Back when I was a wee anglophile, my favourite book was definitely A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The Secret Garden was definitely in the top ten as well. Later, when I grew up, I was delighted to discover that she wrote a number of books for adults as well, including the two books this telefilm is based on: The Making of a Marchioness and The Methods of Lady Walderhurst. I read Marchioness, but I’ll confess, I didn’t even know a sequel to it existed until a couple of years ago, and I never read it. Marchioness is, from what I recall (it’s been several years since I read it), just an ok book. It’s a Cinderella story, but not a particularly romantic one. Instead of falling instantly in love with her prince, the Cinderella in this story (a rather Mary Sue-esque woman who’s pretty unbelieveably innocent) accepts his proposal for purely pragmatic reasons: she’s broke, has few prospects in the world, and is 34 years old, which definitely put her in the old maid category at the time the book was published (1901). A woman that age, with no family or independent fortune to fall back on, was facing a pretty grim old age of complete poverty. If you’re looking at it purely from the angle of women’s roles at the time, it does have some merit and can be interesting. Burnett, who suffered an unhappy, abusive marriage, was speaking from experience on these issues, and she had some rather pointed things to say. What a shame, then, that when the books were adapted for ITV, everything that happens in the first one is basically mashed into the first few minutes, so we can linger on the potboiler that was The Methods of Lady Walderhurst. But we’ll discuss all that later. Here’s how it all happened:
The camera pans around a seriously shabby room—actually, calling it shabby’s an insult to shabbiness. It’s a craphole. Our heroine, Emily, is getting ready for her day, dodging the drops dripping from her leaky ceiling and painfully pinning up her hair. Once she’s ready, she heads out, stopping to tell her landlady that this is her day with Lady Maria, so she’ll be getting paid for four weeks. Now that we’ve had a title drop and money mention, I think we can all rest assured she’ll somehow be getting screwed out of her wages, right? Because that’s what aristocrats generally do in these things.
Ems arrives at Lady Maria’s, which, as you can imagine, is in a much finer part of town. Lady M is played by Joanna Lumley, and she wastes no time awkwardly dropping the fact that she’s having her nephew for dinner and that he’s an unmarried marquess. Emily’s job seems to be as a sort of secretary to Lady M, who’s planning a matchmaking party for said nephew. Emily leaves to get tea and when she comes back, she overhears Lady Maria speaking with her nephew the marquess, saying that Emily (presumably—she’s never mentioned by name) is rather useful and Lady M’s thinking of taking her on in a permanent position. Emily shoulders her way into the room and the nephew, Lord Walderhurst, greets her nicely and familiarly, so we know they’ve met before. She asks him how long he’s on leave from the army and he says he hopes it’ll be a little while, since he’s getting on in years to be traipsing across the globe. He takes the tea tray from her and sets it down on a table while Lady M calls for the guest list for the dinner party. She hands it off to Waldy, proudly announcing that the best guest is at the top—some rich American. Waldy’s uninterested and asks about another young woman named Agatha. He saw a portrait of her at the National Portrait Gallery, so now he wants to meet her. Emily seconds her prettiness, having seen the same portrait. She offers to walk over an invitation in person.
As she’s crossing the park, she passes by an older Indian woman in traditional garb and turns to stare at her briefly.
That night, she returns home to the craphole boarding house. As she’s taking off her watch, a friend comes into her room and asks if Lady M has bothered to pay her yet. Of course she hasn’t, because while she’s happy to talk about other people’s money, she can’t really deal with her own. Friend urges Emily to ask for the cash outright, because Lady M’s clearly taking advantage. Emily glowingly reports that she’s going to be taken on in a permanent way, thinking, for some reason, that this will mean a steady wage, though it won’t mean a damn thing if the woman can’t even remember to pay you now, Emily. Friend, whose name is Jane, says that’s wonderful, but then she gets a bit sad, wondering if Emily would leave to live in Lady M’s house. Turns out, the landlady’s selling the craphole boarding house (who the hell would want to buy it?), and Jane was hoping she and Emily could find a place together, but if Ems is going to live with Lady M, that’s that, isn’t it?
The next day, Lady M fires off a shopping list at Emily and asks her to deliver a prescription to an address in Camden Town.
The address appears to be yet another craphole boarding house, and when Ems reaches the door, it’s opened by that Indian woman she saw the day before. In the background is a man writhing on a bed, being tended by a younger Indian woman. Emily hands over the prescription for Captain Osbourne and the older woman takes it.
That night, the dinner party is underway. Lady M tells Emily that one guest failed to show, so Ems can take her place. She points Emily in the direction of the placecards, telling her to write one out for herself, and then dresses up her rather plain brown dress with a pretty shawl. She then goes to charm that rich American while Emily goes to place the placecard on the table. Lord Walderhurst finds her there and admits he can’t bear the American girl. He asks for her help changing the names around and she obliges. When the rest of the guests come in, Lady M is surprised at the reshuffle, but of course she can’t say anything. She knows Emily had something to do with it, though.
