Customer Review

44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Man's Search For Meaning & A Spiritual Center - A Superb Production!, July 11, 2005
This review is from: Daniel Deronda (DVD)
Masterpiece Theater's brilliant production of George Eliot's "Daniel Deronda," was adapted by Andrew Davies from George Eliot's last and, perhaps, most ambitious novel. (although certainly not her best). Essentially, both the novel and the film are composed of two separate stories, linked by protagonist, Daniel Deronda, (Hugh Dancy).

Set in England in the 1870's, the viewer is given a glimpse into the lives of British Jews, a society-within-a-society, though Daniel Deronda. Interestingly enough, most of Miss Eliot's contemporaries were oblivious to the Jews, who lived totally outside their frame of reference. Through her heroine, Gwendolyn Harleth, (Romola Garai), who marries for money and power rather than love, Eliot and the film explore a side of human relations that leads only to despair.

Daniel sees Gwendolyn, for the first time, at a roulette table. He is fascinated by her classical, blonde English beauty, and vivacious, self-assured manner. When Miss Harleth is forced to sell her necklace to pay gambling debts, Deronda, a disapproving observer, buys back the jewelry, anonymously, and returns it to her. This is not the last time the deeply spiritual and altruistic Deronda will feel a need to rescue Gwendolyn.

Daniel was adopted as a young boy by Sir Hugo, (Edward Fox), an English gentleman. He has received affection, a good education, and to some extent, position, from his guardian. However, Deronda has never been told the story of his true parentage, and sorely feels this lack of roots and his own identity. Not content to play the gentleman, he always appears to be searching for a purpose in life, and a spiritual center.

Daniel's and Gwendolyn's lives intersect throughout the novel. They feel a strong mutual attraction initially, but Gwendolyn, with incredible passivity, decides to marry someone she knows is a scoundrel, for his wealth. The decision will haunt her as her life becomes a nightmare with the sadistic Henleigh Grandcourt, (Hugh Bonneville), her husband.

At about the same time, Daniel inadvertently saves a young woman from suicide. He finds young Mirah Lapidoth, (Johdi May), near drowning, by the river and takes her to a friend's home to recover. There she is made welcome and asked to stay. She is a Jewess, abducted from her mother years before, by her father, who wanted to use the child's talent as a singer to earn money. When young Mirah forced her voice beyond its limits, and lost her ability to sing, her father abandoned her. She has never been able to reunite with her mother and brother, and was alone and destitute, until Daniel found her. Daniel, in his search for Mirah's family, meets the Cohens, a Jewish shop owner and his kin. Deronda feels an immediate affinity with them and visits often. He also comes to know a Jewish philosopher and Zionist, Mordecai, (Daniel Evans), and they forge a strong bond of friendship.

Daniel finally does discover his identity, and has a very poignant and strange meeting with his mother. He had been earnestly taking steps to make a meaningful existence for himself, and with the new information about his parents and heritage, he is able to act on his dreams.

One of the novel's most moving scenes is when Daniel and Gwendolyn meet for the last time. Gwendolyn has grown from a self-centered young woman to a mature, thoughtful adult, who has suffered and grown strong.

This is an extraordinary period piece, directed with wit and subtlety by Tom Hooper. The cast is outstanding as are their performances. Lush costumes and beautiful scenery add richness to the film. However, like the novel, the movie is lacking. It is too metaphysical, too metaphorical, too much a morality play. There's not enough verve and vigor!! Although Hugh Bonneville's Grandcourt, does make a fabulous scoundrel.

I did thoroughly enjoy this BBC production, flaws and all. It is wonderful entertainment and artfully done.

JANA
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