This is basically Anthony Trollope’s attempt at Little Dorrit, only it’s worse. By this I mean it has to deal with a swindler in the City, wastrel sons, young men who are honest but overseas, and virtuous daughters who are completely out of place in their surroundings. (And that it has neither Dickens’s flair for writing sympathetic characters nor his sense of humor.) In its favor it has what I assume was the vaguely fashionable pro-Jewish streak, like Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (their publication dates differ by a year).

Full disclosure: I find myself completely incapable of reading Trollope. I have tried multiple books on multiple occasions and I just can’t do it. So I cannot comment on fidelity to the original.

Like all other novels in the 1870s, this has multiple stories going on. Most importantly, Mr. Melmotte (David Suchet) is a financier of somewhat shadowy background; he has a marriageable daughter, Marie (Shirley Henderson). She is chased by a penniless and useless young baronet, Sir Felix Carbury (Matthew MacFadyen), whose sister Hetta (Paloma Baeza) is a thoroughly nice girl and has no patience for him, but whose mother (Cheryl Campbell) is at least as unscrupulous as he. Rounding out this little tail-chasing circle are two more men: a middle-aged squire, Roger Carbury (Douglas Hodge), cousin to and in love with Hetta, and Paul Montague (Cillian Murphy), an ambitious engineer whose project is funded by Mr. Melmotte, who is protégé to Roger Carbury…and in love with Hetta, too.

There are political intrigues, sexual intrigues (concerning the oft-jilted Miranda Otto), press intrigues (which get the always-welcome Rob Brydon involved), and prejudice is punished in the form of a rather unlucky and ill-supported young lady. So that’s all to the good.

All in all, it’s capable. It’s more or less clear what is going on at any given time. It’s absurdly nice to see Cillian Murphy in a rôle in which he does not begin or become visibly insane. Fenella Woolgar appears as a clueless, disaffectedly cruel aristocrat, at which she excels. The costumes are good, the houses are gorgeous, and you very much want to kick Sir Felix in the seat of the pants the whole time. And you’re supposed to.

Director: David Yates
Rating: NA
Length: 300 min.
Score: 3/5.

Advertisements