October 13, 1997 12:00 PM

PBS (Sun., Oct. 12, 9 p.m. ET)


This adaptation of George Eliot’s 1860 novel could have been a sterling example of the multipart period dramas that Mobil Masterpiece Theatre is best known for. Instead, writer Hugh Stoddart and director Graham Theakston have distilled The Mill on the Floss into a two-hour film that more than makes up in emotional power what it may lack in detail.

Emily Watson, an Academy Award nominee for last year’s Breaking the Waves, brings vibrant life to the role of Maggie Tulliver, a heroine torn between freedom and obligation, between heart and conscience. Maggie’s first love, the hunchbacked artist Philip Wakem (James Frain), is off-limits because of a feud between their fathers (Bernard Hill and Nicholas Gecks) over ownership of the old mill on the River Floss. Her second love, Stephen Guest (James Weber-Brown)—handsome, impulsive and a bit superficial—must be resisted because he is betrothed to her sweet cousin Lucy (Lucy Whybrow). Ultimately, Maggie can’t break free from the ties that bind her to the past and to her brother Tom (Ifan Meredith), the heir to her father’s obduracy. The tragic yet strangely peaceful final scene is like a dream from which there is no waking.

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