I must confess to knowing nothing about the story when I started out. The two big attractions to me were the beautiful period eye candy and the long list of talented actors to be found here.
Paul Montague and Hetta Carbury - Shall We Dance?
The story was interesting in many ways, the characters are very well written and true to life. Because there are some many characters it is sometimes hard to follow the quick moving plot. The beauty of this story is that there isn't really a hero or heroine but rather many stories that we see playing out at once.
Actor David Suchet as Mr. Augustus Melmotte
The biggest reason I chose to watch this film first was because of my admiration for actor David Suchet who I enjoy so much as Hercule Poirot. I was not disappointed by his performance here, he is a wonderfully talented actor. Mr. Melmotte comes across as a Scrooge at first but you quickly realize he is an ambitious social climber who is living on borrowed money and the gossip of others.
Marie Melmotte and Sir Felix Carbury
Shirley Henderson plays his daughter Marie who every young man with family title and little wealth try to woe. But Marie has her heart set on Sir Felix Carbury the man with the "pretty face". Matthew Macfadyen really surprised me in the role of Sir Felix, I've been so used to him playing good guys (Mr. Darcy, Arthur Clenham in Little Dorrit) but Sir Felix is a downright scoundrel! Of all the characters he is the one that I had no sympathy with at all and in the end I felt he learned nothing at all.
Actress Paloma Baeza as Miss Hetta Carbury
The character I sympathized with the most was lovely and free spirited Hetta Carbury. Young, pure and sweet Hetta is loved by two men - her older cousin Roger and his best friend young Paul Montague. Hetta is plagued by such a corrupt brother as Sir Felix and her mother, a silly writer of sensational fiction, who borrows money from every quarter to cover he son's debts and her own whims. I only wish that Hetta could have brought herself to marry Roger, she would have been safe and secure and perhaps even happy.
Roger Carbury introduces his lovely cousin Hetta to his best friend Paul Montague.
Paul Montague is portrayed by actor Cillian Murphy who I had only seen in villainous roles previous to this. Mr. Montague has business interests with Mr. Melmotte which he comes to doubt will make and profit at all. A smart business man, Paul is crossed in love. He cannot make a move toward Hetta without wounding his best friend and matters are made worse when an American woman comes into town claiming that they are still engaged.
Lovely Miranda Otto as Mrs. Winifred Hurtle
I instantly disliked the American hussy Mrs. Hurtle, not only for her prior claim on Paul Montague (who I did like at first). But in the actress' face I saw a familiarity which did not become clear until I visited IMDb and discovered that Miranda Otto was Eowyn in The Lord Of The Rings. What a very different character than kind-hearted Eowyn.
Lady Carbury and her children
All in all I enjoyed the film for it's richness, excellent acting and interesting story. Compared to the other two films in the Anthony Trollope collection The Way We Live Now was my least favorite. I'm not sure I'd entirely recommend this film except to those who enjoy period film. There are at least five scenes of a sensual nature which are thankfully brief. But sin is not punished and not many lessons are learned. Certainly not a Charles Dickens or Elizabeth Gaskell, more akin to George Elliot.