Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote stories familiar and beloved to many, including Little Lord Fauntleroy, A Little Princess and The Secret Garden. All of these have been adapted for the screen. Not nearly as many are familiar with Burnett’s novel The Making of a Marchioness and its’ sequel The Methods of Lady Walderhurst. The former was adapted as a television film by ITV under the name The Making of a Lady.
The Making of a Lady stars Lydia Wilson as the impoverished but genteel Emily Fox-Seton. Orphaned at a young age, she has been forced to make her own way in the world. Gifted an education by her relatives, her options remain few. She has a difficult time maintaining steady employment to pay her rooming fare at a run-down but respectable boarding house. After being let go from her temporary job as a secretary to Lady Maria Byrne, she receives an unexpected offer from the Lady’s nephew, Lord Walderhurst.
In need of an heir, the older Marquess proposes a marriage of convenience. With very few options and despite wanting to marry for love, Emily accepts his proposal. Walderhurst soon introduces her as the mistress of his country home, where she is met by a less than hospitable staff.
Just as Emily and Walderhurst begin to grow closer, he decides to re-enlist in his old regiment and return to India. He instructs his dour but trusted butler, Mr. Litton to look out for his new wife.
Shortly after his departure, Walderhurst’s cousin Alec Osborne and his Indian born wife Hester arrive with a letter from the Marquess requesting they also keep an eye on Emily. Despite prior inferences from both her husband and Lady Byrne about Alec’s character, Emily is thrilled to have some pleasant, young relatives around to keep her company and moves them into the house. But strange things begin occurring and Alec’s behavior becomes erratic. Is he a threat or is Emily imagining things?
THE MAKING OF A LADY REVIEW
The Making of a Lady left me with mixed feelings. My overall opinion is that the film tried to tackle too many things in its’ short 90 minutes run time. For the first thirty minutes, I was under the impression I was watching a period romance. Then the film switches gears to become a gothic mystery. Also, this is a slower paced film. The little action that occurs, happens quickly and is confined to the last thirty minutes of the film. The story would have been better served by spending more time building up the tension before coming to the climax at the end.
Another complaint I have is that I felt the character development could have been a bit stronger, especially since the main characters were very much a product of their time in history. Both Emily and Lord Walderhurst are polite, reticent characters, who show only brief glimpses of their emotions and speak of them even less. This is true to the training of the gentry and aristocrats of that day. Perhaps, more screen time would have allowed for their characters to become better known by themselves and by the audience.
Although the film does lack the depth and development it needs, I still enjoyed The Making of a Lady. Emily’s growth from a submissive, orphaned woman to the wife who embraces her husband’s relatives and manages his household is subtly inspiring. Not to mention, when she thinks she is in danger, she takes decisive action and fights for her safety instead of making excuses.
The country setting, cinematography, and Emily’s costumes are all gorgeous and without flaw. In fact, I was downright drooling over her burgundy dinner dress.
I also think the main actors were perfectly cast. Lydia Wilson is great as the quiet, practical Emily Fox-Seton who grows into her title. And I can’t think of a better fit for Lord James Walderhurst than veteran actor Linus Roache. British television regular Joanna Lumley shines in her small role as Walderhurst’ snobby aunt, Lady Byrne.
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Overall, I think The Making of a Lady might have been better served were it aired as a mini-series. This would allow time to develop both the characters, their relationships to each other and the combination of the romance and mystery genres. But for what it is, The Making of a Lady is very well-done.
Content Note: I would rate this film as PG-13. There is a brief scene implying assault on a maid as well as a sensual scene between man and wife. The movie also has racism in it – so be aware. Otherwise, there is nothing overly objectionable onscreen.
Where to Watch: This film is currently only available on DVD.
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