Back about 12 years or so I first watched Middlemarch (1994) with my family. I remember my parents enjoyed it but that it didn't end happily as happily as other period dramas we were starting to watch. I tried watching it about a year ago but got bored by the second episode. This time I had all day to just enjoy all of the episodes and watch it at my own pace. I quite enjoyed it, though there are moments of heartache, but overall it does end fairly well and there are lots of interesting characters!
Story: 19th century Great Britain. The Industrial Revolution brings both the promise and fear of change. In the provincial town of Middlemarch, the progressive Dorothea Brooke desperately seeks intellectual fulfillment in a male-dominated society and is driven into an unhappy marriage to the elderly scholar Casaubon. No sooner do they embark on their honeymoon than she meets and develops an instant connection with Casaubon's young cousin, Will Ladislaw. When idealistic Doctor Lydgate arrives, his new methods of medicine sweep him into the battle between conservatives and liberals in town. He quickly becomes enamored of the beautiful, privileged Rosamond Vincy, a woman whose troubles seem bound to destroy him.
Costumes: Very elegant and suits the Romantic era very well, but quite a few of the dresses are more plain than you'd expect. A lot of the costumes are in plain colors and have little print or embellishment. Accessories are often sparse but there are some pretty shawls and bonnets. Hairstyles are on the more simple side for the era too but are in keeping with the characters. Costumes are just on the plainer side when compared to other films of the period such as Wives & Daughters and Little Dorrit. A couple of the dresses do look familiar, for instance there is one pink dress Rosamund wears that Pet Meagles also wears in Little Dorrit.
Music: There is a very catchy theme song and some pretty theme music throughout. There are some lovely piano pieces played and Rufus Sewell even sings an Italian song with Rosie.
Scenes: Filmed on location in grand country houses, village streets and squares, rolling country sides and Italian architecture. The indoor scenes are sometimes darker but the quality of filming is good overall although a bit older looking.
Questionable Content: There are a few kissing and cuddling scenes between husband and wife but they don't get gross. It is clear that one couple's marriage is mostly based on physical attraction and another couple has little physical attraction. There is some drinking and smoking but nothing excessive. There are some tragedies that might not be appropriate for young kids and there's some mild cursing.
Actors & Characters: There are a lot of wonderfully talented actors in this miniseries. Below are some of my thoughts on the main characters and some more recognizable actors.
- Juliet Aubrey as Dorothea Brooke - Strong and sympathetic character, you cheer for her and cry for her. She is selfless, kind and always desires to be of help to those around her. She also loves to learn and improve herself. She is more or less the heroine of the story and she is played very well by the lovely and talented Ms. Aubrey.
- Patrick Malahide as Reverend Edward Casaubon - A man of big dreams but afraid of criticism. His story is quite sad in the end and it is too bad that he does not reach out to Dorothea as she is reaching out to him.
- Rufus Sewell as Will Ladislaw - Reverend Casaubon's artistic nephew who doesn't see eye to eye with him and eventually gets disinherited. But he starts up a newspaper with Mr. Brooke as his beneficiary and helping Mr. Brooke with his political aspirations. Will and Dorothea become friends and through their talks we learn more about his interesting and slightly tragic history. I have a hard time deciding whether I like Will Ladislaw or not, he is fairly straightforward and kind but he also seems selfish and secretive sometimes. Either way he is played very well by well known actor Rufus Sewell.
- Robert Hardy as Mr. Arthur Brooke - He is rather funny character in his mannerisms and he does seem to be in for modern changes but when he finally figures out what that entails and things are quite funny after that.
- Douglas Hodge as Dr. Tertius Lydgate - An intelligent and sensible physician and sort of a hero type in the story, but he is foolish in love. Similar to Mr. Bennet from Pride & Prejudice and Dr. Gibson from Wives & Daughters, he marries a beautiful young woman who brings him into debt and unhappiness. To his credit he never leaves her and is mostly patient through all her foolishness even though she speaks of leaving him. His priorities are not always straight but he is always practical and comes back to the right.
- Trevyn McDowell as Rosamund Vincy Lydgate - She is very pretty, talented and fun but we only like her because true hearted Tertius loves her so much. She is so foolish and vain and is the cause of her husband's financial ruin, a fact which she never seems remorseful for. I see her as a kind of Mrs. Bennet and it's sad to see that in the end she never loved her husband as much as he loves her.
