BBC Miniseries The Way We Live Now

BBC Miniseries The Way We Live Now

2 Part BBC Adaptation of Trollope's Best Work

By Melissa Field


 The "Jewish problem" in English society is worked on a little bit
 One can usually yawn when the BBC takes over a good book. This is hilarious.
 Everyone wants in on the Jewish deals but will not recognise them in public.


One can usually yawn when the BBC takes over a good book, soap opera in bustles and cravats, good furnishings, mediocre costumes, the same old faces. Not this time. This hilarious 2001 adaptation is not as boring as the James dramas, by a long shot. Here are first rate performances by a really decent ensemble cast effort. Anthony Trollope's best work is accurately portrayed.

The story follows the 1870's Jewish "financier" Augustus Melmotte, played with great gusto by David Suchet. He cons and scams an ever larger pyramid of huge deals until he hits on the railway of Mexico, which has all London running to his door to get in on the ground floor. He schemes to marry his daughter Marie to a lord, and he buys a seat in Parliament, while succoring deals every which way.

His daughter attempts to run away with her infatuation, handsome but worthless Sir Felix Carbury, an impoverished aristo who may not care to quit his card game to make the elopement train. Played by the ever-versatile Shirley Henderson, the love-hungry girl is the daughter of a wealthy Jew one day, the disgraced orphan of a con man the next. London is portrayed as a society where everyone wants in on the Jewish deals but will not marry them or recognise them in public.

Carbury (excellently played by Mathhew McFadyen) has a sister, who has fallen in love with the Wrong Man. Her cousin, a dull dog, wants to give her the family pile and respectability, but she hankers for Montague(Cillian Murphy). He's been set up to "scout" the fake railroad. Meanwhile he can't get out from under his pursuing ex-fiancee, a volatile Southern witch played by Miranda Otto(Lord of the Rings). If he tries to marry his English rose she'll pull out the pistols.

Cillian Murphy and Miranda Otto both have their stardoms explained by these roles, as does Matthew Mcfadyen posing as a "waster"(Carbury). The "Jewish problem" is worked on a little bit, and we also see the promise of the great tycoon fortunes to be made in America. Don't miss the big dinner scene- everything is actually laid out on the table as the cynical Jew watches his aristocratic and exclusive guests gorge at his trough.

But Matthew McFadyen steals the show as Sir Felix, a cad so awful he ends up ruined and still looks as though he's getting what he wants. Melmotte makes his a puppet Director of the railroad company, whch leaves his mother joyous and his sister stupefied, since he has wasted all their inheritances. He spends his days drinking wine, losing money at cards, and being pursued by women in every county. And looks damn good doing it. I wondered how he got cast in Pride and Prejudice, this is why.

Of course the tent pole performance is David Suchet as a combustible con man so volatile all England is afire to get him, London is too scared to ignore him for fear he'll take all the money there is and own them outright. But Cheryl Campbell (Charots of Fire) as the impoverished Lady Carbury reminds the viewer that respectabilty was its own commodity. Cillian Murphy really delivers as the man of the age, someone who can grasp the best of the "The Way We Live Now".

The great comedy is that this is the time in British history when so many values were changing, like Edith Wharton's novels of New York and the changing standards of class and nobility and the new ideas that were changing them. New money doesn't look so bad when it's throwing a 25-pheasant banquet in Grosvenor Square.

This miniseries won a ton of Baftas, including Best television Series. The European contigent of filmmakers groups gave it a lot of other awards too. If you can't get through Trollope, this is the next best thing. There's some droll comedy, and some great camera work as our heroes get their just desserts and certain other characters get their comeuppance. The music, costumes, everything is a great ride.