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Reading… and Watching “Wives and Daughters”

By Sifradian @naidwijayanti

I’ve been addicted to BBC’s miniseries lately.

Oh, don’t blame me, please. I blame BBC for airing so many of my favorite series adapted from books that I also love to read.

But, all of you must have known this for long. I do need to explain, though, that I wasn’t at all infatuated by BBC’s miniseries until after I discovered that they had made one of my favorite novel–The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber, of course–into a miniseries. Not long after that, I was completely absorbed in a new reading, Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell, and while I hadn’t even finished reading the book yet, I found that BBC had made a miniseries of Wives and Daughters as well (in 1999, though)!

Reading… and watching “Wives and Daughters”

Wives and Daughters (1999) poster

Geez, either curse BBC or curse me for browsing for too many things in the net!

But yea, as soon as I found out about the movie, I tried to get my hands on them as soon as possible.

And I succeed. Even before I managed to finish reading the novel.

So tried to finish the book at the soonest, but the temptation was really too great. Finally I satisfied my curiosity by watching only the first part of the series, then promised myself to finish the novel before I finally watched the rest three episodes.

I don’t think I’m good at summarizing story nor giving a nice review of a book/movie, so if you want a better version, please do click here. This is so far the most satisfying review I’ve ever read regarding the story.

But I’ll try to summarize it the best I can.

So, Wives and Daughters revolve around the story of a young girl, who turned into a fine young lady called Molly Gibson. Her mother died when she was a little kid, and so she lived with her only father, the famous doctor in the country-town called Hollingford.

Reading… and watching “Wives and Daughters”

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

Her world became to turn upside-down when her father found out that one of his apprentice, the red-haired mr. Coxe, was falling all over Molly, who was only seventeen at that time. Mr. Gibson tried to prevent Molly from knowing Mr. Coxe affection toward her by sending Molly to stay in the house of one of his patience: Mrs. Hamley, the wife of the local squire in town.

Mrs. Hamley was a sick woman, and had been asking for Molly’s companion to Mr. Gibson for several times. After Molly was finally sent to stay with her, the two became fond of each other. In fact, Molly became the little darling in the house. Even the squire considered her as his own daughter that he never managed to have. Yet, no matter how much the Squire loved Molly, he tried to prevent any emotional attachment–love, to be precise–between Molly and any of his two sons, Osborne and Roger Hamley. He became stricter regarding Osborne, of course, since Osborne was the eldest son, the heir of the Hamley Hall, and the hope of the whole family since he was expected to get a scholarship at Cambridge. Roger, on the other hand, was the humble and loving younger son of the Squire. Although the Squire was not as strict as when he regard the relationship that might happen between his son and Molly, he still prefer another noblewoman for Roger, to Molly who came from the lower rank of the society.

Yet, as those two brothers finally met Molly, those two became very dear to Molly, as Molly became very dear to them as well, especially Roger to Molly and Molly to Roger.

Reading… and watching “Wives and Daughters”

Roger Hamley and Molly Gibson

Molly and Roger’s attachment started when Roger accidentally saw Molly crying after his father told her that he would remarry another woman. Roger comforted Molly and became like a big brother to her, trying to make her see the upside of his father’s second marriage, and to think of his father’s happiness instead of hers alone. Then he was being so kind and understanding by trying to distract Molly from the marriage thingy which had obviously distraught her mind for some time. Roger, although believed to be not as bright as Osborne, and perceived to be slow and steady instead, were very fond of nature, and bugs, and had been reading scientific books about those things. Hence, he tried to draw Molly’s attention to his things as well. And Molly, being such a darling, was very nice and agreeable, and she was curious about every thing that she could learn. So she didn’t mind being drawn into Roger’s stuffs as well.

As soon as Molly met her stepmother, Hyacinth Kirkpatrick, or also refer to as Clare, she found some incompatibility between her and this new stepmother. Yet, considering her father’s happiness, she tried to understand and accept her new mamma. She became very fond, though, of her new stepsister called Cynthia.