Over dinner, Agatha the portrait queen is turning out to be rather a dullard. Post-dinner, Lady M says that Agatha’s insipid, while the American was rather charming. Waldy counters that Agatha’s just young, which I don’t think is any excuse, and that he doesn’t like the American and won’t be marrying her. Lady M reminds him that it’s his duty to remarry and have an heir, and that’s all he needs to hear to shut down the conversation right away. Waldy, I’m with you on that one. As soon as people start talking about your reproduction, it’s time to leave. As soon as he’s gone, Lady M lays into Emily for switching the placecards around. She then fires Emily, pays her off (well, at least she got the money), and takes the shawl back. Emily tries not to cry as she goes to leave. Waldy, who’s across the street smoking, sees her depart and immediately approaches her to apologise for getting her into trouble. She’s in no mood to indulge him and just keeps going, so he offers to see her home.
On the way, he gets some information about her past. Emily’s deal is that her parents, particularly her mother, were of good families, but had no money. Emily has an aunt and uncle with money and position, but they have lots of kids, and though they raised Emily and gave her a decent education after her parents died, they made it clear that she was going to have to make her own way in the world once she came of age. Emily was cool with that, because she’s understanding like that. Waldy tactlessly says that he envies her for having no family or ties, because being alone in the world is so great, especially if one is a woman in the late Victorian period. What a dickish and clueless thing to say. Emily scoffs that such independence can be wearing. He apologises for having offended her but she says she’s just tired.
At the craphouse the following day, she’s sitting sewing in her room when Jane comes rushing in to tell her that someone’s there to see her. It’s Waldy, and he’s come to rather unromantically propose marriage. He’s looking for a practical woman who’s not really expecting much emotionally from the match but will benefit from it. Emily says she’s sure he won’t have any trouble finding a wife, but he clearly has—he wants Emily. He’s thought about it for a whole night! He explains that she’s pragmatic, unlike the other girls, and she wouldn’t require much of him. Wow, with honeyed words like that, who could resist? And I’m not sure why he’s so certain only Emily could provide this, as opposed to, say, Agatha the dimwit, who probably wouldn’t require much of him either. In truth, though, this book was more commentary than reality. This was Burnett shining a rather harsh light on marriage, and saying that, for many women, options in life were extremely few, so marriage to a man who was better off was pretty much the only option if you wanted to avoid poverty. Sad, but true. What would become of Emily if he hadn’t swept into her life? This is clearly no prince charming situation (well, not yet), but, for her, it’s a choice between marrying a man she barely knows or winding up in the streets. Still, she turns him down, and then begins to cry. He offers her his handkerchief and reminds her that she has few options here. She tells him it wouldn’t be right, because she wants to marry for love. He says that love is all very well and good, but so is security. He puts a ring in a box on a table and leaves. Later, she puts the ring on and, all dressed up, goes forth to start her new life. Man, they did a terrible job of showing her decision-making process there, which is a real shame, because her whole marry-for-love determination was based in the fact that her parents did just that, despite the consequences, so it would’ve been nice to see her at least momentarily reevaluate what she wanted out of life. It kind of seems like she took one look at the ring, went ‘oooh, sparkly!’ and that was that.
Her mind now made up, Emily and Waldy make their way to Waldy’s country house. We learn that the house is pretty isolated, being a good 10 miles from the nearest village. I’m sure that won’t be important later. The house itself is beautiful, very Tudor-esque. Waldy clearly loves it, right down to the hideous and rather threatening statue of a snarling bitch nursing a litter of pups right in front of the door. What a bizarre bit of garden ornamentation. The household staff’s all lined up to meet their new mistress—all four of them. No way would a house like this only have a butler, housekeeper, and two maids. Waldy introduces the butler and housekeeper—a married couple named the Lyttons—and shows Emily inside. The Lyttons exchange a meaningful glance as she goes in that seems rather ominous, not that this will end up coming to anything at all. In fact, the Lyttons themselves are complete cyphers in this, which frustrates the hell out of me. But we’ll get to that.
Later, we get the rather tiresome scene of the new couple sitting at a table about half a football field long, trying to smile at each other over the distance. Clichéd scene, drink!
And then they get married in the house’s chapel. Lady M looks on, and Emily manages not to smirk at her as she passes on her way back down the aisle. To be honest, Emily looks a bit terrified, but outside the chapel her new husband kisses her and she looks pleased.
The reception’s held in a big tent on the house’s grounds. During the party, Emily spots Captain Osborne, the sick man she delivered the medicine to, acting all flirty with that young Indian woman. Waldy explains that Osborne’s his cousin, and the lady is his new wife. The Osbornes come over and Mr Osborne, Alec, greets Emily warmly. We get a name for the wife, too—Hester, which is a surprisingly un-Indian name. I’m guessing she was born in England, then, or perhaps has an English father (which I think, given the time, is much more likely than her having an English mother and an Indian father). Emily asks after Alec’s health and hears he had malaria, but he’s all better now. Alec and Hester move on, and Lady M sweeps in, saying she didn’t know Waldy had invited them. The two realize Alec’s been pumping them both for money.
Further into the party, Waldy’s chatting with some of his army buddies, while Emily sits rather uncomfortably with Lady M. She asks if Alec was in the regiment as well and learns that all the men in their family join the regiment. Alec’s no longer fit for duty, though, which means he’ll have to find something else to do. That something else might be sitting around waiting for Waldy to die without kids, because Alec’s the next heir to the estate, but now that Emily’s come on the scene, his chances may end up being rather remote. Lady M takes the opportunity to take a jab at Emily by commenting on how the men in the family seem to choose unsuitable wives, while also reminding her to do her duty. Emily doesn’t even appear to have heard her.
