We gave it a C+
I know what you’re thinking: What’s this culture coming to when Gaby Hoffmann merits a higher grade than George Eliot? Well, sorry. Draining the blood from what is arguably the greatest 19th-century novel, Masterpiece Theatre: Middlemarch makes the fundamental mistake of adapting George Eliot’s measured prose by filming it at a dawdling pace that ends up seeming even longer than its 6 1/2 hours. Where Eliot built enormous emotional tension into the story of the brilliant but unappreciated Dorothea Brooke (the beautifully long-faced Juliet Aubrey), director Anthony Page (The Missiles of October) constantly permits that tension to dissipate into long, fussy scenes. This very nearly defeats Aubrey’s best efforts; she is wonderful at suggesting all of Dorothea’s thwarted idealism (romantic, political, spiritual) by merely lowering her eyes and turning down the corners of her mouth.
Of the men in Dorothea’s life, the best performance is given by Patrick Malahide (Inspector Alleyn on PBS’ Mystery!). He makes an excellent Reverend Casaubon, the desiccated scholar she misguidedly marries, who, as Eliot wrote, ”dreams footnotes, and they run away with all his brains.” The flakiest performance is given by Rufus Sewell as Will Ladislaw; Sewell’s doe eyes moisten with desire every time he gazes at Dorothea. This is amusing, but in the time it takes to sit in front of this TV Middlemarch, you can get a good chunk of the real thing read. C+