played by Jodhi May
Mirah develops feelings for Daniel, the young man who foils her suicide attempt. The young Jewish woman's search for her family opens up a new world for Deronda.
The prospect of playing an unconventional Victorian heroine on the margins of society attracted Jodhi May to the complex character of Mirah. Rescued from the depths of despair, Mirah must come to terms with her own identity, which eventually leads Daniel into his own voyage of self-discovery. "What I find so compelling about the character," says May, "is the way in which she belongs in the periphery of conventional Victorian society and actually discovers her own sense of identity as an outsider within that context.
"Rediscovering a way of expressing herself by using her singing voice is an important part of the character," she explains. "Essentially, she's been crushed by her father, and her talent has been suppressed. With Daniel's encouragement, she quickly finds a platform for her talent when she is heard within his circle of friends."
May won a Best Actress award at Cannes when she was only 13 for A World Apart (which also starred Barbara Hershey, who plays The Contessa in Daniel Deronda). "Mirah challenges the other characters' moral perceptions. She is a fascinating catalyst in terms of how she affects all the other characters and challenges their way of seeing the world."
May admits that she is a fan of George Eliot and her novels, many of which she read while studying English literature at Oxford. Once she read the script, she was immediately drawn to Davies's "brilliant adaptation" of the novel. George Eliot's underlying message, she says, is relevant to a modern audience. "The society which she is writing about is something which is ruled by homogeneity, and she is very much exploring what it is to have an ethnic identity that does not fit into that society. I think all of those issues are totally relevant today, as much now as they were then."
A theater lover, May has an extensive background on the stage and has appeared in the Masterpiece Theatre productions Aristocrats and The Turn of the Screw.