REVIEW / Picking up the fine threads of connection - TV & Radio - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

REVIEW / Picking up the fine threads of connection

MIDDLEMARCH (BBC 2) opened with a sort of Cecil B De Mille footnote, a lavish bit of spectacle which suggested that the adaptor had worked from a Penguin edition, or at least one with plenty of helpful essays on social context. A post-coach garlanded with frock-coats and felt hats bowled past the camera which then panned down into a railway cutting full of labouring navvies. Out of a nearby tunnel puffed a replica of an early locomotive. 'The future]' exclaimed Lydgate from the coach, in case you hadn't got the point of this didactic camera movement. For a while it looked like the most expensive adaptation of a Coles Notes pamphlet ever mounted.

George Eliot, who wasn't exactly clueless about how to pitch a serial narrative, decided to secure her readers' affections by hooking them into a tale of love and marriage - Dorothea's embarrassments with Sir James and her odd courtship by Casaubon proceed pretty much uninterrupted for the first 80 pages. Andrew Davies, who isn't exactly clueless about popular series either, has done a bit of shuffling for this first episode, giving precedence to Lydgate and plaiting in some of the other narrative lines.

The result is a panoramic vision which zooms in now and then on the personal rather than a domestic vision which slowly expands along the filaments of association and bloodline and gossip - what Eliot calls the 'fine threads of connection' - until an entire society is created. In the novel you start with a person, Dorothea, and end with a town, Middlemarch. Here you began with the town - a teeming piece of prop display with hens a-clucking, urchins a-larking, yokels a-gurning, market men a-hagglin' and foin gennelmen a-trottin' by on glossy chestnut mares (personally I can take this sort of thing until the meticulously authenticated historic breed cows come home, though it's hard to believe the past was quite so noisy). The result is a production which hasn't quite begun to clutch as a narrative but which offers a lavish supply of incidental pleasures while you wait.

Not the least of which is Juliet Aubrey as Dorothea. One of the mysteries of the novel is quite how Eliot makes you like her central character. Imagine Dorothea triumphant and you have a Dickensian villainess, priggish and self-deceiving and capable of an odious piety. Eliot explains that she has physical charm but in the novel her beauty can't act on you directly to redress the balance, as it does for the men in the book. Eliot isn't above a certain waspishness either - 'She felt that she enjoyed (riding) in a pagan sensuous way, and always looked forward to renouncing it' she notes at one point, a wonderful line that can't really hope to survive into the television version, where Dorothea's sentiment looks merely petulant. In the end it is the heroine's distress that reconciles you to her rather than her own winning ways.

On screen it's possible to be a bit infatuated in advance of that moment and Aubrey certainly manages the trick, both severely beautiful and a bit of a bore, the sort of girl a simple young squire would like to have across a broad table - in his eyeline but out of earshot. The rest of the cast - a display cabinet of British character acting - also conveys more of the subtleties of the novel than you might have hoped for, perhaps because they have been cast to type and played slightly against it.

Michael Hordern as the aged Featherstone, upon whose will so many expectations ride, delivers his standard harrumphing old gentleman but adds a nice twist of manipulative pleasure to the conventional muttering. Patrick Malahide, in yet another cold-fish role, melts the glaze a little to let you see the scholar flustered, and Robert Hardy, as another bluff and blustering knight, is fonder and warmer than you might expect from past roles. It's a simple pleasure to watch them at work, and as a result Davies's slightly busy insistence on starting so many balls rolling all at once hasn't stalled the narrative before it has begun.

Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week