Set in Victorian London, Gwendolen Harleth is drawn to Daniel Deronda, a selfless and intelligent gentleman of unknown parentage, but her own desperate need for financial security may destroy her chance at happiness.
The daughter of a country doctor copes with an unwanted stepmother, an impetuous stepsister, burdensome secrets, the town gossips, and the tug on her own heartstrings for a man who thinks of her only as a friend.
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Jonny Lee Miller
It is across the roulette table that Gwendolen Harleth first locks eyes with the enigmatic Daniel Deronda. Gwendolen is beautiful, vivacious, and a gambler, but desperate for financial security; something that possessive Henleigh Grandcourt would be able to provide for her. Daniel is the adopted son of an aristocratic, but doubtful of his own identity. He pours his energy into selflessly helping his friends, including poor Jewish singer Mirah Lapidoth. As Gwendolen's situation becomes dire, and Daniel seeks to uncover the mystery surrounding his own birth, their lives become intertwined... Written by
"I don't love her any more than she loves me. That's not the point."
Having never read George Eliot's novel, I came into the film with only what I know based on the information friends have given me. The film is utterly exquisite. The costuming alone will have Anglophiles like myself crying from sheer envy, and there's enough archery, riding, and balls to weigh out the seriousness of the film, which is essentially two plots woven into one. An utterly heartless and wretched marriage for a spoiled young Gwendolyn in the form of the evil Grandcourt, a landowner whose sole pleasure lies in torment. Be it his wife or dogs, our heartless villain never takes greater pleasure than in dangling something before them and tearing it away again, only to feed it to someone else. We see a kind of barbarism in this act, be it with the family spaniel or his impoverished, abandoned mistress.
The second plot line, which I found slightly less interesting, was about the film's lead, Daniel Deronda, a presumed illigitimate boy who has been raised a country gentleman. One day while out boating he saves a Jewish singer from drowning herself, and sets out to discover his own true identity through finding her family. I don't know why, but I found myself itching through these scenes to get back to Gwendolyn and her pathetic plight of enslavement to her husband. A second viewing, once I knew the course of the characters, settled me a bit.
The acting is very stellar. There's not a weak link in the cast, although I have to say seeing Barbara Hershey seemed a little out of place in this Victorian paradox. The film makes numerous contrasts between good and evil, selfishness and humility, lies and deception. It's actually quite an achievement, and I was pleased at the amount of restraint showed by the filmmakers. The sexual tension between man and wife will go over most younger viewer's heads, something for which I'm grateful. It's rare we get a wonderful Victorian bodice ripper where the bodice stays on.
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