BBC puts faith in classic culture: Maggie Brown previews the forthcoming television adaptation of 'Middlemarch'

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The Independent Online
NEXT WEDNESDAY, the the BBC launches Middlemarch, its long-awaited pounds 6m adaptation of George Eliot's novel about life in an 1830s provincial England about to be transformed by the Industrial Revolution.

The production is a testament to the BBC's determination to represent the best traditions of British culture - credentials that will be needed to persuade the Government to renew its charter in 1996.

As a result of BBC internal politics, the six-part series is being screened on BBC 2 on Wednesdays, with repeat episodes the following Monday on BBC 1.

This is because the drama, which has taken two years and two producers to come to the screen, was commissioned by Alan Yentob when controller of BBC 2: he has now switched to BBC 1.

The series is also being launched in the US, on the Public Broadcasting Service channel, later this month.

The screenplay was written by Andrew Davies, who was responsible for To Play the King, and Harnessing Peacocks. He is now working on a television adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, also for the BBC - providing further evidence that classic tales are back in fashion.

Mr Davies said yesterday that although Middlemarch - which was largely filmed in Stamford, Lincolnshire - is an extremely long novel, it had lent itself to a faithful adaptation.

'It's a bit of an act of homage,' Mr Davies said. Most of the dialogue and key scenes had come straight from the book: what had been cut had been the pages of philosophising between them.

One of the main challenges of Middlemarch, he said, was to make audiences believe in the initial love that the idealistic young heroine, Dorothea (Juliet Aubrey) feels for Dr Casaubon (Patrick Malahide), the elderly cleric she marries, before discovering his scholarship is a sham.

'If you leave out the descriptions and take him (Casaubon) seriously at his own valuation, he is trying to write a great book like The Golden Bough. It's not really his fault that he's not a genius,' Mr Davies said.

The producer of the series, Louis Marks - who was also responsible for the highly acclaimed adaptation of George Eliot's Silas Marner - said he had been trying to banish the term classic drama. It sounded as if the BBC was trying to schedule a school timetable, he said. 'It is not a deliberately literary script. Not a different genre. This is a psychologically modern production.'

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