That evening, once they’re alone, Waldy awkwardly tries to flirt with his wife, but all she wants to talk about is the Osbornes. She feels bad for them, but Waldy tells her not to worry about them, since Alec’s brought most of his misery upon himself. He excuses himself and goes to relax before dinner. Once he’s gone, Emily realizes she has no idea how to find her room. Mrs Lytton shows up and shows her the way, and Emily tells her that she’s looking forward to running the household. Mrs Lytton doesn’t seem too pleased by that.
In her room, Emily removes her hat, but her toilette’s interrupted by a crow falling down the chimney. Startled, she screams, bringing Waldy running. He scoops the bird up and goes to find a nurse for it. When he returns, he apologises for the house being a bit gloomy, and then shows her a secret: a priest hole hidden behind her fireplace, which leads to his bedroom. His family hid back there while Parliamentary troops raided the place during the Civil War. Through a grille, she can see into his bedroom.
At dinner, Emily turns down an extra serving of wine, which both Waldy and the butler seem startled by. Nope, that will never be explained or expanded upon later either.
That night, she wraps herself in a robe, lets herself into the priest hole, and spies on her husband getting undressed. He seems to realize she’s there and looks meaningfully through the grille, so she slips away.
In the light of day, he spots her out walking in the garden and gestures for her to join him on the bridge over the lake or river that runs near the house. He tells her the water can be pretty treacherous, so he makes sure everyone in his household can swim. She admits she can’t swim herself, so he offers to teach her.
Back inside, they face off over an intense game of chess. Emily wins. Seeming bemused, he asks how she learned to play like that. She says his aunt taught her, but she had to let her win. They laugh, and she gets up to fetch some tea. While she’s occupied, he leans over and kisses her on the neck. She jumps, and then apologises, saying she was startled. He backs off immediately, says he’s sorry, and suggests they go get ready for dinner.
That night, Emily sits in her bed, thinking, and then makes her way to Waldy’s room via the priest hole. They finally have sex.
The following morning, Waldy rides off bright and early. Emily dresses and heads downstairs to find out where he’s gone and Mr Lytton says he’ll be out all day. Emily suggests she and Mrs Lytton explore the house together. Mrs Lytton claims it’s her laundry day and rushes off.
Somewhat at loose ends, Emily goes for a walk and discovers a mostly ruined cottage on the grounds. Inside, she unexpectedly finds her husband, sitting contemplatively. She asks what this place is and, instead of answering, he suggests they head home, as he has something important to tell her. That something important is his intention of returning to India, as there’s a famine and the regiment is in need of help. Emily isn’t exactly overjoyed to hear her new husband’s going to be rushing off to travel halfway around the world and leave her pretty much all alone in this cavernous house with strange servants who won’t engage with her. He refuses to reconsider.
Back at the house, Emily finds a folder full of drawings from India, as well as a box containing a photograph of Waldy and his first wife. That night, while they’re cuddling in bed, she asks about her. He explains that they were childhood friends, and that he hasn’t forgotten about her, but he no longer mourns for her. And then he and Emily have sex. It’s about that romantic, for all the heat these two are producing.
He also starts teaching her to swim, though she has no stamina as yet. She does seem to be coming to appreciate the estate the way he does, though, and they act pretty cute and flirty.
It’s time for Waldy to go, and apparently he forgot to inform Emily that this was his departure day. Seriously? What’s with this guy? Was he hoping she just wouldn’t notice? Their relationship is just bizarre—it goes from being all warm to being very chilly at a moment’s notice. I can’t quite get a read on them. It’s poorly done. Some awkwardness is to be expected, especially at the beginning, but in real relationships, as people warm up to each other, affection generally increases and discomfort decreases. You don’t go from snuggling in bed and happily initiating sex to suddenly being non-communicative and uncertain about being allowed to touch each other. Instead of apologizing or…anything, really, he shows her a note he’s writing to his bank, authorizing her to spend whatever she wants. She takes it, and he says that he knows they started their marriage in strange circumstances, but they seem to have grown to enjoy one another’s company. And then he very awkwardly, very hesitantly kisses her. Come on, Waldy, you two are regularly and rather happily having sex—you can kiss your own wife, for God’s sake! Thanks mostly to Emily, the kiss finally manages to turn passionate, and then she looks at his note and observes that he’s left-handed and this is the first time she’s seen his handwriting. Before he goes, she asks for permission to have her friend, Jane, come up and be her lady’s maid. He readily agrees and asks her to write to him while he’s away. Not sure you really deserve it, Waldy, but what else is she going to do there?
Now all alone, Emily starts poking around, returning to the study, where she lies down and takes a nap and imagines Waldy’s there, stroking her hair. She wakes and, of course, there’s no one there. So, she sits down and writes him a letter, reassuring him that all is well at home, but she misses him. As she finishes the letter, the housekeepr comes in and announces some visitors.
The visitors are Alex and Hester, who tell her that Waldy sent them a letter asking them to check in on her. They show it to her as proof and everything. Emily’s delighted to see them and tells them how happy she is to have company. The butler comes in and seems displeased to see them, though. Once he’s gone, Alec jokes that the man’s known him since he was a kid and clearly still thinks of him in knickerbockers.
