Wives And Daughters


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The quality of the BBC classic series could not be better illustrated than here. The popular held belief that the Merchant Ivory team is the only one that can do costume drama well will be questioned after this. Of course, five hours is a luxury when telling an intricate story, surrounding two or three families, village busybodies, a dashing cad and scenes from deepest Africa.

Time can be a drag, if squandered, and a bore, if indulged. Director Nicholas Renton leaves you wanting more. Andrew Davies's adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's last novel, published a year after her death in 1866 and critically acclaimed as "in the tradition and style of Jane Austen," is beautifully contained.

The performances are crucial to the success of the production. They exceed expectation.

Justine Waddell plays Molly Gibson, the doctor's daughter, whose happy, insulated life is changed dramatically when he decides to marry again. She is forced to adapt to the snobbish, manipulative ways of her step-mother (Francesca Annis), while becoming entranced by the unpredictable personality of her flirtatious daughter, Cynthia (Keeley Hawes).

Annis is superb at delicately disguising social pretensions. Hawes flouts her charm, while exposing symptoms of emotional instability. Bill Paterson, as the doctor, displays admirable restraint and Waddell has an essence of humility that enables her to portray goodness without appearing dull.

Michael Gambon is the local squire, whose two sons are at the heart of the drama, the brilliant student (Tom Hollander) who has a breakdown and the studious naturalist (Anthony Howell) who falls in love with Cynthia. This is acting of such passionate commitment, it leaves you breathless.

Wives And Daughters has been called the first soap opera. It is so much more than that. Every nuance and detail of Victorian rural society is here, from the ease at which gossip can destroy reputation to the restrictive practices that bend character to fit an illusion of social stability.

Reviewed on: 13 Sep 2001
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How the good daughter of a country doctor becomes involved in scandal and gossip.
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Director: Nicholas Renton

Writer: Andrew Davies, based on the novel by Elizabeth Gaskell

Starring: Michael Gambon, Francesca Annis, Bill Paterson, Justine Waddell, Keeley Hawes, Iain Glenn, Penelope Wilton, Tom Hollander, Anthony Howell

Year: 1999

Runtime: 301 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK


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