THE GEORGE ELIOT COLLECTION -- BBC Warner / $49.98
She was a well-endowed blonde with little talent but starlet pretensions - and an unfortunate predilection for indulging in risky behaviors. While still in her 20s, she married an older, immensely wealthy man. His previous heirs accused the new wife of being a gold digger and a tart. There was scandal, and an untimely death.
Anna Nicole Smith?
Nope. Gwendolen Harleth, the heroine of George Eliot's strikingly modern, 1876 novel, Daniel Deronda. Indeed, Eliot had a genius for devising plots that wouldn't seem out of place in today's newspapers, from the psychology of miserliness (Silas Marner) to the tragic consequences of an unplanned pregnancy (Adam Bede).
The George Eliot Collection, which is being released Tuesday, is a box set of five lavishly produced DVDs of the 19th-century author's most insightful novels.
Perhaps it's not surprising that the female characters in the novels and TV adaptations are particularly multifaceted or that they render women's struggles with unusual sympathy, from Middlemarch's Dorothea Brooke, who desperately seeks intellectual fulfillment in a male-dominated society, to the heroine of The Mill on the Floss, the unconventional and passionate Maggie Tulliver.
George Eliot, of course, really was a woman - Mary Anne Evans. She adopted the pen name because she feared that her personal notoriety - she was living with a married man - would affect how the public reacted to her fiction.
As has become standard for BBC miniseries, the acting is uniformly top-notch. The beauteous Romola Garai endows Gwendolen with so much intelligence and spirit that these virtues do much to win our sympathy, despite the character's undeniable shallowness and self-indulgence.
And the great Ben Kingsley seemingly was born to play Silas, the miserly weaver who adopts an abandoned child. Kingsley is graceless and odd-looking, with a torso that seems too long for his limbs. But his brown eyes bespeak a gentleness and depth of feeling that are nothing short of transformative.
The special features are unusually entertaining. A biography of Eliot isn't the usual dry recitative of facts, but is cast as if it were a play, with costumed actors and period sets. What a concept!
THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND --20th Century Fox / $29.99
This movie features a bravura performance by Forest Whitaker for which he received a deserved Best Actor Oscar. Whitaker endows Idi Amin with colossal charm, immense ego and a psychopath's rage. It is easy to understand how the young Scottish doctor played by James McAvoy fell under the Ugandan dictator's spell, why it took him so long to realize that the man he served was a monster, and why it was so difficult to escape. This riveting film is loosely based on true stories from Amin's reign.
Special features include a documentary, Capturing Idi Amin, and a clip on the casting of the feature film.
Mary Carole McCauley