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The BBC began putting George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans) novels on film in
1978. It would take 24 years before the five most prominent and best
of her novels would be finished for TV airing. Most were done in
mini- series. The BBC has a knack for capturing the English
countryside, the dress, manners and culture of bygone days in these
wonderful period movies. These classics of English lit and filmdom
would be too much for Hollywood to attempt.
"Adam Bede" is the third of the Eliot's books done in this series. It is a moving story and drama set in Victorian England of the mid-19th century. All aspects of this film all superb. The main characters turn in excellent roles, and the supporting cast seems so natural that one feels right at home and part of the families in the two homes.
The story has a good plot about true love versus physical attraction. It is a morality play. It is about integrity, honesty, respect, sin and forgiveness. A most enjoyable film. Eliot was one of the great chroniclers of 19th century English society.
The world would indeed have loved to have more of Eliot, Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope and Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson), even though most lived a little to a lot longer than the average age of life expectancy at the time. In 1850, that was 40 for males and 42 for females. Trollope (1815-1882) lived to be 67; Eliot (1819-1880) lived to be 61; and Carroll (1822-1898) was 66 when he died. Dickens also beat the average age of death, living to 58 from 1812-1870. But Austen (1775-1817) and Bronte (1816-1855), lived to only 42 and 39, respectively.
Anybody who loves flesh and blood characters, stories that are rich in detail and emotion and themes and social commentaries that were relevant to the time and that we can still relate to will love the work of George Eliot(my personal favourite is Middlemarch of her work). Adam Bede as a book is not an exception, the adaptation falls short compared to the other George Eliot- pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans- adaptations in the collection but on its own it is hardly a must-avoid. It is too short and rushed which accounts for why there were things touched upon but not explained very well or things implied that we don't see, especially in Hetty's motivations which would have made more sense if they'd kept the redemption scene. The spirit and most details are there but everything feels condensed and rushed. Most of the acting is good, but Patsy Kensit from personal perspective is miscast, Hetty here being one flesh and blood character that comes across as one-dimensional and vaguely drawn here and Kensit comes across as rather worldly-wise and selfish but not naïve or redemptive enough, Hetty's plight is very tragic which we don't get to feel properly in this adaptation. However, Adam Bede does look beautiful especially in the locations, the costumes and most of the make-up(apart from some of Hetty's being rather over-the-top and hooker-like) are evocative and it is photographed with elegant simplicity. The music is soothing and sensitive to mood, also allowing the dialogue and drama to speak for themselves. The dialogue is very reminiscent of Eliot's style and written in an intelligent, witty and well-flowed, though a few parts could have done with more development. The story has suspense, atmosphere and a strong emotional core, much of it compelling despite the short length and the consequences of that. The themes of the book are intact and dealt with in an honest way and while not everybody will like the ending, personally it was heart-breakingly bittersweet which in a way was what the book's ending was too. With the exception of Kensit the acting is good, fitting their likable-even-with-their-flaws characters. Iain Glen is a handsome Adam and handles the character with sensitivity and emotion, while Susannah Harker is likable and charming as well as beautiful(some may find her too-good-to-be-true but not me) and James Wilby is affecting. Freddie Jones and Jean Marsh don't disappoint, but some of Adam Bede's best acting comes from the deliciously sly performance of Robert Stephens who literally relishes his lines. Overall, quite good but falls short compared to the adaptations of Middlemarch and Silas Marner. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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