Sunday, July 10, 2011

Film Review- Wives and Daughters

There is an entire series of Austen novels/films set in the Regency, and plenty in the mid-late Victorian era, but one period of time that gets less attention is the 1830s. Maybe this is because the balloon sleeves and elaborate hairstyles lend themselves more to parody than romance, but in the series Wives and Daughters the BBC manages to balance style and accuracy within character and image in a way that is very appropriate.

The series is based on a novel which was published in England as a serial between 1864 and 1866. In it a young girl by the name of Molly visits the home of the local nobility with some family friends and is accidentally left behind. The family takes pity on her and sends her to rest in the room of the former governess, Miss Clare. The governess forgets about Molly, but her father, a country doctor, arrives to get her.

Fast forward seven years and Molly is a young woman entirely devoted to her father. Her father, Dr. Gibson, is encouraged by local gossips to believe that Molly needs a mother, and so he hastily remarries- the governess, who reveals that her given name is Hyacinth and that she has a daughter of her own named Cynthia, about Molly's age.

Molly struggles to accept her new stepmother, but Hyacinth turns out to be a very different person on closer acquaintance than she pretends to be. When Cynthia arrives she comes burdened with excessive charisma and a few secrets; and although she and Molly become close friends, her habit of picking up men without even trying threatens Molly's budding romance with the son of the local Squire.

The book was never finished during the author's lifetime, but the miniseries does a great job of tying up all of the loose ends satisfactorily, and, like many a nineteenth-century story, a tad predictably. If you're a frequent viewer of period films (which I assume if you're reading this, you are), you'll recognize some familiar faces like Tom Hollander, Michael Gambon, Penelope Wilton, Barbara_Flynn, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, and Elizabeth Spriggs. My favorite performance was that given by Rosamund Pike as Lady Harriet Cumnor, for her wit, directness, and depth, despite being in relatively few scenes.

Have you seen this series? Enjoyed it? Hated it? Share your thoughts in a comment.


  1. I saw this a few years back and was very pleasantly surprised! I didn't realize it was published later in the period as a serial, but now that you mention it, it does have that feeling about it. I've been meaning to go back and re-watch it.

  2. It's so long and twisting that it's hard to imagine it as a movie rather than a miniseries, isn't it? I don't know how they'd manage to shorten it and keep the content of the story.