic. The acting was magnificent and every single character was brought to vivid life. The costumes, sets, music and direction were faultless. Andrew Davies has done a great job in producing a wonderful screenplay out of Eliot’s complex novel with its two intertwined plots.
Hugh Bonneville as the dastardly Henleigh Grandcourt is the true star of the series, stealing each scene he appeared in. Jodhi May and Greta Scacchi play well in the difficult supporting roles, and both women bring great depth to their roles, the first a desperate, haunted Jewess and the second Grandcourt’s scorned, bitter mistress. Romola Garai and Hugh Darcy both play competently, but even though their roles are the largest, they are certainly not the juiciest!
In brief, the plot is as follows: A spoiled and beautiful young woman, Gwendolyn (Garai), chooses to marry for money and social position so as to be rescued from a life of poverty and need when her family loses their money. Her husband, the evil and heartless Grandcourt (Bonneville), is a landowner whose sole pleasure lies in tormenting those around him. Be it his wife or dogs, this sadistic villain never takes greater pleasure than in dangling something before those around him and then taking pleasure in tearing it away again, only to give it temporarily to someone else. The second plot line, centred on Daniel Deronda (Dancy), a presumed illigitimate boy who has been raised to be a country gentleman by his guardian (Fox). One day while out boating he saves a beautiful Jewish songstress (May) from drowning herself, and sets out to discover his own true identity through finding her family.
Eliot’s masterly interweaving of the two plots and the depth of characterisation are preserved in the dramatisation and the series made for engaging and interesting viewing, which was satisfying on an artistic as well as an emotional level. The two interrelated plots (although one can argue that the novel is really two different novels fused into one) function well in the film. Gwendolyn’s story illustrates well the tension between ideals and the rules of society, selfishness and vanity, and the role of women in the Victorian marriage. On the other hand, Daniel’s story is one that focusses on heritage, nationality and family, and takes into account the nascent ideas of Zionism and the search for a Jewish homeland.
This is an excellent mini-series and if you can get your hands on it, do watch it. Failing that, go to your nearest public library and borrow the novel to read!