Well, I promised I would review a BBC adaptation last week so I’ll tell you about the TV miniseries based on George Eliot’s final novel Daniel Deronda. It is set in the 19th century and was her most controversial body of work because it shows sympathy to the Jewish population of Britain and talks at length about Jewish Zionism. The story centres on two subplots. One stars the beautiful, spirited but selfish Gwendolen Harleth (Romola Garai) and how she meets her comeuppance in the form of her cunning, cruel and manipulative husband Henleigh Grandcourt (Hugh Bonneville). The other is about how Daniel Deronda’s (Hugh Dancy) rescue of Mirah the Jewess (Jodhi May) ultimately shows him what he would like to do with his life after he helps her to find her family. The common thread between these two interconnecting stories is Daniel.
Initially we meet Gwendolen who is a spoilt, rich and beautiful girl but her need to avoid menial tasks when she’s suddenly thrust into poverty leads her to make bad decisions. She decides to accept Henleigh Grandcourt’s proposal of marriage during her time of wealth until she meets his abandoned mistress, Lydia Glasher (Greta Scacchi), who has three children and urges her not to marry the man. When she receives the bad news about her family’s declining wealth, she gambles and after losing pawns her necklace. This necklace is returned to her when she’s leaving by Daniel Deronda who asks her to avoid gambling again. Succumbing to her need for money and financial security and the charms of Henleigh’s wooing of her with presents, she decides to accept his offer of marriage despite not loving him and feeling conflicted inside. On her wedding day, she is cursed by her husband’s former mistress, which increases her panic. It is only after her marriage she finds what a cold and dastardly man her husband is and seeks solace in the form of Daniel’s company.
Daniel Deronda has no idea about his origins because an aristocratic gentleman, the wealthy Sir Hugo Mallinger (Edward Fox), raised him. Most people imagine Daniel to be Sir Hugo’s illegitimate son but we learn there’s more to it than that. Sir Hugo, who is like a surrogate father to Daniel, finds it taxing that the intelligent and compassionate Daniel does not want to go into politics and can’t decide what he wants to do. This all changes when he is boating down the Thames and rescues Mirah Lapidoth from drowning herself. He finds a residence for her at the home of a friend and finds himself moved by her tale of hardship. It is also discovered that Mirah is in possession of a lovely voice and is a singer. He then helps her to locate her visionary but very sick brother Mordecai (Daniel Evans) who tells Deronda his calling in life is to be an advocate for the Jewish people, although he is unaware that Mordecai is her brother from first meeting. Daniel is hesitant to commit to the cause, as it seems to have no relation to his own identity, despite wanting to help him. Meanwhile he gets Mirah in touch with a singing coach who finds her work. During this time, as he’s introduced to the Jewish community of London, Mirah and Daniel grow very close to the disappointment of his friend Hans who harbours love for Mirah.
During a trip to Italy, Grandcourt is knocked into the water from his boat and does not resurface. Gwendolen, who witnessed it, feels very guilty because she had been wishing he would die, although she made a sorry attempt to save him. Deronda, who was also in Italy to meet his mother (Barbara Hershey), whose identity was revealed by Sir Hugo, comforts Gwendolen and gives her advice. Having fallen in love with Daniel, she hopes to marry him, but he encourages her to help others in order to alleviate her suffering instead because after a discussion with his mother about his parentage, he realises his heart belongs to Mirah.
When she learns of this, Gwendolen is upset by the news but uses it as a turning point in her life. On Daniel Deronda’s wedding day as he is sailing for the East with Mirah, she sends him a letter telling him that for having known him she will be a better person.
I felt that this story was more about Gwendolen than Daniel despite the latter being the name of the title! Perhaps it was because Hugh Dancy’s performance while capable was a little lackluster while Romola Garai was outstanding in all except perhaps for her crying – that was oddly done. Nevertheless who really shines is the villain of this piece, Hugh Bonneville, since he really gets typecast into nice guy roles and this different side of him was quite a show. For fans of this genre, all I have to say is you’ll love the storyline on Gwendolen but you might have divisive opinions on the union of Daniel and Mirah given their lack of onscreen chemistry.
Note: review may contain spoilers!