"SILAS MARNER," Sunday, 7 p.m. (24); 9...

"SILAS MARNER," Sunday, 7 p.m. (24); 9 p.m. (28)(15)--This is another of those good period dramas that the British seem to turn out almost routinely. "Masterpiece Theatre" again is the American stage.

George Eliot's Victorian novel about a reclusive and miserly English weaver whose love of a child replaces his love of gold can make for some dry reading. The story transfers to TV in fine fashion, however.

Producer Louis Marks and director Giles Foster deliver a one-part, two-hour BBC adaptation that's infused with new energy.

Ben Kingsley, so brilliant in "Gandhi," makes a fine, grim, mysterious Silas, who in one splendid scene pours gold coins from one hand to the other, his eyes shining with excitement. His bachelor life is joyless and empty, though, until he takes in and raises a small child (Elizabeth Hoyle) whose mother dies on his doorstep. "It's a lone thing, and I'm a lone thing," Silas says. Unknown to him, the child is the unwanted daughter of Godfrey Cass, son of the local squire.

Kingsley has good support from Patrick Ryecart as Godfrey and Jenny Agutter as Godfrey's second wife, Nancy. And Foster is a master at using lighting and shadows to fittingly bring darkness and austerity to a production that more than does Eliot justice.

"Silas Marner" comes to TV, a better watch than read.

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