Unlike Molly, Cynthia was very pretty, compared to the plain Molly. Everything she did was so pleasing to anyone who saw it, and soon she made almost all men in Hollingford falling for her. She loved adoration and she loved being adored, so of course, intentionally or not, she made herself agreeable to everyone except her own mamma. Hence, everybody became very fond of her. Everybody, including both the Hamley brothers.

Reading… and watching “Wives and Daughters”

Cynthia Kirpatrick

Reading… and watching “Wives and Daughters”

Molly Gibson

However, Osborne, being secretly married to his beloved French wive, were not interested in any romantic relationship with Cynthia at all, and therefore, he stepped out of Roger’s way as the latter became very much infatuated by Cynthia.

Roger and Cynthia were finally engaged, making Molly heart-broken and disappointed as she then realized Cynthia never really loved Roger. Yet she stayed out the engagement since she wanted Roger to be happy.

Well, so far, it is clear that Molly was in love with Roger while Roger was bewitched so much by Cynthia’s beauty. Later, we’d found out that Cynthia finally married with another man, breaking off the engagement.

With Cynthia out of the way, Roger finally realized how Molly was more than just a sister to him. He finally tried to confess his love for Molly to Mr. Gibson, asking for permission to propose to Molly.

Unfortunately, we’d never knew whether Roger would finally propose to Molly as Elizabeth Gaskell died of a heart attack with Wives and Daughters still incompletely written. But it is, of course, quite predictable already. Roger would definitely marry Molly.

As the review also mentioned, the story doesn’t merely about Roger and Molly’s relationship. The story also involve the misery happened in Hamley Hall, which started when Osborne failed to get a scholarship, and not long after that, Mrs. Hamley died. Osborne and his father, the Squire, became more and more estranged to each other from that day on. The Squire blamed Osborne for his mother’s death and for his failure at getting a scholarship, hence destroying the family’s hope for he would be the heir of Hamley Hall. This also include the expenses that Osborne had made the Squire paid, for an unknown cause which Osborne never mention to any of his parents. The unknown cause was of course, his French wive, who he married secretly when he was at Metz, and would definitely made his father angry, for his wive came from a much lowered rank–she used to be a servant before she met Osborne. Osborne loved his wife dearly, and he wanted so much to tell his father about his secret marriage. But with his mother died, and his broken relationship with his father, Osborne never managed to speak about it.

The situation became worse as Osborne later became sick, and finally died of a heart attack. Then, and only then, was the truth revealed: that Osborne had married a Frenchwoman–a maid, to be exact, and had a 2 year-old son called Roger Stephen Osborne Hamley. The child finally became the heir of the Hamley Hall, of course.

Aside from the Hamleys, the story also revolve around Molly’s stepsister, Cynthia, who turned out to be secretly engaged, far before her mother married Mr. Gibson, yet she regretted this engagement and wished to break it off, if only the man engaged to her–Mr. Preston, wanted the exact same thing. Unfortunately for Cynthia, Mr. Preston loved her dearly, and determined to make Cynthia love him by marrying her. He loved her, in a way that he would make her marry him no matter what, even if Cynthia hated him. Molly later took care of it, and almost got her reputation ruined for it, were it not for Lady Harriet, a respectable and noblewoman in the country, as well as a good friend of Molly, who helped her out of the situation.

Compared to the book, the BBC miniseries was–overall–it was perfect.

I knew how hard it must be to make a movie which is adapted from a book, especially a masterpiece like this one, and I was prepared for any kind of disappointment similar to the ones I experienced every time I watch Harry Potter series (yea, I’m not a fan of Harry Potter movies, sorry). But I wasn’t really that disappointed. Again, to me, overall, it was OK.