Over lunch, Alec almost immediately starts overstepping his bounds, calling for an extra bottle of wine (in the book he’s apparently an alcoholic) and embarrassing Lytton the butler by making him pick up the napkin’s Alec’s purposely dropped on the floor. The ladies laugh, because acting like a snotty child is hilarious. After Lytton leaves the room, Alec tells Emily that she can’t let Lytton get the upper hand, because he’s a bully. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black, there. Alec turns the subject to how much he loves his wife and how happy he is that Emily’s part of the family.
Emily and the Osbornes play lawn tennis, girls against boy, and the girls win, but then Alec says they have to go, because they’re staying at the village. Naturally, Emily insists they stay at the house. I’m sure that wasn’t at all what they intended.
As the suitcases are brought in, Emily and her guests play hide-and-seek, with Alec hiding and the girls seeking. Emily goes to look for him in the kitchen and finds a rack of guns in the larder. Alec comes up behind her, startling her, and starts to talk rather romantically and creepily about the guns and how beautiful they are, and how, when you’re holding a gun, people treat you with respect. I don’t think he understands the difference between fear and respect, which makes more sense in the book, in which he’s clearly abusive to Hester, from what I understand. He shows Emily how to load one and how to line up a shot, and then he takes the barrel of the gun and presses it to his chest, totally creeping Emily out, because she’s a normal person and that was just weird. The moment passes and he replaces the gun on the rack and he reassures her he never expected to get the estate, because he always figured Waldy would remarry and have kids, though he can’t imagine how he’s going to manage it with a whole continent between them.
Jane arrives, and we learn, thanks to Hester’s questioning, that Jane used to work as a dresser at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Jane happily says she just wants to be with Emily. She shows Emily a cutting from a newspaper about James having arrived in India. Hester’s smile doesn’t seem at all genuine just now.
Later, Emily and her guests are playing near the lake. Alec somehow deduces that Emily can’t swim and she admits to it before asking if he thinks Waldy’s in danger. Alec will only say that he shouldn’t have gone, not so soon after marrying, but he’s sure he’ll come through all the trouble in India all right. That’s enough to calm Emily.
Emily wakes one morning and immediately starts throwing up, and we all know what that’s lazy TV shorthand for.
Later, Jane’s helping her get ready for bed and gossiping when Emily blurts out that she thinks she’s pregnant. Jane’s all excited, so Emily asks her not to tell anyone. They hear a man shouting and Emily goes to investigate. It’s Alec, thrashing around in some sort of fever. Emily gathers the household staff and tells them that Alec’s temperature is very high, which worries Mrs Lytton, because she’s afraid he might have something catching. Mr Lytton sniffs that Emily shouldn’t have asked him to stay, and Emily firmly tells him to shut up and go fetch some ice from the ice house.
While Alec soaks in his ice bath, Emily asks Hester how he is. Clearly rather panicked, Hester tells her that every time this fever comes it’s a bit worse. She wonders what she’ll do if he dies. Yeah, it couldn’t have been easy being an Indian woman alone in England at that time. Any minority, really. Emily promises her a home if anything happened to Alec. Hester says she’s asked for her old ayah, Ameerah, to come, because she’s a wonderful nurse and she’s sure she’ll make Alec better.
Emily watches from a doorway as Ameerah arrives and is joyfully greeted by Hester.
In the middle of the night, Emily wakes to the sound of Hester sobbing. She rushes to their bedroom door, but Ameerah appears and tells her that Alec’s not himself and she should leave them alone. On her way back to her bedroom, Emily’s startled by Alec’s sudden appearance behind her. He stalks her as she backs up, but then she realizes that he seems to be sleepwalking, and when she steps out of the way, he continues on, not even realizing she’s there. This, by the way, is another moment that will be completely ignored for the rest of the film.
While dressing in the morning, Jane tells Emily that Mabel, one of the housemaids, is threatening to leave because she’s afraid Osborne’s going to kill them all. Emily tells her that he’s only a danger to himself, not to others. As Ameerah appears in the doorway, unnoticed by the two girls, Jane asks Emily when she’s going to start telling people about her delicate condition. Emily notices Ameerah and asks what’s up. Ameerah tells her that Alec’s awake and Hester was hoping to get a book to read to him. Emily grabs one from a nearby table and hands it over. When she’s gone, Jane says playfully that she and Mabel think the woman’s a witch, and then more seriously adds that Lytton doesn’t think Waldy would want the Osbornes there. As proof that he does, Emily show her the letter Waldy sent Alec and Jane urges her to show it to Lytton, to prove he doesn’t know Waldy as well as he thinks he does. Looking at the letter, though, triggers Emily’s brain, and she hurries down to the study, finds the letter Waldy gave her for the bankers, and puts the two down next to each other. Alec’s letter is a forgery. Emily starts to look a little alarmed.
That night, she sits awake in bed, thinking, far into the night. She wakes the next morning to find Alec out front, mounted on her husband’s horse. Alec gallops off, and Lytton joins her outside, saying coldly that if Alec’s well enough to ride, he’s well enough to leave. Emily looks like she’s starting to agree, and then Hester comes out, sees the two of them together, and rushes back inside.
Emily finds her in her room, frantically packing. Hester says they’d better get on the road, because the old man hates them. Emily produces the forged letter and asks her to explain it. Hester tearfully tells her that the bailiffs were hounding them for money, because they can’t seem to live on Alec’s income, so they were just hoping they could lay low at Waldy’s place for a little while. She begs Emily not to judge Alec, because he’s not himself, and Hester loves him. She offers to leave, but Emily the gullible tells them to stay while she works something out. She embraces Hester, who seems somewhat relieved.
