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The Making of a Lady (2012)

The Making of a Lady

Victorian era mysteries aren’t uncommon. Unfortunately with their popularity being “across the pond,” they are a rarity to get a hold of. This dark, gripping drama isn’t in its element during the behind-the-scenes production but it has multiple other advantages to recommend itself. 

Widowed and with a fortune that needs to be secured, Lord James Walderhurst (Linus Roache) is just back from another tour of duty in India with a distinguishing military record to his credit, he is in want of a wife. His wealthy aunt (Joanna Lumley) is determined to see he finds a suitable lady to fill the position – to fulfill a duty. She has her eye on an American heiress whereas James is uninterested and finds her dull. He has set his eye on his aunt’s meek and genteel companion, Emily (Lydia Wilson) who is unceremoniously dismissed by his aunt and consequently is just shy of losing the roof over her head. Losing both parents’ at a young age, Emily was educated leaving her just barely acceptable to be among proper company but an unsuitable match for someone like James – a distinguished service man. Despite family traditions, James proposes a marriage of convenience and Emily, with reluctance accepts.  

In the weeks following their marriage, the two form a bond and get on well but just mere weeks after their marriage, James is called to active duty again, leaving his bride in a country home of servants unwilling to accept their new mistress and soon, the arrival of relatives who would inherit should the marriage be childless. Things quickly spiral out of control when James' reckless cousin Alec (James D’Arcy) becomes ill and his foreign wife sends for her nurse leading Emily to attempt survival in a home full of strangers she does not know – and cannot trust.

Oh my stars! Here we are in May (the season of period dramas) and already I am blown away by the Brits ability to dazzle us – these productions are more than “just a pretty face.” Despite the success and “crossovers” like Downton Abbey, and my own fandom of British drama in general, this drama was one that went unnoticed, slipping under the radar quite inconspicuously. Going into it, I was expecting something terribly different from what it elected 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 and “feels” as if it were fashioned on a strict budget without the benefits of a lengthy shoot. That being said, I thought there was much to entertain and ultimately recommend The Making of a Lady 

Starting out slowly, about fifteen minutes in, my thought was this wasn’t a film that would win me over – my practical sensibilities expected bad things would come from what was about to ensue. Setting a spooky mood, the lighting was dark and Emily wasn’t a girl who inspired 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 was right than finding a woman whom he could love. His past was riddled with sorrow and he is not anxious to repeat that pattern, he is attracted to the pragmatic attitude Emily presents and wants to “save” her in a sense, never expecting their marriage to yield any other result.

If Emily is less-than-interesting in the opening frames, she soon becomes a delightful heroine who has to “lead” 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 existence. She quickly rises to be a sympathetic heroine who was always “likable” but wasn’t someone we knew enough about for the viewer to really “understand” her – where her motives innocent or had she planted a seed of interest? It’s quickly disputed she did no such thing, leaving us second guessing those around her instead of her. By the time credits roll, she no longer has anything to prove. Led by newcomer Lydia Wilson, I was impressed by her performance and those in the supporting cast. They all did admirably well in their respective roles – some were creepy in ways that bring on shudders, others we were disgusted with for their knowledge of the truth as they stood by, doing nothing to prevent it.
The Making of a Lady

What I admired most about the production was its brilliance in scripting. Ever so slowly, the crescendo builds into an intricate mystery. Not intricate in the sense that leads us into a guessing game of what’s going on, rather one in which our mistrust doesn’t happen all at once, we waver and wonder over the outcome of things and hope for the best including a change of heart for some of the people involved. What is most beautiful in the movie and fortunately offsets the dark tendencies are the picturesque moments between the married Emily and James (tell me you won’t smile at the scene in the lake or Emily’s innocence and growing affection for her husband and his gentleness with her) as well as the striking, classic costume design. Second only to perhaps my fangirling over Downton Abbey, I adored the stylish lines and beauty of each ensemble though none was more gorgeous than Emily’s wedding dress. It’s one of those dresses that makes you go, “I want it!” The detailing and duster-fashioned jacket is elegance personified. 

What this lacks in the behind-the-scene magic, The Making of a Lady makes up for tenfold by how the story is crafted. It leaves us on the edge of our seat in moments of sheer panic and all the more dazzling is how it builds to that revolving subject. What’s more, the ending is charm itself. I see many future viewings of this Victorian piece of candy – for both myself and my mother, it proved itself worth its mettle in the end.

(Parental concerns: there are two clothed love scenes, neither one horribly graphic. One involves a woman lying back on the bed, spreading her legs as seen from the back side and perspective of a third party watching through a peephole; the other is far tamer with a man rolling over on top of his wife and kissing her. 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 woman is threatened when a man chokes her, a pattern of abuse is implied. There are some minor uses of profanity if any. The film would rate PG13.)
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  1. Ooh, ooh, I haven't even heard of this one! Thanks for the recommendation. :)

    1. It was oh-so-good, Melissa! But then, I love my costume dramas. ;)

  2. Yay, looks good! Now to try and get a hold of it. ;)

  3. 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! :)

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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. :)


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