Reading… and watching “Wives and Daughters”

14 year-old Molly Gibson

The only disappointment I have is that the cast playing Molly, Roger and Osborne seemed too old for me. Although all of the characters had indeed, grew older and older by the end of the book, but they started as young people. Molly was 14 at the beginning of the book/movie, but the 14 year-old-Molly was played by a different person (a sweet, charming little girl, I must say) so I 14 year-old Molly Gibsonwasn’t really protesting about that one. But when she was 17 year-old, I think Justine Waddell was too old to play the 17 year-old Molly Gibson. She would be perfect to play Molly by the end of the series, though, but for a 17 year-old, she still seemed too old for me. The same thing for Roger and Osborne. Now, I guess this is where my imagination is ruined.

What’s really odd is that, from the very first time both Hamley brothers were

Reading… and watching “Wives and Daughters”

Featuring... Prince Harry and the Duke of Cambridge as Roger and Osborne Hamley!

mentioned in the novel, I don’t know why, but I can’t seem to get the faces of the duo HRH of England in my mind. Oh yes. Brothers. One is so greatly admired by many people, good-looking and smart, while the younger one is simply plain-looking, and slow. When The Royal Wedding was trending all over the internet, I had a friend told me how Prince Harry is so not good looking compared to his brother William. And of course, you might have read it in the internet, that Prince Harry is more of a bad boy compared to his charming big brother. I remember admiring Prince William when he was 15 year-old. Very charming. Hahaha. But I never knew whether Prince Harry ever got that much attention from public–as a gorgeous, good looking, and charming prince, of course.

Now, don’t throw your tomatoes at me first. I’m not the one saying Prince Harry is uglier than William, or that he is dumber than Prince William (I don’t even know how smart the two gentlemen are!) and in fact, I actually think he’s good looking as well. Hahaha (Oh my, I’m blushing). I’ve even read once somewhere in the internet (of course, this was when I still couldn’t get his face out of my mind every time Roger Hamley is mentioned in the book), there was a girl calling Prince Harry as DDG (Drop Dead Gorgeous). Whoa.

Well, anyway, let’s get back to my imagination. I did, imagined Roger Hamley’s appearance which resembles Prince Harry (although perhaps we do need to dye that red hair). And Osborne? Yeaaaa, the Duke of Cambridge a.k.a. Prince William, of course.

Reading… and watching “Wives and Daughters”

THIS. This is it. This is the very face that popped in my mind every time I read Roger Hamley's name.

(I was actually very surprised to find out that Tom Hollander, who was playing Osborne Hamley, is the very same man who played the ridiculous Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice! Oh myyyy, hats off to Tom Hollander, for being so completely embarrassing and unbelievable as Mr. Collins, yet he was absolutely charming as Osborne Hamley.)

Reading… and watching “Wives and Daughters”

Tom Hollander as Mr. Collins

Reading… and watching “Wives and Daughters”

Tom Hollander as Osborne Hamley

But as I watched the miniseries, slowly, my imagination of Roger Hamley/Prince Harry soon faded. (Aaawwww, too bad!) But I still think that if there were any reproduction of this miniseries, I would vote for Prince Harry.

Another thing that the movie ruined from my imagination is Mr. Gibson. Mr. Gibson is a strict, but loving, father, as well as a respectable and sensible doctor of the town. I always imagine his kind face as someone like… Jude Law.

Yes. Jude Law. A.k.a. Dr. Watson.

Reading… and watching “Wives and Daughters”

Jude Law as Dr. Watson

Now, I know he’s supposed to be too young to play Mr. Gibson, but after seeing him as Dr. Watson, I can’t imagine any other Mr. Gibson than the one with Dr. Watson’s face. But of course, Bill Patterson played a very fine Dr. Gibson.

Reading… and watching “Wives and Daughters”

Bill Patterson as Mr. Gibson

Michael Gambon (remember the wise-old and loving headmaster of Hogwarts?) also finally won my heart as Squire Hamley. I did imagined the Squire as someone more strict, fierce and impudent. Somehow he didn’t really strike me as the sharp and mean, but old-style Squire. But when he cried over Osborne’s death body–oh my, he truly is amazing (as he always did, back when he was Albus Dumbledore).

