Costume Drama Thursday: A Hazard of Hearts and The Lady & The Highwayman
…or, Why I’ve Never Liked Hugh Grant
It’s not often that I’ll subtitle a post, but this one deserves it, because today I’m discussing two made-for-TV movies that had quite an effect on me and my writing as a teenager, which have both recently become available on DVD.
A Hazard of Hearts
First aired: 1987
Starring Helena Bonham-Carter and Marcus Gilbert, co-starring Edward Fox, Neil Dickson, Christopher Plummer, Stewart Granger, Anna Massey, and Eileen Atkins.
Originally published in 1949, A Hazard of Hearts is one of the 723 novels penned by Dame Barbara Cartland (1901–2000). Her first novel, a “society thriller” published in 1923, became a bestseller in England, making her quite the popular socialite, who was known also for the risqué plays she wrote (one was even banned by the Lord Chamberlain’s office). As she grew older, she began writing rather tame romance novels—even going so far as to appoint herself an expert on romance. In 1983, Cartland was named the top-selling author by the Guinness Book of World Records. By the mid-1990s, her books had sold more than a billion copies, and Vogue magazine called her “the true Queen of Romance.”
A Hazard of Hearts tells the story of young Serena Staverly (Helena Bonham-Carter) whose genteel world is turned upside down when her wastrel father (Christopher Plummer) loses everything gambling—yet still cannot walk away, so puts up his house and his daughter’s hand in marriage as stakes. His opponent, the dastardly Lord Wrotham (Edward Fox), wants Serena and hoped for this outcome. But before Wrotham can capitalize on the opportunity, fate takes another twist when young, enigmatic Lord Justin, Marquess Vulcan, steps in to the game. Justin wins, Staverly kills himself (in the movie, apparently in the book he dies in a duel), and Serena must now give herself over to a fiancé she doesn’t know in a house full of secrets—secrets that could kill her.
This costume drama has it all—a Regency setting, a forced betrothal, a wealthy/titled/dark/secretive hero with a Bert-style unibrow, a wicked mother-in-law, a charming and affable father-in-law, mystery and intrigue, a villain who lacks only a mustache to twirl, kidnappings, poisonings, highwaymen, attempted rape, a duel, a ruined reputation, gambling, and . . . oh, yeah, and PIRATES!
This one is a must-watch for any historical romance lover—if for no other reason than to bask in its 1980s cheesiness, bad acting, and even worse music and cinematography. But at sixteen, when it first aired, I absolutely adored this movie. Unfortunately, we didn’t record it, or the tape got recorded over, so it wasn’t until more than twenty years later, when it came out on DVD for a short time, that I was able to get my hands on it. And it’s just as cheezilicious as I remembered! It doesn’t look like it’s available to purchase new through Amazon anymore, nor is it available through Netflix or Blockbuster (online). But you can watch it in pieces on YouTube starting here.
Now, speaking of cheezilicious . . .
The Lady & the Highwayman
First aired: 1989
Starring Hugh Grant, Lysette Anthony, and Emma Samms, co-starring Oliver Reed, Claire Bloom, Christopher Cazenove, and Michael York.
Originally published in 1952 under the title Cupid Rides Pillion, this is another adaptation of one of Barbara Cartland’s novels. Set during the turbulent years after the short-lived Commonwealth of England (after King Charles I was executed for treason following the English Civil War)—this movie takes place during the events surrounding King Charles II coming back to reclaim his royal position in England.
Lady Panthea Vyne (Lysette Anthony) is forced into marriage with a lecherous old tax collector (yet another villain in a Cartland novel who’s a lecherous old man) who gets her to agree to marry him by telling her that her brother has been arrested for treason and will be executed—but he can stop it, if she marries him. She does, but on their way back from the wedding, their carriage is ambushed by a highwayman—but not just any highwayman. It’s the notorious Silver Blade, the best swordsman in England. Silver Blade (Hugh Grant) kills the lecherous old man and discovers bags of gold in the carriage and Panthea is now a very wealthy widow. When she tells Silver Blade she married the old man to protect her brother, he sorrowfully tells her that her brother and her father are both dead. He knows this because, you see, Silver Blade is none other that Lord Lucius Vyne, Panthea’s cousin, and the heir to the Dukedom of Manston—which is coveted by another, more distant cousin, Rudolph, who, along with the king’s ex-mistress (Emma Samms) devises a scheme to get rid of Panthea (not knowing about Lucius, of course, as he’s returned to the country in secret and is known to all only as Silver Blade). Having fallen instantly in love with Silver Blade due to his rescue of her, and his gentlemanly conduct toward her as he takes her home on his own horse, Panthea does whatever she can to protect Silver Blade. Panthea’s cousin and the king’s mistress find the driver who witnessed Silver Blade’s rescue of Panthea and killing of her husband, which they twist into a charge of murder—conspiring with a highwayman to commit murder, specifically—leading to her arrest, trial, conviction, and sentence of execution. Will Silver Blade be able to save her in time?
Now, here’s the part where I explain the subtitle of today’s post . . .
Hugh Grant is absolutely horrendous in this film. Granted, he didn’t have a lot to work with in the way of script or direction. But because I fell in love with this movie when I was seventeen years old, and because I had it on video, I watched it over and over and over. And now, I cannot watch Hugh Grant in anything without seeing his totally melodramatic and over-the-top bad acting in The Lady and the Highwayman.
You can actually watch the entire movie on YouTube here. For the ultimate in cheese, scroll to 10:30 and watch the scene when Silver Blade rescues Panthea (the scene runs for about 10-12 minutes); 29:10 for the scene when Panthea realizes that Silver Blade is her cousin Lucius; 40:00 when Panthea sees her cousin as Lucius and not Silver Blade for the first time; 1:16:00 for when Emma Samms’ character tries to seduce Lucius when he’s awaiting execution; and 1:28:16 for the ultimate in cheezilicious endings. Oh, and when you watch it all the way through, be sure to look for the absolutely fabulous “eye acting” from Lysette Anthony, highlighted by the oh-so-subtle Eye Light lighting.
(And just in case you were expecting me to feature either Emma or Northanger Abbey today, I didn’t because I’ve discussed these films at length before, and since neither is a favorite, I figured four weeks devoted to Austen-based films were enough!)