Daniel Deronda by George Eliot, adapted by Robert Forrest

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BBC Radio 7, 27-29 January 2009
This fascinating adaptation of Eliot's last novel transformed the text into a series of verbal duels in which one character tried to establish mastery over another. Daniel battled with Lord Grandcourt to maintain his identity; Grandcourt tried to dominate his wife; Mordecai tried to appropriate Deronda to the Jewish faith, and so on. It seemed initially as if Daniel Deronda had been transformed into a Noel Coward-esque melodrama whose characters battled for supremacy through sheer force of language. As Patrick Raynor's production unfolded, however, it emerged that the verbal battles functioned as the aural expression of far greater conflicts in late Victorian England - for example, the struggle between 'new' and 'old' money, the desire to sustain a respectable facade even while indulging in financial malpractice, and - mosrt danagingly of all - the desire to keep Britain Christian. This production showed how the Jews were confined to the margins of society; everyone sought their money, but had little other use for them. When Deronda actively consorted with the Jews, he was treated as a leper who had sacrificed his 'respectable' upbringing in search of new experiences. Racism permeated all levels of society.
Eventually Deronda discovered his true identity as the son of a Jewish mother, while Lady Grandcourt rebelled against her husband, and let him drown in a hotel off the Italian coast. Such revelations underlined the fragility of Victorian society: the respectable Christian gentleman turns out to be a Jew, while the noble wife becomes a murderess. However Raynor suggested that both characters needed to discover these new identities to aid their process of development. The two of them expressed their frustrations in a phrase delivered simultaneously; they were "paralysed, let [us] move." Raynor certainly permitted them to move; but decreed that the two of them, while possessing a shared destiny, could never spend their lives together. Although we heard both of them express their feelings directly to us in language which was remarkably similar in terms of vocabulary and structure (hyperbolic phrases and short, breathy sentences), we had to endure the pain of the ending, where Daniel expressed a wish to marry the Jewish girl Micah and pursue a life of struggle for the Jewish cause. Lady Grandcourt tried her best to understand him but her tone suggested otherwise; she had hoped for a traditional happy ending. But this was unlikely to happen in a production placing so much emphasis on the frustration of conventional ideas as to how people should behave in society. The melancholy ending was somehow right, allowing both Daniel and Lady Grandcourt to pursue independent lives and thereby carve out new identities for themselves.
This revelatory three-part adaptation, first broadcast in the mid-1990s, unfortunately did not give a full cast-list. Nonetheless I hope it is broadcast once again very soon.