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Posts Tagged ‘Keeley Hawes’

I’ve now watched this Andrew Davies adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s last novel at least three times over the years (it might even be four), and my admiration grows each time. I think it must be one of his very greatest TV adaptations, up there with his takes on Middlemarch, Pride and Prejudice and Vanity Fair – and it is yet another one from the late 1990s, a period which saw an extraordinary flowering of classic adaptations. All the cast are superb, with my very favourite performances coming from Francesca Annis and Michael Gambon. For me, Wives and Daughters is Gaskell’s masterpiece, and this is a version which does it justice. Sadly she didn’t live to write the last few pages of her novel, but I rather like the ending this mini-series supplies – though I’ll discuss that at the end!

This mini-series looks beautiful, set in the countryside throughout (apart from brief glimpses of Cynthia in London and Roger in Africa), with endless shots of sweeping green landscapes and country houses. Director Nicholas Renton also made the fine 1998 version of Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, which has a similar feeling for country scenery. However, like his FFTMC, this isn’t just an idyllic picture of country life – it is made clear how characters are hemmed in and how difficult it is for anyone to escape the atmosphere of gossip and all the little rules governing village society. Wives and Daughters doesn’t deal with changing times as overtly as North and South, but the theme is still there, as is class conflict. The Squire in particular is clinging to the past while everything changes around him.

For anyone who hasn’t read the book or seen the mini-series, the story centres on a doctor’s daughter, Molly Gibson, who gains a new step-mother and step-sister, Hyacinth and Cynthia, when her father remarries – and on the tensions within this ill-assorted instant family. However, if you haven’t read/seen it, you’d be best not to read on until you have, as I’ll be discussing aspects of the whole plot – and also, as with North and South, you have a great double treat in store from the book and film.:)

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When this feature-length ITV drama starring Keeley Hawes and James Murray was first shown, I remember being disappointed. As a lifelong fan of Thomas Hardy, I’d just reread the novel and was struck by how different the TV version was from the original story, with many changes to the plot and characters.

However, I gave it another try when it was repeated this Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed it this time round. Maybe it was because the book wasn’t so fresh in my mind, or perhaps I was just in a better mood for it!

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The sleeve of the German DVD - in Britain this film was shown by ITV rather than the BBC

 The film was made to be shown at Christmas and, like the book, has a far sunnier mood than most of Hardy – with the focus on the happier side of rural life. I’ve read comments made by Hardy himself in later life  suggesting that he had treated his chorus of villagers too lightly and too much as comic relief in this book – but I think maybe he was being a little hard on himself here. His affection for and enjoyment of the place he came from come across vividly, along with his awareness of its limitations. The film reflects this, featuring humorous conversations involving the villagers but never mocking or dismissing them.  

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