23/08/2010

VICTORIAN TALES - THE MILL ON THE FLOSS AND FINGERSMITH (WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING)

 Like every Sunday, yesterday I had my huge quantity of ironing and period drama watching! You can understand how huge my laundry pile was trying to sum the lengths of the films/series I watched! I'm sorry, no prize if you guess. LOL!


THE MILL ON THE FLOSS (BBC 1997)

"Anger and jealousy can no more bear to lose sight of their objects than love..."

George Eliot's Middlemarch was  reasonably adapted in a six-hour mini-series (I saw it couple of years ago and it's time to re-watch it!) The Mill on the Floss, between 400 and 500 pages, gets crammed into less than two hours (about 116 minutes). This is the main complain I have to do against this beautiful adaptation of a Victorian classic. I bought this DVD long ago but never even unwrapped it from its transparent film. So it was still brand new when I decided to put it in the player and watch it yesterday. The story covers about  eight years, it's actually three  mini-novels: a satire of provincial small-mindedness focusing on mill owner Edward Tulliver and his children Tom and Maggie; a "Romeo&Juliet" story in which Maggie falls in love with Philip, the son of her father's greatest enemy and incurs the wrath of  her beloved brother ,Tom; and a romance in which Maggie is courted by sensitive hunchback Philip (her Romeo) as well as conceited but very attractive Stephen (her cousin Elizabeth and best friend's fianc√©) while still trying to get her mind off . . . Tom. Yes, her brother ,  the most important man in her life. She can't stand the idea of breaking the secial bond she has with him. The book's central metaphor, the river Floss is also the prevailing symbolical imagery in the photography: a flood of passion carries Maggie and Stephen away in a rowboat before a concluding deluge of Biblical proportions turns the river into a real flood.
This concised adaptation by Hugh Stoddart leaves apart  Eliot's occasional  moralizing but loses the complexity of her characterizations. As always in BBC period drama,  the settings are  awesome, as perfect  as  the costumes ; the score is good and quite romantic and the  acting is contained and cultivated.
Emily Watson as the protagonist is worth watching as she captures Maggie's perplexing combination of self-sacrifice and self-indulgence. Ifan Meredith's Tom quite resembles the "lad with light-brown hair, cheeks of cream and roses, full lips, indeterminate nose and eyebrows," but the smoldering resentment in his face suggests a loveless childhood as well as a  complex love/hate relationship with Maggie. Is  the girl  the victim of Tom's domineering? Or is she incapable of  marrying Philip or Stephen because she loves her brother more ? Tom  in the whole story never  looks at another woman. Well ... just my hypothesis. George Eliot in the end  makes Maggie the victim of a hypocritical patriarchal society as she  herself was. 
Drama, romance and tragedy in a story of one woman's struggle for freedom and love.

FINGERSMITH (BBC 2005)


