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Brilliant period drama that deserves more attention
on 22 January 2004
It's almost impossible not to compare this with the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (which I also love). This is slightly harder work, I think -- it's not so immediately compelling, less of a confection and more of a meal. The nature of the storytelling is different, even if the scripts were in the same capable hands (Andrew Davies's) and the production values similar (though I suspect they had less money to throw at this).
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.