- Rachel Power as Mary Garth - She's so sensible and kind with great insight. We never really understand why she loves Fred Vincey but she has amazing wisdom in refusing him and not accepting his selfish and childlike behavior. She sees that he can be better and by sticking to her standards it makes him want to be better too and do something of his life. She is very wise and sweet.
- Jonathan Firth as Fred Vincy - A true wastrel who brings his family and friends into financial ruin with his careless gambling. He does have a kind and remorseful heart under all of that and his love for Mary helps him become a better man for her sake.
- Caroline Harker as Celia Brooke Chettam - Dorothea's sister and Mr. Brooke's niece, she is pretty and fairly uninteresting. She marries well and tries to advise Dorothea in the ways of proper decorum and society. As a fun side note actress Caroline Harker is sister to Susannah Harker who played Jane Bennet in Pride and Prejudice (1995)!
- Julian Wadham as Sir James Chettam - A well known face in period dramas and fun to see here. His character is kind and honorable but at the same time boring and aristocratic.
- Simon Chandler as Rev. Farebrother - Dr. Lydgate's friend who advises him well, gets caught up in the political mess of Middlemarch and has his own heartbreaks in love. He's a nice character although a little too progressive as a minister.
- Peter Jeffrey as Mr. Bulstrode & Rosemary Martin as Mrs. Bulstrode - A rather odd pair with a strong faith but some dark secrets. They are rather an odd pair and don't add that much to the story but are interesting none the less.
- John Savident as Raffles - An old scoundrel who threatens blackmail on Mr. Bulstrode. It seems like I've seen this actor somewhere before but can't figure out where other than a few obscure roles in other BBC dramas.
- Stephen Moore as Mayor Vincy & Jacqueline Tong as Mrs. Vincy - A rather stuck up pair but they explain why Fred and Rosamund have ended up having such a privileged attitude. But I do admire Mr. Vincy for trying to give Fred a good start.
- Clive Russell as Caleb Garth & Gabrielle Lloyd as Mrs. Garth - This pair is probably the happiest married couple in Middlemarch, very well matched and good parents. Along with their daughter Mary they are some of my favorite characters.
- Elizabeth Spriggs as Mrs. Cadwallader - A very well known face in period drama and portraying the same gossipy meddling character that she does so well!
- Pam Ferris as Mrs. Dollop - The character is a fairly trivial part but I mention her because it is almost surprising to me how many period dramas she pops up in!
- Judi Dench as voice of George Eliot - Her voice pops up towards the end as "the author" explains what happens to each of the characters in their lives after the story. Lovely to hear such a familiar voice!
My Thoughts: Middlemarch (1994) certainly is not the happy sweet romance story that you come to expect from period dramas, but it is not near as bad or boring as I had remembered. The characters do go through their share of heartache and trials, but most of them end comparatively happily and the evil characters are brought to justice. It is not as heart wrenching as George Eliot's other stories such as Daniel Deronda and Silas Marner, and I liked a few of the characters much more (though none compares to Daniel Deronda's goodness). Eliot's stories remind me of stories by Anthony Trollope and Robert Hardy such as Barchest Chronicles, He Knew He Was Right and The Mayor of Casterbridge. I did feel quite sorry for Dorothea that she was unable to do all the good that she had hoped, but she did end up with true love, which is one thing that she seriously lacked in her life. This is definitely not my favorite period drama but it is very well done and deserving of more attention than I had preciously given it. And we must remember that it was due to it's popularity that BBC went ahead with their next big miniseries Pride & Prejudice (1995)! As a side note I find it funny that Jonathan Firth was cast as a heartthrob in this film before his big brother Colin Firth would become the ultimate heartthrob Mr. Darcy!
Thoughts On Marriage: Middlemarch has a lot of ideas on marriage in Victorian England and shows this through several different types of problems in marriage such as a husband who does not let his wife be his equal, a couple close to financial ruin due to poor choices, a wife who meddles behind her husband's back and several couples who keep secrets from each other and miscommunicate. The moral of the story in my mind is to take a cue from Mary Garth stay unmarried until you are sure you found the right person. Also that communication and forgiveness are keys to a good marriage.
My Recommendation: I'd recommend Middlemarch (1994) to teens and adults who have enjoyed other period dramas such as Daniel Deronda (2002), Barchester Chronicles and Cranford. It's not that it has anything bad in it really but the slower pace and themes of marriage and politics make it better for older viewers.
Have you seen Middlemarch (1994)? What did you think of it?