Saturday, 21 May 2016


Wives and Daughters (1999) is a superb BBC costume drama available in France on DVD from Koba Films since the end of last year.
This four-part serial is adapted from Wives and Daughters, an Every-Day Story (1865), the final book of Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865), who wrote North and South and Cranford. Wives and Daughters comes from producer Sue Birtwistle and scriptwriter Andrew Davies (the House of Cards trilogy), the duo behind the popular 1995 BBC version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and an ITV adaptation of Austen's Emma the following year.

Elizabeth Gaskell died before finishing Wives and Daughters, so Andrew Davies had to write an ending. 17-year old Molly Gibson (Justine Waddell) lives a quiet life in the English countryside with her widower father, the kind Dr. Gibson (Bill Paterson). When he marries Hyacinth Kirpatrick, a former governess to the children of Lord and Lady Cumnor, Molly must accept the presence of her self-absorbed stepmother. Soon, Hyacinth's daughter Cynthia (Keeley Hawes) joins the household and Molly befriends her stepsister. Cynthia attracts the attention of Roger Hamley (Anthony Howell), the youngest son of Squire Hamley (Michael Gambon) and Mrs Hamley (Penelope Wilton), friends of the Gibson family.

Directed by Nicholas Renton, this classy co-production of the BBC and WGBH Boston is a pure wonder. The whole cast is absolutely perfect, starting with the great Francesca Annis. Before Molly Gibson, the excellent Justine Waddell played Estella in Great Expectations (1999) and Tess in Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1998). In 2000, Michael Gambon deservedly won a BAFTA TV Award and a RTS TV Award for his portrayal of the gruff but good-hearted Squire Hamley.
Tom Hollander, who's now one of the major British television actors, plays Osborne Hamley. Iain Glen brings his subtlety to the character of Mr Preston, a man who knows that Cynthia has a secret.

Ian Carmichael (Lord Cumnor), Rosamund Pike (Lady Harriet) and Richard Coyle are amongst the other cast members. Wives and Daughters was filmed at Elstree Studios and at some historic properties like Levens Hall, in Cumbria, or Wentworth Woodhouse (in South Yorkshire). The DVD two-disc set from Koba Films contains the original dialogue track (subtitled or not). It includes a documentary called Who the Dickens is Mrs Gaskell?, about Elizabeth Gaskell and the filming of Wives and Daughters. BBC One aired the four 75-minute episodes between November and December 1999. BBC America and PBS aired them later in the United States.

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