DANIEL DERONDA (2002, Tom Hooper)
Mini-series based on George Eliot’s novel about a young man (Hugh Dancy) raised by a rich guardian who becomes increasingly torn between his privileged upper class upbringing and his need to find out more about his mysterious origins. This conflict is mirrored in his relationships with two women. Gwendoline (Romola Garai) a flighty minor aristocrat with a mercenary nature, and Jewish musician Mirah (Jodhi May) he saves from drowning. Kind of wish Hooper had stayed making costume dramas for the BBC because this is easily the best thing he’s done.
DRACULA (1968, Patrick Dromgoole)
Pared down version of Stoker’s novel made as part of ITV’s Mystery and Imagination anthology series. It begins halfway through the book with Dracula already present in England and making his presence felt amongst the local aristocracy. There’s nothing you won’t have seen in other adaptations but it’s worth seeing just for the late great Denholm Elliot as a Mandrake the Magician looking Dracula who clearly detests these Little Englanders and their contempt for his foreign background.
MANSFIELD PARK (1999, Patricia Rozema)
Inventive take on Jane Austen’s novel which manages to weave contemporaneous events and aspects of the author’s own life into the screenplay. I remember this coming out to generally poor reviews most of whom seemed to be from purists upset at the changes writer-director Patricia Rozman made to the original, but this turned out to be great. Up there with Persuasion (1995, Roger Michell) and the Emma mini-series from 2009 which coincidentally also features Jonny Lee Miller.
This 13-part Anglo-German co-production between HTV and Tele-Munchen is more faithful to Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale than the otherwise excellent 71′ Kidnapped (Delbert Mann) which removed the novel’s ambiguity about who committed the story’s murder. Though it’s filmed in Scotland half the cast including lead actor Ekkehardt Belle are German and dubbed with Scottish accents which was distracting at first. Belle plays David Balfour, a teenager disinherited by his miserly old uncle and sold to a ship’s captain on a vessel headed to the New World. Onboard he meets Alan Breck Stewart (David McCallum), a dashing Jacobite rebel who’s trying to get back to France after surviving the massacre at Culloden. If there’s a ship in a Stevenson novel it will surely sink and so the pair end up washed ashore and on the run in the Highlands from redcoats and from clans loyal to the British Crown. HTV had a great track record producing these kinds of adventure shows in the 70s’ and early 80s.’ Arthur of the Britons, Dick Turpin, Smuggler, and Robin of Sherwood all shared a similar mixture of action and humour with a more reflective and melancholy side.
WAR AND PEACE (2007, ROBERT DONHELM)
I’ve sat through all seven hours of the great Russian director Sergei Bondarchuk’s War and Peace so I think I’ve earned the right to enjoy a really trashy version. This Franco-Italian-German Euro-pudding approaches Tolstoy’s epic novel with all the gravitas of a prime-time US soap opera and is all the better for it. The cast is made up of all different nationalities to suit each market with Clemence Poesy as Natasha, Malcolm McDowell as Prince Bolkonsky Snr, and German actor Alexander Beyer (Deutschland 83/86) as Pierre. In terms of physicality Alessio Boni (Arrivederci Amore Ciao, The Best of Youth) is the perfect fit for the melancholy Andrej Bolkonsky, but unfortunately in the English version he’s been badly dubbed over.