"We should all look pretty strange under a microscope," botanist Robert Hamley tells our heroine Molly Gibson and of course Mrs Gaskell places all her characters under intense scrutiny, with affection but without judgement. Davies' screenplay peals back the layers, giving full vent to the comedy, tragedy and satire that drive this tale of provincial life to its highly satisfactory conclusion. Justine Waddell imbues Molly with an increasingly exasperated but remarkably forbearing intelligence, while Francesca Annis, as the outrageously self-absorbed step-mother Hyacinth, paints a wonderful portrait of affectation without ever totally alienating our sympathy. Michael Gambon's immensely touching Squire Hamley won him a Best Actor BAFTA, but all the performances are uniformly excellent, contributing immeasurably to five hours of television drama of the highest calibre.
On the DVD: Presented in 16:9 format with a Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack, this two-disc presentation retains all the hallmarks of the original BBC viewing experience. The picture quality is lush--the production lighting is excellent--and the sound quality sharp. The only gripe is with the extras: the Omnibus documentary "Who the Dickens is Mrs Gaskell?" is brutally truncated, cutting off talking heads like novelists Fay Weldon and Margaret Drabble in their prime and giving limited insight into how the production was made. As an audio bonus, there is also 30 minutes of John Keane's music.--Piers Ford
Wives and Daughters is altogether darker, deeper, and more human than the frothy P&P. Here, we have racial and religious prejudice and its consequences, more than one death, and a far more cruel and direct portrayal of ruinous gossip than ever threatened the Bennet girls. Also, one of the most powerfully romantic moments I've ever seen dramatised: the offering of flowers to heroine Molly in the final episode, and the superb, heart-wrenching give-and-take dialogue that goes with it.
It's hard to fault the casting or acting. Justine Waddell is perfect and perfectly (if unconventionally) beautiful in the central role of Molly. The "mother" character has been compared to Austen's Mrs Bennet, but Francesca Annis as Molly's stepmother Hyacinth brought far more depth to her role. If you were irritated by Alison Steadman's shrieking Mrs Bennet, you might just end up actually wanting to strangle the colder, more devious Hyacinth :-)
To sum up, I can enjoy Pride and Prejudice over and over again without feeling sated, but it doesn't move me to tears the way this does.
Jusitne Waddel (Molly) and Bill Patterson (dr Gibson)play daughter and father very convincingly: you can feel their down-to-earth, but strong and heart-warming affection for each other. Nothing superficial or pretentious. Francesca Annis (Clare Gibson) and Keely Hawes (her daughter, Cynthia) are perfectly suited as mother and daughter: you can grasp the physical and characteristic similarities. One of the most annoying and at the same time most delightful scenes is when Mr Gibson gives a piece of her mind to Cynthia for putting Molly's good reputation at stake and both Cynthia and Mrs Gibson are crying, feeling they've been sadly abused & misunderstood while Molly - the only person having ground to feel injured - is standing there patiently, not saying a word. Their carelessness and selfishness is featured wonderfully in that scene.
Justine Waddel was a fresh and lively Molly. Keely Hawes was a wondeful Cynthia: you couldn't help liking and disliking her at the same time. Iain Glen's acting was also very good: he was good-looking, but repulsive at the same time. Francesca Annis and Michael Gambon were both superb.
Supporting actors were very well chosen: I especially liked the beautiful Rosamund Pike as aristocratic, independent Lady Harriet.
BBC has done its best again.