The Way We Live Now had been filmed by the BBC in 1969, with Simon Raven as script writer, in 2001 Andrew Davies’ script brought it to a new audience.
In 1872 novelist Anthony Trollope returned to England from abroad and was appalled by the greed loose in the land. His scolding rebuke was his longest and arguably best novel, The Way We Live Now, now adapted by celebrated screenwriter Andrew Davies (Othello, Wives and Daughters, Bridget Jones’s Diary). The miniseries features a towering performance by David Suchet (Poirot) as shady financier Augustus Melmotte, who lures prominent citizens and politicians into a colossal get-rich-quick scheme.
Also starring are Matthew Macfadyen (Wuthering Heights) as cad-about-town Sir Felix Carbury; Paloma Baeza (Anna Karenina, Far From the Madding Crowd) as his beautiful and levelheaded sister, Hetta; and Cheryl Campbell (The Mill on the Floss) as their widowed mother, Lady Carbury, who makes ends meet by writing historical potboilers with titles like Criminal Queens: Powerful Women as the Playthings of Love.
Melmotte’s manic daughter, Marie (Shirley Henderson, Bridget Jones’s Diary) develops a pathological passion for Felix. Deeply in debt to an unscrupulous gambling partner, he is far less interested in matrimony than in money. The Carburys’ country-squire cousin Roger (Douglas Hodge, Middlemarch) is infatuated with Hetta and wants to marry her. Her other suitor, earnest engineer Paul Montague (Cillian Murphy) is Melmotte’s hapless partner.
And pistol-packing Southern belle Winifred Hurtle (Miranda Otto, What Lies Beneath), Paul’s jilted American fiancée, is said to have shot a man in Oregon and seems ready to repeat the act in London.
This being Trollope, the story is peppered with a galaxy of other cads, aristocrats, suitors, bigwigs, blowhards and ne’er-do-wells.
Screenwriter Andrew Davies was pleasantly surprised at the book’s topicality: “It’s so dark and so modern in its tone, and centered around a city scam that reminds one of the dot-com collapse or the recent Enron scandal. And in the middle is this huge monster, Melmotte, sitting like a fat spider, drawing all the other characters into his great scheme.”