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Steve Martin, Silas Marner

I’ve checked out two excellent adaptations of George Eliot’s “Silas Marner,” one of them a modernization.

Ben Kingsley stars in the other one, a straight adaptation of the story made by the BBC in 1985. Normally it takes me a while to get used to an actor’s interpretation of a character from a novel, but Kingsley’s Silas Marner is for all intents and purposes the same one I’ve always pictured.

Beyond the physical appearance, it’s a great performance as you would expect from Kingsley, especially in the eyes.

A full review of the movie is here.

Steve Martin stars in a modern-day retelling of the story, made in 1994:

I was watching movies regularly in the early 90s but I can’t recall ever hearing about this one. It’s a quiet sort of movie, with nothing glamorous, and it’s not exactly what you might expect from Steve Martin. You do get some light comedy from him in this role but he mostly plays it straight. He is credited as the film’s sole writer, and it feels like a personal project from him.

I can’t give an “objective” review of the film as a stand-alone story, for someone who has never read the novel. For me it is a “Silas Marner” movie, and I sat down with it for that reason. All I can say is that I like it as an homage to Silas Marner, and that I got more from it than the breezily entertaining time that I had expected, particularly in what the movie does with the lost child’s mother. The movie does something small but significant with her that I think adds just the right touch to the novel without contradicting it.

Eppie’s mother, in the novel, seems entirely friendless, and her death is barely marked. But it leaves a profound mark in other ways, of course.

There was a pauper’s burial that week in Raveloe, and up Kench Yard at Batherley it was known that the dark-haired woman with the fair child, who had lately come to lodge there, was gone away again. That was all the express note taken that Molly had disappeared from the eyes of men. But the unwept death which, to the general lot, seemed as trivial as the summer-shed leaf, was charged with the force of destiny to certain human lives that we know of, shaping their joys and sorrows even to the end.

“Silas Marner,” ch. 16

I read this as an expression of Eliot’s fundamental sympathy for human beings, particularly because it’s a precursor to the final lines of Eliot’s masterpiece, “Middlemarch,” in which she openly affirms the outsize impact that is left by the anonymous and the “unfamous”. Reflecting on Dorothea Brooke, Eliot writes —

Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

Concluding passage of “Middlemarch”
Steve Martin and Alaina/Callie Mobley
Ben Kingsley and Elizabeth Hoyle
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