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
As a film of social and interpersonal dimension, Daniel Deronda is impressive. It is refreshingly easy to forgive that it is not an Ivory production complete with exquisite costumes, sets, and revelatory photography. There is an engaging account to make up for it.
The series encapsulates the respective stories of the heroic Daniel Deronda and the spoiled aristocrat, Gwendolyn Harleth whose lives first intertwine at a casino. The first images of the roulette and the covert glances Gwendolyn and Daniel share transport us immediately into the Victorian period with its secrets, niceties, and excesses. It is the only period that such a film could take place. Their encounter is a chance one. She is called away, once she receives the news, to attend to her impoverished family; he is not a gambler. Yet, his return of the jewels she sold to provide money for her family lays the foundation of their relationship that lasts until the end of the series. Gwendolyn, despite her self-centeredness and arrogance, sees value in him that transcends her attraction. His generosity is an impression which deepens each time she sees him, and, to a degree, transforms her.
Romola Garai masterfully registers the complexities of Gwendolyn Harleth, who is the more pivotal character. Her facial and vocal expressions continually convey the conflicts in her nature that on one hand consists of a superficial expectation of wealth, and on the other hand contains her desire to be a better person than she could possibly become. Gwendolyn's decisions, involving situations which are morally complex, result continuously in dichotomies that benefit some to the absolute detriment of others. She is haunted by these ambiguities, her uncomfortable reflections on her motivations, and her tragic belief in Daniel Deronda. That she often suffers as a result of circumstances and conscience, does not give her comfort. Yet the initial understanding of her lack of substance disappears. Her character is considered the most impressive ever written by Eliot, and Garai is award-worthy in capturing her.
Hugh Dancy has the requisite gallantry and innocence of Deronda, who finds a social purpose in aiding the Jewish people in their pursuit of their homeland. His romantic interest in Gwendolyn is a fascinating aspect that gives the series its thrilling effect. One is compelled to wonder and hope throughout if they will have a future together.
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