Emily visits that tumbledown cottage on the grounds where she found her husband, and pokes around for a bit, finding a cradle in one of the rooms. And then she finds Alec poking around as well. He tells her she shouldn’t wander around the estate on her own, and she smilingly tells him she came there for a reason—she thought maybe they could fix the place up and he and Hester could live there. Alec goes from 0 to seriously pissed off in a second and hisses dangerously that he wouldn’t be seen squatting in such a hovel. He observes that there’s a storm coming and offers to take her back. Now clearly alarmed, she says she’d rather walk, but he grabs her by the wrist and drags her out and up onto the horse. He gallops hard towards the house, ignoring her pleas for him to stop, until she faints.
He carries her into the house, where Lytton takes her. She comes to just enough to ask if her baby’s all right, and of course that kid’s news to everyone. Alec pales and says he’d never have ridden with her like that if he knew. Lytton offers to fetch the local doctor, but Alec says he’s just a local quack. Oh, he must know Clarkson, then. Hester chimes in that Ameerah will know what to do. In Ameerah comes, looking rather sinister, despite her brightly coloured sari.
In the kitchen, she prepares something while the Lyttons and Jane watch and glower. She pours it into a glass and goes to take it up, but Jane steps in and says she’ll be taking that, thank you. Ameerah leaves, and Jane quickly tastes the liquid, reporting that it’s just cinnamon in milk. Lytton’s still set on fetching Dr Lawrence, because none of them believe that Ameerah could possibly know what’s right, and Lytton is suddenly very genuinely concerned about Emily’s wellbeing.
Ok, let’s just talk about the Lyttons for a second, because what the hell is up with these people? They were downright sinister when Emily first showed up, acting cold, refusing to have anything to do with her, behaving like they had some secret they were covering up. But it was all for no reason whatsoever. I think the director or writer or both were trying to create some sort of atmosphere of forboding, but mostly it just seemed bizarre, like these people were casting a pall over the house for absolutely no reason at all. And now Lytton’s acting like a concerned parent. Strange.
Jane goes to bring the milk to Emily but is stopped by Alec, whom she’s clearly intimidated by, and let’s face it, for good reason. The man’s only sometimes in his right mind, and he’s superior to her both in social position and in strength. She has very little leeway with him. He says Emily’s lucky to have Jane and lets her pass. As she hurries off, Lytton passes as well, exchanging a meaningful glance with Alec.
Emily, now much improved, writes a letter to Waldy announcing her pregnancy. Jane comes in, surprised to see Emily up and about. Emily, who’s in very good spirits, announces her intention of walking to the post-box to post her letter.
As she’s crossing the bridge, she hears the unmistakable sound of a horse in distress, and when she goes to investigate, she finds the animal stuck in the lake next to an overturned cart. She unhitches the horse, which climbs up out of the lake, and just then the body of Lytton bobs to the surface. Now completely freaked out, Emily climbs out of the water and runs back to the house, her letter forgotten in the water. Wow, I suddenly feel like I’ve wandered into a Wilkie Collins story, and I don’t think I like it.
Back at the house, Emily tries to steady her nerves and has another glass of milk with cinnamon. Poor Mrs Lytton appears, dressed in a coat and carrying a suitcase, and tells Emily she’s going to stay with her daughter, because she can’t bear to be in the house anymore. Emily begs her to stay just a little while, until she can find a new butler and housekeeper. Mrs L refuses, and furthermore announces that the two housemaids are departing as well. Great.
Emily writes Waldy another letter, telling him about Lytton’s strange death and telling him how much she wishes he were there. He’s going to have a truly crazy packet of letters arriving at his post one of these days. Hester comes over and shows Emily the advertisement she’s written out for a new housekeeper and maids. Why, how very mistress-of-the-house of you, Hester. Hester says that Alec can take the ad to the village that day, and he can take Emily’s letter as well. Emily, who seems a bit out of it, wonders what Lytton was doing out in the cart, and then suddenly asks where Alec is. Hester says he’s out shooting pheasants.
Well, he was. Now he’s approaching Jane, who’s cleaning out a grate or something, in a very menacing way.
Ameerah delivers Emily’s daily milk, and after a sip, Emily notes that it tastes a little different.
Alec, meanwhile, sticks his gunpowder and blood-stained finger in Jane’s mouth, raising her lips so he can kiss them. Ewwwww! I get that this is (not very subtly) symbolic (look at that—blood on his hands!), but that was still repulsive. What’s also repulsive is how enthusiastically she kisses him back. Wasn’t she just afraid of him a little while ago? What changed?
Emily gulps the milk down, because she’s an idiot.
Later, she plays chess with Alec, but her vision’s going all blurry and she can’t concentrate. She gets up to go to bed, but gets dizzy for a minute. Alec and Hester rush to help her–how very kind they are–and then Alec suggests he go lock the doors. Emily’s not so out of it she doesn’t realize that sounds rather odd, but Alec explains that they have no servants, so anyone could just walk in. Yes, to this house that we know for a fact is totally in the middle of nowhere.
