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Selling the novel and the audience short.
on 23 November 2014
It's difficult to see why any production team should wish to reduce a long, well-written novel to just two hours' screen time. There is nothing hopeless about the casting and direction of this film: it is generally quite faithful to the novel and manages the necessary abridgements sensibly. But at the heart of the story are Maggie's relationships with her father, her brother, her larger family, with Philip and with Steven: all engagingly explored in the book. Here we are given only cartoon simplifications of the most powerful moments. It's as if the BBC assumes its audience is too dim for the real thing.
But what makes the novel such a powerful experience, is its author's reading of events, her commentary upon the tragic process. That voice is wholly missing from this adaptation whereas, in Scorsese's outstanding film of Wharton's Age of Innocence, for example, the novelist's voice is the framework through which every episode is narrated. The result is a genuine distillation of a great novel.
In this film we have neither Eliot's witty penetration nor a full enough presentation of Maggie's relationships to understand her tragic trajectory. Just one more hour's screen time and a more intelligent use of Eliot's words might have transformed this into a first class film.