`Middlemarch' Comes to PBS Sunday

THIS weekend the BBC launches George Eliot's masterpiece ``Middlemarch,'' as both a bid to bring great literature to television and as a banner event to solidify its broadcasting image.

Its 1993 ``Middlemarch,'' budgeted at $9.7 million and beginning its six-part American airing this Sunday on PBS's ``Masterpiece Theatre'' (check local listings), is an homage to Eliot's abiding moralism. It rings truer than ever today.

The miniseries was a hit in Britain, capturing the public imagination in a way not seen since Granada TV aired ``The Jewel In the Crown'' a decade ago. More than 7 million people - one-eighth of the populace - watched each of its six episodes, said producer Louis Marks. More than 105,000 paperback copies of the novel have sold since the show began airing, he said.

The Lincolnshire town of Stamford, where most of the series was shot over 23 weeks last year, has become a tourist draw.

As a high-profile event from a broadcaster putting its best face, and resources, forward, ``Middlemarch'' also is an assertive gesture from a BBC whose own future - to be or not to be more commercial - is uncertain.

* A review and look at the production of ``Middlemarch'' will appear next week.

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