This film might be a bore for people who like a film based on a novel to be a work of art on its own terms, but for people who demand a faithful adaptation, it is very well-done.
What do I prefer? I like both—as long as the film is good. A creative, individual take on a literary work is welcomed, but after watching so many outrageous films which, as adaptations, betray the spirit and essence of the books on which they’re based, and which make no sense in themselves, I sometimes only wish for fidelity.
Why, then, do we need the film when we’ve got the book, if it doesn’t say anything? That question might have to be discussed in another post. Let’s talk about the 1994 Middlemarch. A few scenes are removed but don’t affect the plot because what happens is reported in other scenes. There’s less access to the characters’ minds, but their personalities and emotions are seen through actions, words, gestures and facial expressions, helped by a brilliant cast, especially Patrick Malahide as the dry, self-centred, cruel but insecure and pathetic Casaubon, Peter Jeffrey as the banker Bulstrode haunted by his past and not without remorse, Douglas Hodge as the idealistic and talented but weak Lydgate, Juliet Aubrey as the pure, noble but naïve Dorothea and Trevyn McDowell as the gentle, good-mannered but superficial, frivolous and egoistic Rosamond. The film makes use of the aid of voice-over. In addition, silly as it may sound, Rufus Sewell’s sexiness makes Will Ladislaw more interesting. Middlemarch is a great novel with many powers—its greatest strength is in characterisation and psychology, but in this case there’s no great loss when the novel is brought to the screen. George Eliot’s prose is not retained, but she’s not a stylist like Flaubert, nor is her prose poetic like Charlotte Bronte’s—George Eliot’s merits are her wisdom and deep sensibilities and psychological insight and intellectual depth and scope, rather than style. Most importantly, we no longer have the intrusive narrator. Whilst I’m not certain whether or not to say that Anthony Page’s film is superior to George Eliot’s novel, which might be considered by many people as heresy, it does remove the chief problem I have with the book—the intrusive moralistic voice that comments on everything and wants me to respond to things in a certain way.
It should be noted in the end that I’m not disparaging Middlemarch, which I finished reading earlier today. Edward Casaubon and Rosamond Vincy (the Victorian femme fatale) are 2 of the best characters in literature. Dorothea Brooke, despite being irritatingly sanctimonious and pure sometimes, is also a wonderful creation, who is so complex, multi-faceted and self-contradictory, who is so many things at once (unlike Dinah in Adam Bede and Mirah in Daniel Deronda). The scope, as well as the author’s vast knowledge, is admirable. I revere George Eliot and marvel at many things in Middlemarch and simply feel no ecstasy, which of course says more about me than about the book. It has to do with my resistance to didactic novels.