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Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Middlemarch and the 1994 TV movie

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. 

11 comments:

  1. Di,

    I also object to preachy fiction, but I don't think it was excessive in _Middlemarch_. Part of my acceptance may result from my curiosity about another person's take on what's going on and that would include the narrator.

    That's probably why I have no objections to the voice-over technique found in films. I know some who froth at the mouth at the thought, but I find them interesting and informative, and they also add some person contact with the character or narrator.

    One work's preachiness I do find irritating is one I'm reading for an online book group--Tolstoy's "The Kreutzer Sonata." In this work, it isn't the narrator but a character who goes on a sustained rant for numerous chapters. This makes _Middlemarch_ look as unpreachy as a 19th century novel can be.

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    1. Oh that story by Tolstoy I haven't read. I probably have a prejudice against it. Hmmm.
      I don't object to voice-over per se. But if it's redundant, for example, like something that can be replaced with images, I wouldn't like it. Are there people who dislike the voice-over technique?
      So you're curious about the narrator's take on what's going on? That's interesting. How do you feel about the narrator in Daniel Deronda?

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  2. Di,

    I have yet to read _Daniel Deronda_, but it is gathering dust in my TBR bookcase and OOTD.

    Yes, one example of the voice-over haters involves the film _Blade Runner_. The director took it out for the director's cut and all of my friends and acquaintences approved, not so much as it was bad in that film, but from a general antipathy for the voice-over.

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    1. I suppose you may skip Daniel Deronda, unless you like George Eliot very much or like to read a controversial novel. I mean, I don't regret reading it, but there are lots of problems with that book.
      Haven't seen Blade Runner so I can't say. Voice-over is OK for me. But 1 of the reasons I dislike Christopher Nolan is that he often lets 1 of his characters have a speech that basically explains the film, and that is, well, redundant and condescending and ridiculous.

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    2. Di,

      I might get around to it one of these days, but it probably won't be soon.

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    3. OK.
      You've just reread Pride and Prejudice, I think? Any change, any difference?

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  3. DI,

    I paid a bit more attention to the Bingley sisters this time: the eldest in particular and got an interesting idea.

    I changed the title to Predator and Prey and began to look at each of the characters to see which role they played. Some even play both. Tennyson's? phrase, nature red in ..... seemed to fit quite well, especially if you look at Caroline's? behavior once she senses Darcy's interest in Liz. Caroline's senses are very sharp and sensitive--very necessary for a predator to know when another predator is in the neighborhood.

    I'm working on a post about it now.

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    1. Hey that's interesting. I look forward to reading it.
      On a side note, I just fought for Fanny again. Of course generally it's better to ignore, but I successfully persuaded a guy to read Mansfield Park and then his review made me so angry. And because I was the one that told him to read it, I had to respond.

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    2. Now I'm not sure if I should have done it or not. He's a nice guy. Humph.

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    3. Di,

      Even nice guys can disagree, nicely, I should hope.

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    4. I just came across this: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/11569673/Jane-Austens-real-Mr-Darcy-unmasked-by-historian.html?utm_campaign=SocialFlow&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=referral

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