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.
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.
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.
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.
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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