Mill on the Floss (1997)

“Rich men do get their way–often as not.”

If you are a fan of British television costume dramas, then The Mill on The Floss should prove to be a satisfying find. Based on the novel by George Eliot, it’s the tale of Maggie Tulliver’s attempts to satisfy the demands of love and duty through the relationships with the men in her life. When the film begins, Maggie and her brother Tom are children living at the Mill House on the Floss River (hence the title). Their belligerent, stubborn father Edward Tulliver (Bernard Hill) makes a lifelong enemy of the lawyer Wakem (Nicolas Gecks) when he becomes entangled in a legal dispute with a neighbor over the issue of a new dam. Tulliver wins this initial lawsuit, but the ominous threat of losing the mill remains.

Part of the film concentrates on the Tulliver children’s childhood, and in typical Victorian fashion, there’s one set of rules for Tom, and another set of rules for his sister, Maggie. While Tom is sent off to receive a good education, Maggie stays home and awaits his return. Whenever Tom returns home, his reunions with Maggie are laced with questions of love–and although the children are certainly close, their relationship is not quite normal. As time passes, a bitter lawsuit begins between Tulliver and a wealthy landowner, and the legal entanglements sap Mr. Tulliver’s strength and his money.

As Maggie and Tom grow up, Maggie (Emily Watson) forms a relationship with Wakem’s deformed son–Philip (James Frain). While Philip adores Maggie, Maggie’s feelings towards Philip are tinged with pity, and both lawyer Wakem and Mr. Tulliver are opposed to a match. At the same time, Maggie is draw to her cousin’s suitor–the fickle Stephen Guest (James Weber-Brown). But Maggie seems unable to commit to any of her suitors, and instead she continues to seek love and approval from her brother. Tom, for his part, is similarly drawn to Maggie, but his feelings are also laced with the need to censure.

While this production is faithful to the novel’s plot, some of its complexities are squashed and lost in this 120-minute production, and this leaves a film that has soap-opera strains rather than Eliot’s moral complexities. Although that is unfortunate, nonetheless, this is a decent film production elevated by the performances of Emily Watson and Bernard Hill, the attention to detail, and the clever foreshadowing woven throughout the film. Directed by Graham Teakston.

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Filed under British television, Period Piece

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