Ameerah continues serving up the clearly poisoned milk. And Emily keeps drinking it and seems to be getting a bit crazy. She finds Alec feeding the fire and asks if the post came. He tells her, in a tone heavy with MEANING that there is no post. She goes to Hester and wonders why Waldy hasn’t written to her, when he promised to. It doesn’t occur to her, it seems, that her letters aren’t even reaching him. Alec joins them and says that he’s been thinking it’s probably best that she not be on her own at night, just in case she’s taken ill. He and Hester are going to move into Waldy’s room. Emily gives them a firm no, but Alec says that this is what Waldy would have wanted.
Ultimately, there’s not much Emily can do, so into the room they go. And now it looks like Ameerah’s cooking all their food. Emily eats with little appetite. Later, she listens unwillingly while Alec and his wife get it on in her husband’s bed. Rightfully put out, she tells Jane that she shouldn’t have allowed them to go into the room, because they’re smothering her. Jane, who’s suddenly turned into a total bitch, shortly tells Emily that they’re looking after her, not working against her. What’s Jane’s deal, anyway? She was clearly frightened of Alec earlier, and then in the very next scene they had together she was all hot for him, and now she’s turning against Emily in their favour? The hell? Who wrote this?
Jane urges Emily to drink her milk and snaps that Alec’s a good man. Emily quickly realizes what’s going on between Jane and Alec, and Jane spits that she’s all alone in this house, stuck in the middle of nowhere. She stomps out, and Emily finally gets some sense and tosses the milk into the fire.
The next day, Alec rides home and rather angrily tells Hester that there was a telegram for Emily in the village. It’s from Walderhurst, telling her that he’s coming home just as quickly as he can. I’ll bet he is. Emily, listening secretly from the priest hole, overhears that and finally looks a bit hopeful. Hester begins to panic, saying she’s sure Emily’s getting suspicious. Well, if she hadn’t been before, she sure is now. Maybe talking about this in the room just next door to hers isn’t exactly sensible, Hester. Hester continues digging her own grave, saying Ameerah believes Emily stopped drinking the tonic, because if she hadn’t, the baby would have been gone right now. Woah.
I’m going to allow myself a brief digression to say that I think it’s a shame, narratively speaking, that Ameerah, who’s so clearly positioned as The Other and as such is viewed with suspicion, turns out to actually be a bad guy. One of the worst kinds of bad guys too—the type of woman trying to poison another woman into a miscarriage. That’s a serious breach of the sisterhood right there. I’m disappointed in Burnett for doing this (if this is, indeed, in the original story), because in her other stories, Indians are generally presented as being good people, which was a bit refreshing for the time. Mary Lennox’s ayah was the only person who showed her affection or actually parented her in The Secret Garden. Ram Dass is the only adult to extend a helping hand to Sara Crewe in A Little Princess, and he actually ends up being her savior, to some extent. These books were written at a time when Indians were thought of very much as second-class citizens. They were viewed with suspicion by the English, as we see here, but in most cases, that suspicion was completely misplaced. Except in this case. Here, the suspicion was right. The woman is different, so she is menacing. She knows things the others don’t, but she only uses that knowledge for evil. It’s lazy, and disappointing.
Sorry, where were we? Hester urges Alec to pack up and get out of there before Waldy shows, but Alec’s not stirring a step, because he thinks this place is rightfully his. Hester reminds him that it’s not, actually, but he won’t hear it. He tells Hester they’re going to have to just get rid of Emily and Jane. Hester flat-out refuses to be party to an actual murder (killing an unborn child was ok, but murder’s off the table. Good to know where her limitations lie.) Alec grabs her by the throat and reminds her that he gave up everything for her (it was earlier revealed that he was kicked out of the regiment for marrying Hester), and that they’ve gone too far now to pull out at the last minute. Terrified, Hester agrees.
Once they’re both gone, Emily enters the room and finds the telegram.
Waldy’s on the road, hurrying home, but one of the horses comes up lame. Of course.
Emily shows Jane the telegram and tells her that Waldy’s on his way home and Alec tried to burn the telegram. Dear God, why is Emily showing her that? I suppose she’s trying to turn Jane back against Alec, but this seems like a huge gamble. Jane could just as easily go tell Alec that Emily knows about the telegram, and Alec would surely realize that Emily had heard that whole conversation.
Emily goes on to tell Jane that she thinks (thinks? They admitted it!) that Alec killed Lytton and she’s sure they’re planning to do something to Emily herself next. Jane immediately turns Team Emily again and offers to run to the village to fetch help. The village that’s ten mils away? I hope she walks fast.
Ameerah serves dinner, and Emily starts to dig in, noticing that both Alec and Hester are staring at her in a very suspicious manner. She wisely decides to sit this meal out. Ameerah delivers a dish to Hester and whispers something in her ear. Alec asks what she said and when Hester fails to answer, he pounds his fist on the table and demands she speak up. Hester says that Jane seems to be MIA. Emily quickly says that Jane’s not feeling well. Alec goes to check and returns with a report that Jane is not in her bed. He suggests she’s gone out in some delusion and goes off to find her. With a gun. Way to be subtle there, Alec. Though I guess if you’re planning on killing any witnesses, it doesn’t really matter how obvious you are.
