Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Mill on the Floss

When I was compiling authors for my Victorian reading list, I have to say that George Eliot (the pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans) was one name I was not excited to see. I struggled through Middlemarch in high school & did not really have any plans to take in any more Eliot in my lifetime.

I thought, though, that for the Period Film Mini-Challenge, I could probably sit through a George Eliot movie. I had always heard much talk of The Mill on the Floss, & I had an idea it was probably her best or at least best-known book. I found a copy of a 1997 film of it starring Emily Watson, an actress I really like, & I decided to check it out.

Well, the other night I watched it. Emily Watson was really good as Maggie Tulliver, the heroine, but even I, unfamiliar with the book as I am, was lukewarm about the production-like last year's hour-and-a-half Jane Austen adaptations on PBS, the story seemed severely truncated, & it kind of felt like you were hitting high points in the narrative & the characters were very loosely sketched. (I have since read a review on Amazon that the 1978 version fills in the gaps a lot better, though that production itself is stagey rather than cinematic.) The deus ex machina ending was so abrupt & disturbing that I had to look at the ending in the book to see if it was accurate (it wasn't exactly the same, but it was close).

All in all, quite a bleak tale, with no redemption in sight, reminding me of another Victorian writer, Thomas Hardy. The Masterpiece Theater host, Russell Baker, indicated that this was a thinly veiled autobiography, as George Eliot's life had many similarities with Maggie's-though she was close to her brother in childhood, he would not speak to her for the 25 years she lived with a married man, George Henry Lewes.