This is a miniseries worth checking out! I was initially hesitant at purchasing it since I hadn't heard much about it. I'm so glad I did! There are a whole host of great actors in this- particularly Michael Gambon, who plays such an emotionally heart-wrenching widow and father to two grown boys, his eldest of whom, Osborne, consistently disappoints Gambon and his wife, arguably leading to her illness and death.
Justine Waddell plays the lead female role of Molly, the neighbor to Gambon and his family, and she does so handidly. She plays Molly so intelligently and with poise, but also sticks up for what she believes in. Molly and her doctor father make a family of two for several years until she reaches the age of 17 and he decides to remarry the governess, Hyacinth, of a very wealthy lady. Hyacinth has a grown daughter of her own, Cynthia, who is about the same age as Molly. Eventually both Hyacinth and Cynthia come to live with Molly and her father. Initially, I found myself liking the governess/step-mother and found Molly's difficulties with her to be over-stated, but as time wore on (the production is 300 minutes long) I too became annoyed with the step-mother. She is, as many step-mothers go, pretty insufferable. She's spoiled, selfish, pretentious, and obsessed with her daughter marrying well. The step-sister, Cynthia, isn't so bad. I was expecting her character to be pitted against Molly's in a very Cinderella-esque plot line, but they actually become close friends. Perhaps too close as Molly quickly finds herself embroiled in a controversy with Cynthia and her many attachments with men. Her reputation is put at stake as the busy bodies in the town think Molly is having trysts with a much older man, a scoundrel of a gentleman who is actually interested in Cynthia, and has been for many years, to the point of being dangerously, scarily obsessed. All of this is going on simultaneous to Cynthia having accepted an engagement to Gambon's second son, Roger, a scientist who proposed to her before heading off to Africa on an expedition. Molly doesn't realize it fully before Roger proposes to Cynthia, but once he does Molly realizes how much in love with him she is. She has known him all her life but Roger hasn't taken much notice of her, except to acknowledge Molly as the sister he never had.
I thought I would find the scenes of Roger on expedition tiresome and something the viewer merely had to get through for the plot to progress in order for him to come back and realize that he actually loved Molly not Cynthia. In actuality, the scenes of him in Africa were actually pretty interesting and poetic as we listen to his letters to Cynthia and the discoveries he's made.
Perhaps the saddest part of the plot is the story surrounding Osborn, first born son of Gambon;s character and his wife. There were high expectations set for Osborne, which of course, he fails to meet. He fails out of school and doesn't seem to find something to succeed at, aside from spending his father's money. He secretly falls in love with a french servant and once their affair is discovered she loses her job and must return home to France. Osborne couldn't live without her and pursued her to France, marries her and gets her pregnant. Perhaps I'm a little jaded, but I really thought a wealthy man such as Osborne would have left her because his father really disapproves of anything or anyone French. Nevertheless, he sticks by her, sending her money and visiting her whenever he can. Sadly, their happiness was not meant to last as a tragedy occurs and Gambon must come to grips with the news that his oldest son was so afraid of him he was never able to tell him the truth about his life. I was immensely, ridiculously pleased and happy however, when Gambon accepts the woman and Osborne's son into his household and dotes on the toddler like a good grandfather ought to. That was perhaps the best part, and I think Gambon was my favorite character followed very closely by Molly.
I love that one could probably make a case that Molly Gibson is a feminist in a story originally written in 1865. She's so amazingly forthright and stands up for what she believes in. I love that her father raised her to be an educated young woman. Of course, he doesn't necessarily like it when she helps Cynthia out of her romantic fixes, but he does allow her a pretty decent amount of freedom for a single girl who technically ought to be married already.
I love when there's a character you can root for, one you feel passionately for, and you can feel that for Molly. This is a DVD adaptation that is worth every penny! I heartily encourage anyone who's on the hunt for their next BBC miniseries, like I was when I purchased it, that you should definitely pursue this one!