(Historical family drama color)
Cannes Film Festival-Following her stunning screen acting debut in Breaking the Waves, Emily Watson renders another poignantly touching performance in The Mill on the Floss, as a bright woman, much ahead of her time, who becomes victim of family loyalty and society's rigid mores. Unfortunately, Watson's graceful presence is contained in a modest, often tedious and lackluster version of George Eliot's novel, one suitable for the small screen and other ancillary venues, but lacking the exciting treatment and lush visuals of recent literary adaptations.
A story of a dysfunctional family swept away by forces unleashed by its members' strong feelings and passions, The Mill on the Floss concerns the feud between Edward Tulliver (Bernard Hill), a proudly moral man whose ancestors have owned the mill on the river Floss for 300 years, and Lawyer Wakem (Nicholas Gecks), a shrewd businessman who takes the mill away from him.
Though very different, Edward's children, Maggie and Tom, are intimately bonded. The smart, painfully emotional Maggie adores her practical and stubborn brother to such an extent that for the rest of her life she goes on seeking his love and approval. When the story jumps ahead to find the siblings as mature individuals, Maggie (Watson) is seeing Philip Wakem (James Frain), the sensitive son of her father's greatest enemy. Motivated by jealousy and loyalty to their defeated father, Tom (Ifan Meredith) forbids Maggie to meet Philip and she yields to his authority.
A visit to her cousin, Lucy Deane (Lucy Whybrow), who's engaged to be married to the handsome and charming gentleman, Stephen Guest (James Weber-Brown) complicates family matters even further, when Stephen falls for Maggie and declares love at first sight. A boating expedition of the two scandalizes all concerned and Tom kicks Maggie out of the house. The ending, in which Maggie courageously rescues her brother during a storm, momentarily reunites the siblings before facing their tragic fate.
Stripping down the original literary source as much as possible, director Graham Theakston simplifies Eliot's novel, giving his film a sparse look and a somber tone that neglect the rich context–and landscapes–against which the tragic yarn unfolds. His approach makes the film emotionally harsher, too matter-of-fact and visually more monotonous than it needed to be in order to engulf the audience in the manner that the popular novel does.
Cast in a similar role to the one she played in Breaking the Waves, Watson's luminous acting illustrates vividly the tale's central dilemma: the choice between true love and family duty. Watson captures the tragedy of an unconventional, extremely bright woman, whose candid behavior disturbs the conventional norms and is harshly judged by her conservative surroundings. Frain excels as Philip, Maggie's kindred soul and loyal friend, despite family feud and other obstacles. Good work also comes from Meredith, as the hard-working, dutiful and determined brother who, unlike sister Maggie, evolves into a man society approves of. Rest of the cast is decent, if not distinguished. Tech credits are serviceable but no more. Credits
A Carnival Films production, in association with UGC D.A. International and Canal Plus. Produced by Brian Eastman. Executive producer, David M. Thompson. Directed by Graham Theakston. Screenplay, Hugh Stoddart, based on on George Eliot's novel of the same title. Camera (color), David Johnson; editor, Alan Jones; music, John Scott; production design, Adrian Smith; art direction, Henry Harris; costume design, Jill Taylor; sound (Dolby), Sandy Macrae; associate producer, Laura Julian; assistant director, Sam Harris; casting, Anne henderson. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 15, 1997. Running time: 90 min.
Maggie Tulliver……Emily Watson Tom Tulliver……..Ifan Meredith Philip Wakem……….James Frain Edward Tulliver……Bernard Hill Stephen Guest…James Weber-Brown Lucy Deane………..Lucy Whybrow Lawyer wakem…….Nicholas Gecks Bessy Tulliver….Cheryl Campbell