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.
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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
"Daniel Deronda" is the only novel George Eliot wrote after "Middlemarch", and it's also the strangest novel she's ever written, because one can never figure out whether the two story-lines are actually two separate novels put into one book. One continually has the impression on reading the book that the two story-lines could exist independently of each other. Mind you, she did the same thing with "Middlemarch", only here the two story-lines, those of Dorothea Brooke and Tertius Lydgate, are interrelated and interwoven ingeniously, which is one of the reasons why Middlemarch is such a masterpiece of structure. But I digress. In "Daniel Deronda" this relation is far less apparent, which makes it a lesser novel than Middlemarch, structurally speaking, but not necessarily a less fascinating one. One story-line is about the beautiful, vain, spoiled and idealistic and free-fought Gwendolen Harleth, one of Eliot's great, great heroines, who is forced to marry Henleigh Grandville to save her father from financial ruin. Grandcourt is also one of the most fascinating characters in Eliot's canon, for he seems to be the only one of her characters who is truly evil and who is not redeemed. He intents giving in to all of her caprices and wants at first and after due time to basically enslave her. The other story is that of Daniel Deronda, who is of Jewish heritage and starts a quest to find out more about it and in doing so meets the young Jewish idealist Mordecai, who dreams of a homeland for all Jews and who lectures Deronda on being who he is and on being true to his heritage: Jewish. In the book George Eliot seemed to have wanted to juxtapose Gwendolen's vanity and spoiledness with Mordecai's idealism, with Deronda being the only link between the two story-lines. He tries to bring some relief to Gwendolen's life of her oppressive marriage to Grandcourt. Which puts him in the strange position of being something of a mentor to Gwendolen and Mordecai´s disciple. But does it work on the small screen? Yes and no. I´ve always found Gwendolen´s part in the book far more interesting than Mordecai´s and I really had to struggle through it, it being quite tedious at times. Also I think Eliot was in a bit over her head in dealing with such issues as heritage, especially Jewish heritage. But she meant well. Mordecai's role on the mini-series is much diminished for the sake of the love-story between Deronda and Mirah. Which is probably a good thing, but it still didn't quite work. It just will not get interesting, perhaps this is because I am not Jewish. The most interesting part is Gwendolen. This story is the George Eliot I know and love. Most of Eliot's normal themes are recur here. The tension between ideals and the rules of society, selfishness and vanity, and the role of women in the Victorian marriage. All these themes are touched upon. Gwendolen's, played by the stunning Romola Garai, oppression by Grandcourt, played by the chillingly brilliant is her criticism of the roles of men and women in marriage. Women were basically slaves. And Gwendolen's redemption and spiritual rebirth is basically George Eliot saying that you can't be idealistic all your life and that you have to adhere to society's rules if there's going to be any chance of you being happy. The acting at times seemed a bit wooden, not in the least by Garai and Dancy. But Bonnneville was absolutely brilliant in it. He is truly evil. Mary Ann would have been proud. All in all I´d say this a pretty good adaptation of the novel. I give it a 7 out of 10.
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