BBC Radio 7, 31 January - 25 February 2011
Set in 1830 in the period leading up to the Reform Bill, Gaynor McFarlane's
production focused on the social and political ferment at the time, especially the conflict between 'old' and 'new' politics
and how it affected the entire provincial community of Middlemarch.
This sense of community was emphasized by the adaptation's sprawling structure involving
at least ten main characters, with no real focus on 'main' or 'supporting' roles. Comprised of twenty fifteen-minute
episodes, each comprised of one or two-person dialogues, the narrative created the illusion that we were overhearing
separate conversations in different parts of the town - eavesdropping on people's lives. Sometimes it was difficult to identify
specific characters, but perhaps this was not so important in terms of the adaptation as a whole.
The basic theme of the adaptation was the search for identity in a fast-changing
world. To an extent Middlemarch embraced those provincial values of Jane Austen's world of the late eighteenth century,
in which women were expected to attend parties and find suitable marriage partners. Dorothea Brooke (Caroline Martin) opted
out of that rat-race and found herself enmeshed in a loveless marriage with Casaubon (Robert Glenister), while unable
to show her feelings for Ladislaw (Richard Dillane). In this adaptation Dorothea came across as someone resigned to her
fate: even when Casaubon passed away, the dead hand of his influenced lived on in the codicil.
As the adaptation unfolded, it seemed more and more apparent that the characters
could not control their fates in a capitalist world dependent on money. Tertius Lydgate (Tom Goodman-Hill) found himself in
financial difficulties; he found a benefactor in Bulstrode, but discovered to his cost that Bulstrode's money had been dishonestly
acquired. Dorothea had plenty of money, but was constrained by the codicil. The only way that the characters could manage
their fates was to accept them; in a world where success and failure were very close bedfellows, they could only make tentative
decisions. Hence Dorothea chose to marry Will in the hope of achieving happiness, however temporary that might be.
Each sequence in this adaptation was linked with a melancholy theme played on the
piano, which not only bound the narrative together, but underlined the prevailing atmosphere of melancholy. Happiness might
be achieveable, but it was bound to be temporary.