'The Mill on the Floss' was one of the lesser novels by Mary Ann Evans, who wrote under the male pseudonym George Eliot. I tried to read this dull and very turgid novel years ago, but was unable to finish it. I'll review this film version solely on its own merits, as I don't know how faithfully it follows the original novel.
The film's opening credits are printed in an Old English typeface that suggests the mediaeval period, and so it's a very poor choice for a film with a 19th-century setting. (On the other hand, about halfway into the film, we see a close-up shot of a handbill advertising an estate auction. This handbill is set in authentic Victorian type fonts, and looks *very* convincing.) Most of this film is extremely convincing in its depiction of the architecture and clothing of early 19th-century England. The precise location of this film's story is never disclosed, but - judging by the actors' accents - I'd place it as somewhere in the Cotswolds, perhaps Warwickshire.
The plot, what there is of it, involves a mill that changes hands a couple of times (over a couple of decades) between two rival families, one wealthy and one working-class. I disagree with another IMDb reviewer who claims that James Mason has only a small role in this film. Mason has the largest and most central role in this drama, as the scion of the wealthier family. As the spoilt and petulant Tom Tulliver, Mason is darkly brooding and impetuous. His performance here belongs in a better film: it made me want to see 'Wuthering Heights' recast with Mason as Heathcliff.
As this is a multi-generational saga (something which George Eliot did much better in 'Middlemarch'), several of the main roles in this film are split among two actors apiece: child actors in the prologue, adults in the main narrative. The prologue of this film features a very well-written scene, establishing Tom Tulliver as wilful and bully-ragging from an early age, and young Philip Wakeham as decent and thoughtful. Through hard labour, Philip has earned a halfpenny: Tom tries to bully it away from him, but is unwilling to take the coin by brute force: he wants Philip to *give* it to him. All the child actors in this movie, male and female, are talented and attractive. Unfortunately, all of the children speak their dialogue in posh plummy-voiced accents that are utterly unlike the accents of the actors and actresses who play those same roles as adults. This discrepancy calls attention to the staginess of the material. Regrettably, none of the later scenes are as good as this prologue.
The climax features a crowd of labourers in a rainstorm, much better paced and photographed than the earlier scenes. But modern viewers (in Britain, at least) can no longer take this sort of material seriously. By now, practically every British comedian has done a "trouble at t' mill, squire" comedy routine, parodying precisely this subject matter, so I had difficulty watching this movie with a straight face.
The character actress Martita Hunt is good in a small role, but the opening credits (in that Old English typeface) misspell her forename as 'Marita'. I'll rate this dull movie 3 points out of 10: one point apiece for James Mason's performance, the early scene with the children, and the authentic Victorian typesetting in that auctioneer's handbill.
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