After watching Tipping the Velvet (see my review here) not long ago, I was not sure I actually wanted to see this. What still stirred my curiosity was to see some good actors I appreciated in other period pieces in their roles here. For instance, Rupert Evans (Frederick in North & South or Frank Churchill in Emma 2009), Sally Hawkins ( Anne Elliot in Persuasion 2007, Zena Blake in Tipping the Velvet 2002), Imelda Staunton ( Viola's nurse in Shakespeare in Love, Charlotte Jennings Parker in Sense & Sensibility, Octavia Pole in Cranford) , Elaine Cassidy (Lucy Honeychurch in A Room with a View 2007) . Both Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet are novels by Sarah Waters adapted by BBC, set in the Victorian Age. I have read  neither of the books so I can't tell you how faithful to the original they are. 
I wasn't disappointed though. I find this 2-part  mini-series (181 min.) Fingersmith   much more gripping and original than Tipping the Velvet. 
Since the first moment you are brought back to the mean streets of Dickensian London  (There are plenty of nods to Dickens) and find yourself  deeply involved in a thrilling drama, packed with thieving and treachery, romance and betrayal. 
Set in 19th-century London, Fingersmith - Victorian slang for pickpocket - tells the  story of a young woman who becomes embroiled in an elaborate deception and discovers that nothing is quite what it seems.
 The story begins when charming con-man Richard "Gentleman" Rivers (Rupert Evans) embarks upon the most ambitious scam of his life: to defraud wealthy young heiress Maud Lilly ( Elaine Cassidy)  by seducing her into eloping with him.
 To achieve his aim, Rivers enlists the help of Sue Trinder (Sally Hawkins).
 Brought up by Mrs Sucksby (Imelda Staunton) in a Fagin-like den of thieves, orphan Sue is a fingersmith with a heart of gold – and the promise of a share in Maud's fortune is enough to convince her to join Rivers in his extravagant plot.
A particular delight is the villainous "Gentleman".Why am I always so attracted by villains? I can't answer that but I know I'm in good company!
Well, Rupert Evan's "Gentleman" Rivers has devilish charm, wit and a  sexy Mr Churchill-gone-very-bad attitude I couldn't resist,  differently from  the female characters in the story. But there's a reason why...
 Can I be honest? Since I'm not a prude I didn't find anything offensive in this story but I wonder -since also this novel by Sarah Waters like her previous Tipping th Velvet deals with lesbian love and is set in the Victorian Era - what the author's aim was... did she want to convince Queen Victoria herself that lesbians existed? Too late it seems! (Joking of course on  the fact that Queen  Victoria, while accepting homosexuality in men, is said not to have been able to believe lesbians existed!)

3 comments:

lunarossa said...

Hi MG, Great reviews as usual. I haven't seen these adaptations, so I canno comment on them, but I'm pretty sure the books are better, in spite of the great cast. Fingersmith is especially difficult to pack in a two hours drama. It's full of ambience and twists and the lesbian bits are actually not the centrepiece of the story. It's very well written and gripping and yes, there is even quite a bit of satire to the Victorian "bacchettona" society that used to hide so much under the carpets. Hugs. A.

Judy said...

Great stuff. I really liked that adaptation of 'The Mill on the Floss', which I wrote about too a while ago on my blog - a nice surprise, I got a comment from the actress who played Maggie as a little girl, Lucy Borton, who is now a professional singer! She said it was embarrassing when she had to watch the adaptation in class while studying the book for an exam. Emily Watson is great. I do think James Frain is probably too handsome for the role of Philip, not that I minded that - I didn't really like the actor who played Stephen very much, a weak link in this version for me. There's also an older adaptation which I haven't managed to see yet. On 'Fingersmith', I've read and liked the book but haven't seen the mini-series yet though I really want to, and might move it "up my list" after reading your review, MG.:)

Anonymous said...

I was lucky enough recently to find the 1978 BBC version in a local library in rural Vermont, where TV reception was nonexisistent, and the film choices so dire I thought 'Mill on the Floss', a favorite Eliot novel might be worth an evening's gander.
It was a wonderful surprise: yes, some of the visuals were dated, especially the cold, artificial lighting and clunky pacing, but the acting was mostly subtle, perusasive, and language gracefully rendered . Maggie & Tom were very good, apart from some occasional Pippa Guard gushing sweetness untrue to character, but the revelation for me was the complex John Moulder- Brown, as conceited Stephen who brought much needed fire and romance to the somewhat dull doings at The Mill. He was the beautiful adolescent actor in the underrated "Deep End", and was always believable and sympathetic, despite the plot contrivances and limitations of the script, How Maggie resists him in the Inn is almost inconceivable in the face of his charm and masculine sincerity, Whatever happened to this gifted actor? Anton Lesser was also good, and as was his father, in fact there were no duds, the weaknesses were with rather flatfooted script and direction. It is a fatalistic novel, and the love between Maggie and Tom and their deaths dreary rather than properly ennobling in their self-sacrifice . Yet it was compelling and rich in detail and incident.