Reading… and watching “Wives and Daughters”

Michael Gambon as Squire Hamley ...or Albus Dumbledore without beard?

Aside from those characters above, the rest of the characters didn’t really ruin my imagination. Keely Hawes even made a much better Cynthia than the one in my imagination. And–again–hats off to Francesca Annis for making me want to crush her neck so bad, for she played the role of an ego-maniac, self-absorbing and spoiled stepmother so well!

Reading… and watching “Wives and Daughters”

The story, though, I hate to admit this, but I have to agree with the review: The main characters are boring. BORING, BORING, BORING.

I mean, at first, I was in awe with both Roger and Molly, for being a very fine and loving hero and heroine of the story. Both are humble, agreeable, and… plain. This is a typical Cinderella story, (although of course, Molly in the book was in a far better situation that Cinderella) where the hero and the heroine were the only characters without flaw throughout the story. Unless you consider not being so outspoken and always so agreeable, as well as naive and kind as flaws. But yea, this is a typical Cinderella story where the main character’s world turns upside down with a stepmother and a stepsister (or stepsisters) came to exist.

For Jane Austen’s fond readers, this book might be the modern version of Austen’s books, because they have similar plots, where girls in their teens and twenties were being educated and later displayed in public balls and gatherings or meetings, only to win the heart of men who would later sustain their life in order not to end up being old maids.

The thing is, I did found Jane Austen’s works more interesting (I would love, though, to read more of Elizabeth Gaskell’s books), because the climax and anti-climax provided in her story-plots are more… challenging. The girls are mostly from a low class-rank, where they mostly penniless, and the guys are from a far more superior rank, and later, their union would be prevented by the world (their families, the public, as well as the pride of both heroes and heroines themselves), and one too many times, the girls in the story find their reputation very much ruined and sometimes, they might not even get their reputation back. Jane Austen made the character of Mr. Darcy being so impossible and annoying on the outside, while inside, he was a truly

Reading… and watching “Wives and Daughters”

Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett

gentleman. While Elizabeth Bennett, being so sensible and witty, thinking that she might ended up as an old maid, got her eyes opened that she was not so sensible as she thought for her pride and prejudice made her misjudged Mr Darcy. Or Colonel Brandon, who was once in love with Eliza, but then found out she had a child with somebody else–and although he was faithful to his love

Reading… and watching “Wives and Daughters”

Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon ...or more like Severus Snape turning blonde?

to Eliza, by taking care of her daughter, the child itself betrayed his trust by having her honor and reputation ruined by the bastard Willoughby. Jane Austen made me, as the reader, feel like I was placed in a roller-coaster of life of her characters, with conflicts that many times seem hopeless and stressful. Elizabeth Gaskell, in her Wives and Daughter, didn’t really struck me the same way Jane Austen did in Pride and Prejudice, or Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion, somehow. Molly got her reputation ruined–well, almost, actually–but she got so many guardian angels around her (Roger, Osborne, Lady Harriet, Miss Brownings, and her father) that they would stop at nothing to protect their precious angel. It’s not so fascinating as Molly herself wasn’t very much absorbed in her almost-ruined reputation. Well, Gaskell did wrote about this, but as I read it, I didn’t really feel it. It didn’t really worry me as much when Lydia eloped with Mr. Wickham and hence, (almost) ruined her family reputation forever. And then, before I finally attempted to try to feel it, and felt my empathy to Molly, Lady Harriet already came to the rescue–taking Molly for a walk around town, making the townspeople saw her walking with a noblewoman, meaning there’s nothing wrong with someone who could walk with someone like Lady Harriet.

But that’s just me. You might protest because you were so much move by Gaskell, and I would like it very much if you could share it with me. Maybe I’m a bad reader after all, who is lacking emotion.

Still, for you who haven’t read this book, I would definitely recommend this. Despite what I had said (wrote, actually), I do think this novel is so much worth-reading.


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