Discovering obscure little period dramas is a kind of mission at my house. The popular remakes or adaptations of respected works of literature are “easy” to stumble upon. It’s the adaptations that keep to the shadows which deserve some attention. Author Frances Hodgson Burnett is a well-respected author from the 1800’s who most of us recognize for her children’s literature (though at one time, she’s also reported to have written for Harper’s Bazaar). Her novel Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886) is said to be her most popular, whereas I most know her from A Little Princess (1905) and The Secret Garden (1911). Before she wrote either one of those, she penned the adult novel The Making of a Marchioness (1901) or as it’s sometimes known, Emily Fox-Seton. I learned of this story thanks to a friend talking about the adaptation during its 2012 U.K. airing. Two years later, it finally made its way to the states on ITV/Masterpiece Theatre.
If you don’t know what the story is about, it centers on a young girl named Emily (played by Lydia Wilson) who is of good birth, but hasn’t a penny to her name. She’s currently employed by a wealthy woman whose widowed nephew, Lord Walderhurst (Linus Roache) is looking for a wife. Circumstances send Walderhurst calling on Emily and proposing a marriage of convenience. Emily reluctantly accepts, given her circumstances have changed, and she is taken to his estate where a marriage takes place. Once there, a greedy family member swoops in with sinister thoughts in his mind. Intriguing, right?
Because this is a little known period film (in my experience), here are five reasons you might want to look it up:
The Cast and Characters
There is a great mix of veteran actors and newcomers starring in this one, and everyone does a splendid job with their characters. Linus Roache, James D’Arcy and Joanne Lumley are the familiar names while Lydia Wilson embodies the unique character of Emily. For some, she’ll be a boring and stiff character (she doesn’t have a “spark” in her nor does she commonly assert herself), but I found her to be a woman of circumstances, which is why she isn’t a fiery kind of heroine. She opens up more after her marriage and is subdued again later because she’s unwittingly trapped in her own home. You may find yourself wanting to scream at the characters to do something but those that deserve a happy ending are too hard to dislike.
As one would expect of a period drama, the costuming is gorgeous in this. But if every other costume were to fall flat (they don’t), the wedding gown ensemble alone is worth seeing this film for! Emily’s dress is to die for. The cut, the style, the entire “look” is simply put, gorgeous.
Frances Hodgson Burnett
Yes, I realize I’ve already mentioned the author, but really she’s worth mentioning again because… this story! Though much different than her children’s literature, this film does have a similar vibe going for it. Especially when considering A Little Princess. Not because the stories mirror each other, rather it’s more the tone and atmosphere.
Who doesn’t love a bit of Gothic storytelling now and again? This story builds to being the quintessential Gothic-esque tale. The contrasts (happy beginnings vs. the crescendo of doom) are startling sometimes. Its atmosphere suits the Gothic genre and the eventual drama (including whispers of murder) play right into the “proper” idea of the scene such an aura should set. This theme might also be a downfall for some potential viewers as some of the elements do get a bit creepy before all is said and done. The dark creepiness is actually some of the best filmed sequences in the entire film. Before that, while things are pleasant, there’s a slow start getting a good plot worked up. The writer seemed to know just how to draw a viewer in (with sunshine and laughter) before twisting things upside down and reminding us no one is safe.
Ah, here we have a light in the all of the darkness. The romance in this film is darling. Sadly, it isn’t given as much screen time as it deserved given the newlyweds are separated for the majority of the film, but what there is, is full of joy. Seeing them both so much happier than we thought possible for two characters with such rocky beginnings, is a reward in and of itself.
Have you seen The Making of the Lady? What’s your favorite Frances Hodgson Burnett adaptation or Gothic period film? Share any thoughts down below.
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