===Story=== Alan Bates gives a fierce, uncompromising performance in ''The Mayor of Casterbridge'', a skillful miniseries adapted from Thomas Hardy's classic novel. The arrogant Michael Henchard (Bates), in a foul drunken mood, sells his long-suffering wife Susan (Anne Stallybrass) and infant daughter Elizabeth-Jane to a sailor at a country fair. Henchard awakens the next morning stricken with remorse; he vows not to drink again for 21 years. Eighteen years later, Susan returns to find him, with Elizabeth-Jane (Janet Maw) in tow; Henchard receives her joyously, eager to lay the rash acts of his youth behind him, but just as eager to avoid the shame that his past might bring to his current life as mayor of the town of Casterbridge. Thus begins a complex and compelling tragedy of secrets, betrayals, and unexpected turns. In the hands of Dickens, this melodramatic story would have been a romp. Hardy has a sadder but also more intensely emotional bent; he takes his characters' feelings--both their loss and their desire--deeply seriously, and the result is as passionate as it is woeful. ''The Mayor of Casterbridge'' starts sluggishly, but becomes increasingly gripping over the course of seven episodes, as the excellent cast makes the characters vivid and sympathetic. Bates and Anna Massey, as a former love of Henchard's who seeks to renew their relationship, are particularly superb. Some critics view Henchard's fall from grace as the result of pride; but this production, written with nuance and care by Dennis Potter (''The Singing Detective'', ''Pennies from Heaven''), makes clear his emotional clumsiness and how it sabotages his fumbling after happiness. ''--Bret Fetzer''