‘The Making of a Lady’: An underrated Victorian Romance


Victorian era mysteries aren’t uncommon. Unfortunately with their popularity being “across the pond,” finding them is sometimes rare. This dark, gripping drama suffers some production flaws, but it has plenty to recommend it. 

The Making of a Lady (2012) Film Review

Widowed and with a fortune that needs to be secured, Lord James Walderhurst (Linus Roache) is back from another tour of duty in India, and it seems he’s in want of a wife. His wealthy aunt (Joanna Lumley) determines to see he finds a suitable lady to fulfill a duty. She has her eye on an American heiress. But he sets his eye on his aunt’s genteel companion, Emily (Lydia Wilson). When Emily is dismissed, she must worry over the loss of her lodgings. Though an orphan, Emily does have an education, but remains an unsuitable match for someone like James. Despite family traditions, he proposes a marriage of convenience and Emily, with hesitancy, accepts.  

‘The Making of a Lady’: An underrated Victorian Romance. A review of the 2012 period drama with Linus Roache. Review text © Rissi JC

In the weeks following their marriage, the two become friends, but then James is called to active duty. He’s then must leave his bride alone in a strange place where no one accepts their new mistress, until the arrival of new relatives distract Emily’s dull days. Things quickly spiral out of control when James’ reckless cousin Alec (James D’Arcy) becomes ill and his wife sends for her nurse, all of which sets into motion a game of survival as Emily fights to keep her home… and her life.

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Oh my stars! Here we are in the season of period dramas, and already the Brits impress by this ability to dazzle us. So far these productions are more than “just a pretty face.” Despite the success of things like Downton Abbey, this drama is one that goes unnoticed, slipping under the radar quite inconspicuously. Going into it, I expected something different from what it elects to be (reviews refer to it as “preposterous”). Written by Frances Hogdson Burnett, it’s not difficult to see the similarities to the delightful children’s classics, A Little Princess or The Secret Garden.

Darkly passionate, the movie interchanges awkwardly, transitioning in odd close-ups and shaky camera work. Some of the production quality is a bit underwhelming as if it works on a strict budget. That being said, I thought there is much to entertain and ultimately recommend The Making of a Lady.  Starting out slow, about fifteen minutes in, my thought is this won’t be a film that would win me over. The dark lighting sets a spooky mood, and Emily isn’t a girl who inspires much of a reaction. The first meeting we have with James reveals him to be a kind man who was far more concerned with doing what is right than making a match.

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‘The Making of a Lady’: An underrated Victorian Romance. A review of the 2012 period drama with Linus Roache. Review text © Rissi JC

In the opening frames, Emily may seem uninteresting, but she soon becomes a delightful heroine who “leads” the majority of the film; she inspires respect, interest and our concern as she becomes a pawn caught in the web of people who despise her. She quickly rises to be a sympathetic heroine who is always “likable” but isn’t someone we really “understand”; were her motives innocent or did she plant a seed of interest? By the time credits roll, she no longer has anything to prove. Led by newcomer Lydia Wilson, her performance impresses, as does the supporting cast.

What I admire most about the production is its script intellect. Ever so slowly, the crescendo builds towards an intricate mystery. Not intricate in the sense of multiple red herring, rather one in which mistrust isn’t immediate. We waver and wonder over the outcome of things and hope for the best including a change of heart. What is most beautiful in the movie and fortunately offsets the dark tendencies are the picturesque moments between the married Emily and James as well as the striking, classic costume design. Second only to perhaps Downton Abbey, I adore the stylish lines and beauty of each ensemble though none is more gorgeous than Emily’s wedding dress. The details, and duster-inspired jacket is elegance personified. 

What this lacks in the behind-the-scene magic, The Making of a Lady makes up for tenfold elsewhere. It’s sure to bring you to the edge of your seat, and best of all, the ending is charming. I see many future viewings of this Victorian piece of candy. It proves itself worth its mettle in the end.  

You can find The Making of a Lady digitally on Amazon Video or on DVD.

‘The Making of a Lady’: An underrated Victorian Romance. A review of the 2012 period drama with Linus Roache. #PeriodDrama #Romance #Movies Click To Tweet

‘The Making of a Lady’: An underrated Victorian Romance. A review of the 2012 period drama with Linus Roache. Review text © Rissi JC

CONTENT: we see two clothed love scenes, neither one graphic. One involves a woman lying back on the bed, as seen from the perspective of a third party; the other is far tamer between a husband and wife. Elsewhere there are passionate kisses and a brief shot of a man’s bare backside. A man presumably seduces a maid. Two people die [one after being shot]; a man chokes a woman, and there’s implications of abuse. There are some minor uses of profanity if any. The film would rate PG13.

