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Lawyer Wakem takes away the mill on the river Floss from Edward Tulliver, whose ancestors owned it for 300 years, and becomes the worst enemy of Tulliver's family. When Edward's daughter, Maggie, grows up, she falls in love with Wakem's son Philip, but her brother Tom, true to the memory of their father, forbids her to meet him again. When she visits her cousin, Lucy Deane, Lucy's fiance Stephen Guest falls in love with Maggie at first sight, further complicating matters. Written by
Visually beautiful and well acted(mostly) but the story and characterisations are too polite and skim-the-surface quality
If you love George Eliot's writing you'll love Mill on the Floss as a book, because it has everything characteristic of what makes her books so pleasurable to read. Because the characters and situations are so complex, her books are not easy to adapt at all and, despite being the book with the most adaptations, Mill on the Floss is not an exception to this. Of the two versions I've seen, this and the 1978 version both are worth the look but neither do the story justice completely. It's difficult to tell which is better between the two because they have similar flaws and strengths, but as 1978's resonated more emotionally that gets the edge. There are a great many things that are good about this adaptation. It looks absolutely beautiful, the scenery is like looking at a postcard come to life, the production values are evocative and fit very well with the nature of the story and the beginning in particular is strikingly shot. Additionally the music has a genuine swelling richness that accompanies what's happening unobtrusively yet with presence, it's also unmistakably romantic. The ending is very divisive it seems, a lot are understandably going to feel short-changed(if I remember correctly some dislike the ending of the book too), it was very shocking and heart-rending to me. On the most part it is very well-acted, Emily Watson is exceptional, the spirit and delicacy are all here and she makes an effort to explore Maggie's complexity despite the writing not matching her. Bernard Hill and Cheryl Campbell are fine as the parents and James Frain allows you for feel repulsion and pity for Phillip Wakam without manipulation. The adaptation is faithful to the book and it was a good move to excise some of Eliot's musing and moralising, which would have been patronising to some.
Not all the performances work, Ifan Meredith is rather dull and wooden as Tom which makes his and Watson's chemistry not as convincing as it should(the 1978 adaptation does it much better). Stephen Guest's annoying traits- that he's shallow and conceited- are amplified to extremities in James Weber Brown's performance that if you were there in person you wouldn't stand to be in the same room as him. The satirical characters are so bland that they're practically out of sight as well. The pacing and that there is little meat to the story and characterisations are the biggest problems. The adaptation is too short in the first place, which immediately does dilute the emotion and complexity, but it also manages to be both rushed and dull. Dull because whereas Eliot's writing is of the flesh and blood kind it is reduced to in some parts one-dimensional stereotyping(especially Stephen) and Maggie and Tom and their relationship are present but with no real substance. And rushed because the details are all there but a lot of it feels very jumpy and skimmed over that there is often not enough emotional connection. Situations happen but too often it is so skimming-the-surface quality that they are just there for the sake of being there with no proper reason or reflection. The scripting has moments where it provokes thought and shows evidence of Eliot's style but it is at the same time too cultivated and could have done with more flow. Overall, has good things but also things that could have been done better, with a longer length it would have been more engaging and powerful I feel. 6/10 Bethany Cox
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