When I finished reading this book, I felt it is one of the most perfect things I have ever read, and also the most deeply depressing book I have ever read. The bleakness and struggle of this world is relentless. The more recent version of this story with Tara Fitzgerald is glossier than this version, and much shorter. It is because this is a miniseries; this length makes it more like the book. Like the strong, steady, slow plodding of the mill wheel, the river runs through this story and makes everything musty and dank. (4 stars because, like many of the 70s miniseries, it does drag a bit at times)
I think this version suffers from the casting of young Maggie Tulliver and the horrible wig that she wears. This child is more willfully dislikable than the girl of the story who is always caught in the wrong by trying to do what is right; and when she transitions to a young lady the change is unbelievable, because the basic character changes so much with the change of the actress. This leaden little girl becomes a sprightly, delicate young woman. (Ironically, Tara Fitzgerald's Maggie would be a very good match for this girl - her portrayal of Maggie was very bull-headed.) But this type of casting match - child to adult of the same role - is always difficult and can be forgiven. Taken individually, each actress does a wonderful job, and Pippa Guard is nice to end up with; her lightness gives the character a new dimension.
George Eliot presents us with characters who have great internal dissonance with their exterior (appropriate for a woman writing under a man's name). ANTON LESSOR, who plays the "hunchback" friend is creepily odd in the early scenes (because he is simply too old to be playing that age) - but that weirdness is just the right way to introduce this character. He has a wonderful extreme contrast about his person and his presentation that create a real discrepancy, and this is precisely what this character needs to have, and it is marvelous casting. We need to feel sorry for him, like who he is, but feel revolted by him as well, and between his performance and the Direction, this is achieved....no easy task! Christopher Blake, as the infuriatingly arrogant brother also hits all the right notes, and in this case the young actor playing the younger version of him matches him tone for tone.
The book has a very problematic section of an elopement (of sorts), problematic, because in the book we spend that time in Maggie's internal emotions and thoughts, and the turmoil of her inner conflict is impossible to flesh out in film. Thankfully, this version does a very good job of establishing her conflicting motivations, without becoming too talky or expository.
Dark and murky, this is an interesting story of complex lives in difficult times, beautifully directed by Ronald Wilson.