George Eliot's last, most ambitious novel, which charts a love story set in Victorian high society, takes a surprising turn into the hidden world of English Jews. Hugh Dancy (Madame Bovary) stars as Daniel Deronda, and Romola Garai (Nicholas Nickleby) is his soul mate Gwendolen Harleth. Though entranced with Daniel, Gwendolen is forced into an oppressive marriage to Henleigh Grandcourt (Hugh Bonneville; Notting Hill, Iris), while Daniel finds a new life through his friendship with singer Mirah Lapidoth (Jodhi May; The Turn of the Screw, Aristocrats). The screenplay is by period drama master Andrew Davies (Middlemarch, Moll Flanders, Wives and Daughters, The Way We Live Now).
Leubronn Casino, Switzerland, 1865.
Daniel Deronda meets the eyes of beautiful Gwendolen Harleth for the first time. As she gambles recklessly at the roulette table, he is struck by the vulnerability and despair that lurk behind her brilliant façade. Her family have recently fallen on hard times and pinned their hopes upon the proud but charming Gwendolen attracting a rich husband. A short while ago, Gwendolen had reluctantly succumbed to the advances of rich bachelor, Henleigh Grandcourt, only to discover that he had a mistress, Lydia Glasher, and three children.
Having fled to Leubronn, Gwendolen now learns that her family's fortunes have worsened. Pawning a necklace to fund her journey home, she is both indignant and strangely touched when Daniel redeems it for her. He himself has also recently been troubled. Illegitimate and haunted by doubts about his own identity, he is frustrated that his uncle and lifetime guardian, Sir Hugo Mallinger, will tell him nothing about his real parents.
Having given up his place at university, Daniel is wondering who he is and what to do with his life. Returning from Leubronn, he goes boating on the Thames and sees a woman attempting to drown herself. Saving her, he discovers it is a Jewish singer named Mirah Lapidoth. He takes her to the home of his friends, the Meyricks. As Daniel's friendship with Mirah grows, he discovers that she has a beautiful singing voice and helps secure her work performing for London's high society.
In the meantime, Gwendolen's family has become so impoverished that, to her horror, she must now face becoming a governess. Surprised when Grandcourt proposes to her again, she takes the biggest gamble of her life and agrees. A chance meeting with Daniel, who turns out to be Grandcourt's cousin, increases her doubts about the marriage, but by now there is no going back.
On their wedding day, Grandcourt and Gwendolen arrive at Reylands, a handsome, impressive house in the country. Gwendolen suddenly feels nervous and vulnerable on Grandcourt's territory, but her anxiety is quickly dispelled by the pleasure she feels at the sight of her luxurious surroundings. However, her happiness is soon destroyed when she opens a package from Grandcourt's embittered mistress, Lydia Glasher.
Instructed by Grandcourt, Lydia has returned a diamond necklace, along with a stinging letter, which Gwendolen reads with increasing horror: "These diamonds, which were given with ardent love to me, I now pass on to you. You have broken your word to me and chosen to injure me and my children ... The man you have married has a withered heart."
Gwendolen now realizes she is trapped in a marriage that is doomed before it has begun. Unsympathetic to her needs, Grandcourt takes her by the wrist and leads her into the bedroom. He wasn't intending to consummate the marriage before dinner but, all of a sudden, the idea has an irresistible appeal...
Meanwhile, Daniel goes in search of Mirah's family and finds himself drawn into the new world of London's Jewish community. There, he meets and befriends a strange and mesmerizing Jewish mystic named Mordecai. When Daniel shows an interest in Jewish history, Mordecai becomes convinced that Daniel is also Jewish and has been chosen to be a leader of their people.
Gwendolen, whose marriage has become increasingly unbearable, attends Mirah's first public recital. She cannot hide her jealousy. Grandcourt notices and cruelly berates her for her lack of dignity, but the more he tries to crush her spirit, the more she turns towards Daniel. Though Daniel is moved by her anguish, he is increasingly aware that their intense friendship is attracting comment.
Grandcourt orders Lush to instruct Gwendolen about the content of his will. He means to punish her, but her reaction is not what he expected.
Meanwhile, Daniel discovers that Mordecai is Mirah's long-lost brother, Ezra. Having reunited them, he is summoned urgently to see his adoptive father, Sir Hugo, who has some devastating news.
Daniel's mother is dying and wants to see him; she is in Italy. Daniel keeps his promise to visit Gwendolen before he goes, but her husband returns home to find them alone in the house together. Furious, Grandcourt takes her away to the Mediterranean for a sailing trip. Daniel travels to Genoa to discover the truth about his identity.
There, he meets The Contessa, a celebrated opera diva who holds the key to his past. While in Genoa, he also learns that Gwendolen has been involved in a terrible sailing accident in which Grandcourt has drowned. Though their marriage was unhappy, she is tormented by the thought that she could have saved him. The trip to Genoa leaves its mark on Daniel forever, but it is not until he has returned home to London that the idealistic, young hero's journey of self-fulfillment reaches a powerful and dramatic conclusion.
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