Emily hurries back to her room, locking the door behind her, but after a few minutes Ameerah comes in with a spare key, looking around for her. By that time, Emily’s stashed herself in the priest hole. Ameerah explores, and Emily very nearly gets herself caught by making a noise. Ameerah starts tapping on the walls, looking for the opening. She pounds on the wall, demanding Emily come out, like she actually would. Emily escapes through Waldy’s room and spots Hester in the hallway. She gestures for Hester to remain silent, and Hester obliges. Emily runs away, and Ameerah comes out in the hall, scolding Hester for not stopping Ems. What’s Ameerah’s investment in all this, anyway? Has Alec promised her something? I could understand her going through all this for the sake of Hester, because Hester’s like a daughter to her or whatever, but Hester’s heart isn’t in this at all, and if that was the case and she was doing this because of Hester, then she wouldn’t be nearly so invested at this point, so what’s her deal?
Jane runs down the lane in the dark, pursued by Alec.
Ameerah walks through the house, hunting for Emily, who’s down in the pantry, grabbing one of the Chekhov’s Guns. Except then, oddly, she emerges without it, even though she could have at least used it as a club or something, even if she couldn’t shoot it. Man, this girl has little survival instinct. So, she comes out of the pantry, and Ameerah suddenly pops up like a demon in a sari, and she and Emily actually start to wrestle. Ems manages to get away and stashes herself under a table, but Ameerah grabs her legs as Hester appears. Ameerah tells Hester to help her, but Hester just stands there, useless, while Ameerah drags Emily out from under the table. She’s pretty strong for a little old lady, I’ll give her that.
Alec, brandishing his shotgun, goes into the ruined cottage, looking for Jane. It actually reminds me of a scene from another Burnett book, The Shuttle, in which the main character’s horrible brother-in-law nearly rapes her in a place much like this when she’s incapacitated by a broken ankle. But then her boyfriend shows up and beats the absolute shit out of him, so it’s all ok. It’s a good book, worth the read.
Since there’s no boyfriend to show up, it’s all on Jane, and she performs admirably, jumping Alec, knocking him silly with a rock or something, and grabbing the gun, warning him to keep away from her. He tries to call her bluff, and from outside the cottage, we hear a gunshot go off.
Ameerah and Hester, who I guess has changed allegiance again, manhandle an unconscious Emily onto her bed. Ameerah fetches a vial of something and forces it into Emily’s mouth, as Emily comes to and starts to struggle. It’s too late, though, and she begins to convulse as, downstairs, someone hammers on the door. Hester goes to open it, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s Waldy, who wants to know where his wife is and what Hester’s doing there. Wait, so he just rushed home…because? Ameerah appears behind Hester and Waldy asks what’s going on. Ameerah tells him that Emily’s dead. Poor Waldy’s horrified. What a crap homecoming. Hester joins in the lie and says that Alec’s gone to the village to make the funeral arrangements. She urges Waldy to join her in the drawing room.
Meanwhile, upstairs, Emily, not dead yet, continues to convulse. Ameerah hurries up to finish her work.
In the drawing room, Waldy beats himself up for leaving. Hester apologises to him and he asks why she’s apologising, since she was a friend to Emily. Hester bursts into tears and tells Waldy that Emily’s upstairs and it’s not too late.
He rushes up to Emily’s room and finds Ameerah smothering Emily with a pillow. He pulls her off and tries to rouse Emily.
The next day, Jane, dead eyed and probably in need of serious therapy, shows up at the house with some men from the village, and Alec’s body draped over the back of Waldy’s horse. Waldy comes out to meet them and Alec is laid out on the ground. Hester emerges from the house and rushes over, pushing Waldy aside. She sobs over her husband’s body and Waldy comforts her, which is pretty big of him, considering this woman tried to murder his wife and child.
Later, he sits at Emily’s bedside and tells her (she’s still unconscious, by the way) that Alec’s dead, and he’s sent Hester and Ameerah back to India. Woah, hold up a second here. You sent them back to India? These people were complicit in at least one murder, were trying to kill your unborn child, and you caught one of them attempting to smother your wife to death. And you just let them go? Jesus, the justice system in Victorian England was lenient.
Waldy continues to beat himself up for leaving, and to be fair, it was pretty lousy of him to just take off on her like that. He tells her that his first wife died in childbirth in India, and the baby only lived a month. This is the reason he gives for not taking Emily to India, though I would have thought that had more to do with the uprising and the famine, which are not good environments to bring your wife into. He tells her he’s sorry, and he’s also sorry he never told her how much he’s always loved her. He has? Even when he was hitting on some woman just because she had a pretty portrait? Well, those are the magic words, because Emily wakes up.
And now it’s some years later. Emily and a pair of slightly creepy looking little boys are playing hide-and-go-seek in the house, along with Waldy, and everyone’s all happy and familial and life is good. Glad to see that baby didn’t suffer any lasting damage from Ameerah’s handling. Also, the actress who plays Emily really wears 1910 hairstyles well. Much better than the frumpy bun she had the rest of the film. My guess is, Jane got dispatched to an asylum or something after her almost certain breakdown, and Emily got to hire a decent ladies’ maid. Since we don’t get to see Jane at all during this sequence, I’m going to go with that.
