Adapted from a George Eliot novel, the BBC production of Daniel Deronda will quench any Anglophile’s thirst for drama and romance. The series opens with a head strong, vivacious beauty, a Victorian Scarlett O’Hara, winning and quickly losing big at a German gaming table. It seems her laughing off the loss doesn’t ring true. Maybe she isn’t as well off as she appears.
Soon we learn the captivating woman is Gwendolyn, whose family isn’t well off (in fact they lose everything by the end of episode 1). The title character, Daniel, sees Gwendolyn lose all her winnings and as a professional guardian angel, retrieves the lost necklace Gwendolyn had to hock. While few words pass between the two, we can see that they’re both smitten.
Daniel has no idea who his real parents are. Most his life a rather stodgy, yet kind man has taken him in and acted as a father. He plays the part so well that most people assume the man is Daniel’s father. In any event Daniel has had the upbringing of a gentleman without the solid footing of one. Like any good hero, he’s very handsome and very kind.
One day he rescues a young woman, Mira, who tries to drown herself. He takes her to some friends and oversees her care and her budding singing career. There’s some warmth between Daniel and Mira, but it simmers in the first three episodes. They would make a good couple, but she is Jewish and while Daniel is open minded for the era, he doesn’t seem ready to chance marrying Mira. Still he doesn’t like it when his best friend expresses a desire to marry Mira either.
While Daniel and Mira are getting acquainted and Daniel’s helping Mira find her long lost relations and learning more and more about Jewish culture in a corner of Victorian England, I’ve never seen, Gwendolyn’s family has hit hard times. It’s impossible for them to keep her in silk and satin. (She always got the best horses, clothes, etc. while her non-blonde-haired siblings got table scraps it seems.) Her uncle can get her a position as a governess.
A governess? Are you kidding? Gwendolyn has always wanted the finer things and she’ll do anything to get them, anything including a cold man with money, whom she knows has neglected a mistress and three children.
The story is absorbing. The relationships are all in a knot and no one’s where they should be. To make matters more complicated, you have to ask yourself whether you’d root for Gwendolyn and Daniel since she’s so self-absorbed. The most redeeming aspect of Gwendolyn’s character is that she doesn’t pretend to be generous or kind. She’s quite open about her faults, which she sees as assets, rather like Cynthia in Wives and Daughters. If a villain knows her faults, she’s on the path to heroism.
After seeing Hugh Bonneville in Downton Abbey it’s hard to imagine him as a cad, or worse, but in Daniel Deronda he’s a scoundrel. He enjoys subjugating Gwendolyn and that is why he married this stunningly beautiful, albeit selfish and frivolous young woman. My, a lot of women need rescuing here and there’s only one Daniel in the village.
Tomorrow I’ll finish episode 4.