Note: this review was published in the archives five or more years earlier. Since moving to WordPress, 90% of the reviews, lists and articles need re-formats and/or other updates. Updated edits and changes to fit current formats have been made; it has also been updated with new photos, and republished.

Originally published May 31 2013 | Photos: PBS

About Rissi JC

amateur graphic designer. confirmed bookaholic. bubbl’r enthusiast. critical thinker. miswesterner. social media coordinator. writer.


  1. Ooooo! I've not heard of this one before but it sounds pretty great. I shall definitely be on the lookout for a chance to watch it soon. Nice review as always! :)

    1. Yes, it was really good, Kara – if you like costume dramas or films with some mystery, you'd enjoy this one. It's kind of got some "creepy" moments although nothing ever gets too… weird.

      Thanks for dropping by and reading! :)

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed this film — I LOVED IT. At the first, I thought "this is so lame," but… it grew on me rapidly. I actually watched it three days in a row, I enjoyed it so much. And yes, that is a GORGEOUS wedding dress.

    1. I REALLY liked it, Charity. It was wonderful. Mom even did – she mentioned the next day how well she liked it so needless to say, I've a feeling we'll re-watch it at some point. :)

      I suspect each of those viewings will endear it more and more to me also. It's just… brilliant in an unassuming way.

      WANT. THAT. DRESS. ;)

    2. I love stories where the couple get married and THEN fall in love — although, I have to admit, I was really frustrated with the heroine from the start for being such an idiot. I had more compassion for her my second time through, when I tried to put myself in her shoes. (I knew the villain was up to no good right off — it took her forever to figure it out.)

      Me too. :P

    3. As do I, Charity – glad to discover a friend who likes couple's falling in love post marriage also! That scenario is one of my very favorite and I've read some books or seen movies that do it beautifully. This movie did also. It was quite nicely done given the timeframe – and the ending? It was awfully sweet.

      Yeah, something about Emily didn't inspire me in the beginning. Even in the end, she was kind of "blah" but she demanded our attention also (if this makes any sense) as she fought for survival. The movie wasn't mysterious in the sense that the viewer's were left in the dark as to what the villain's end game was, rather that it inspired white-knuckled reactions because of Emily – we become invested in her beating them. I guess her naivety was the cause for her ignorance. She thought the best of Alec. Though I've NO idea why! The dude was creepy.

  3. Read this post this morning, got bored after lunch and decided to get a hold of this movie and watch it this afternoon. So glad I did… I enjoyed it, but as you mentioned, there's some awkwardness to it… but whatevs. A good story is a good story =) Thanks for highlighting this one and bringing my attention to it!

    1. Yay! That makes me smile, Natalie. Delighted you saw and enjoyed The Making of a Lady. It was interesting and I liked it very much. I think it's one of those movies that will grow on me after each viewing.

      Like the way you think: whatevs is right! It was a good story so I am not going to let a little production awkwardness ruin it! It was just… a great story that equals an entertaining 90 minutes. :)

      Glad you liked it too – thanks for reading!

  4. I won't say I loved this production, it was a bit too mysterious and creepy for my taste. But the acting was good and I loved the beginning and end (aka: the parts other people found boring, the more gentle parts) I quite liked Linus Roache in Titanic, so I was glad to see him here in a period drama again and I loved the budding romance between him and Emily. The largest part of the movie however, I was peeking from between my fingers and shouting at the screen 'No, be careful!'

    1. Believe me I understand that "peeking through the fingers" sentence, birdienl! It was actually "creepier" than I expected but that was actually a strength; that suspense helped create a great platform which in turn made these "gentle parts" stand out and in turn that wonderful ending was more pleasant. And, I loved the ending also (not at all boring!) as well as the sweetness of Emily and James romance; it was quite special actually.

      Totally forgot Linus was in Titanic! How nice to be reminded. :)

  5. I’ve never heard of this movie, but I do feel like it’s something I might enjoy! I’m not into many romance films, but I do love a good period drama. The atmosphere definitely seems up my alley!

  6. Shouldn’t Ameerah and Hester have been arrested? Being sent back to India as punishment didn’t seem to fit their crimes.

    1. For sure should have been some punishment. I cannot remember how this one ends (need to re-watch it) but it was based on a book so maybe that goes more into detail about things. :)

      1. Downloaded the book from my public library and am about half through. I’m enjoying it. In the book, the American deb is from Cincinnati which is where I live, so I enjoyed that connection. Just getting into the scary part.

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