Silas Marner (1985)

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Director: Giles Foster

Writer: George Eliot (novel), Peerbux Ahmad (screenplay)

Cast: Ben Kingsley, Jenny Agutter, Patrick Ryecart, Freddie Jones, Jim Broadbent, Nick Brimble, Bill Fellows

Synopsis: Silas Marner, a member of a strict religious community, is wrongly accused of theft and has no choice but to move to a faraway village. For 15 years he lives alone, hoarding the money he makes from his weaving and gaining a reputation as a recluse, a miser, and perhaps even a witch. Marner's life changes dramatically one Christmas season, when his gold is stolen and a mysterious woman dies in the woods outside his cottage.

She leaves behind a child that Marner, to the surprise of the other villagers, takes into his home to raise as his daughter. The arrival of the infant, whom he names Eppie after his mother, transforms Marner. His bitterness evaporates; he no longer cares about his lost money; and he commits himself completely to his adopted child, who grows up into a loving and beautiful daughter. But Marner's happiness may be threatened, because Eppie is really the daughter of the local squire, who was secretly married to the woman whose body Marner discovered. Remarried, but childless, the squire decides he wants to claim Eppie as his own.

Ben Kingsley gives a subtle and moving performance as the simple weaver, and a strong cast gives him ample support in this 1985 BBC adaptation of George Eliot's novel. Silas Marner is not particularly complex--it's certainly a more modest undertaking than Eliot's most famous novel, Middlemarch--but this sentimental Victorian tale, filled with historical detail, potential tragedy, heartless villains, and the redeeming power of childhood, makes for a very satisfying film.

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