Well, that was rather sadly disappointing. It seems like nearly all of Making of a Marchioness was disregarded in favour of watching James D’arcy act like a nutcase. Like I said, I never read The Methods of Lady Walderhurst, and after watching this, I don’t think I ever will. It doesn’t seem to have anything at all to do with its preceding title, which was more a meditation on women’s choices and the effect that the extreme limitations of those choices can have on one’s life (something Burnett knew a bit about). Judging just by this, I’d say The Methods of Lady Walderhurst was Burnett selling out and writing a book that would appeal to the more sensationalist/gothic lovers out there. The people picking up Wilkie Collins novels or The Turn of the Screw. Not that authors don’t experiment in other genres (The Turn of the Screw is a great example of that—it’s very different from Henry James’s other titles), but this just seemed lazy. Nobody acted like real people would, and it had the disturbing underlying message that Anglo suspicions of Indians was right—they are dangerous. And yes, Alec was dangerous too, but he sort of had a built-in excuse for his behavior: that brain fever that kept cropping up. Ameerah and Hester were doing all this with clear heads, which is much scarier. And Emily’s inability to swim was a bizarre red herring, wasn’t it?
There’s no doubt in my mind that this was an incredibly lazy adaptation. Characters behaved ridiculously, switching sides with seemingly no thought, and the relationship between Waldy and Emily didn’t unfold in a very realistic way at all. It’s a shame, really, because I seem to recall the Emily from Marchioness as being kind of an ok character, so it’s too bad that she mostly just seemed dippy here. If this is what I can expect from Burnett adaptations, perhaps it’s best that one of my favourite books of hers, The Shuttle, remains unfilmed.
14 thoughts on “The Making of a Lady”
I was SO happy to see that you had a review/recap of The Making of a Lady! I watched it a couple days back and wasn’t sure what to make of it, really. I agree with you that the writing was really bad. I didn’t even think that Emily’s inability to swim would be a plot point later, considering they brought it up several times. It would have been nice if they made a couple more episodes, so it could have been fleshed out better…maybe?
I did download the books this is based on so I can get a better idea of the characters, especially Ameerah. I didn’t get that sense of her being the villainous “Other,” but I think that’s also because I just watched it for what it was. I just feel like there had to have been more to her story than just appearing and doing horrible things. And yeah, what was up with the Lyttons? None of the characters really made a lot of sense.
I did love the costumes though – so pretty!
I’ve been known to forgive a lot for pretty costumes 🙂
So I read the books this movie was based on, just to see how much exactly the filmmakers screwed up the original. QUITE a bit, actually. And you’re right, they really completely squeezed the whole courtship between Walderhurst and Emily into the first few minutes, and then butchered the “mystery.” I really wanted to see how vilified Ameerah was in the book vs. the film. There is a bit of an anti-Indian sentiment, or rather that sense towards the culture (practicing the “black arts” etc.). But the motivation for everything was a bit different, and Hester is a LOT more fleshed out than in the movie. Her actions make a lot more sense, and there’s none of that “Alec is crazy and has nightmares” thing going on. Thinking about it, the movie was just completely messed up with no direction whatsoever (except pretty costumes!).
I can’t say I’m surprised. I read The Making of a Marchioness many years ago, and remember it vaguely, but the story barely even figured in here. I didn’t read The Methods of Lady Walderhurst, but this story seemed so radically different from anything Frances Hodgson Burnett ever wrote I figured it had been heavily altered for TV. Too bad.
Hmm, many of the criticisms are spot on, but I think it’s dangerous to always sanctify the ‘Other’ as it’s put in the article and in the intellectual world in general.
Do we really want to posit that various races never do anything wrong? Never exploit people? Never do what they can to survive? White-man Alec is the real instigator, even kin-slayer here, and no one bats an eye. A woman is poisoning a stranger and her child supposedly after convincing herself that it’s in the fiscal interests of those she cares about, and that makes the story potentially racist?
It’s dangerous to never consider the reason why malformed stereotypes occur. The most rosy-eyed people often *do* end up hard-lining in the other direction the moment they see a confirmation a what a bigotted old grandparent used to say. It’s better to view people as individuals, capable of good and evil, and not allow either the stigmas or hardships of their group overly colour one’s perception.
Burnett, in the whole sphere of her work taken together, presented the Indian people as 3D as any other culture is. It’s unjust to chide her for allowing an Indian villain amongst her heroes.
I certainly don’t think that non-white characters are always good–there’s capacity for good and bad in everyone. But I do tend to find it a little disturbing when any portrayal is very lopsided, and all the ‘good’ guys are white and the ‘bad’ guys are a different race, or white people who, like Alec, have gone native to such an extent that they seem to identify more strongly with the other race. And let’s not forget that Alec has some sort of brain fever, which could be taken as a built-in excuse for much of his behaviour. Hester and Ameerah, on the other hand, are slowly poisoning a pregnant woman completely clear-headed. That’s flat-out evil, and while Hester (who comes across as more westernised) seems to have some redeeming qualities, Ameerah sure as hell doesn’t, and that taps right into Victorian-era anxieties about ‘savage foreignors’, which I just found a little disappointing. But I understand that quite a bit was changed between the book and the adaptation, so I can’t lay this at FHB’s feet.
“Alec, meanwhile, sticks his gunpowder and blood-stained finger in Jane’s mouth, raising her lips so he can kiss them. Ewwwww! I get that this is (not very subtly) symbolic (look at that—blood on his hands!), but that was still repulsive. What’s also repulsive is how enthusiastically she kisses him back. Wasn’t she just afraid of him a little while ago? What changed?
Emily gulps the milk down, because she’s an idiot.”
I literally snickered outloud at my desk reading this. I watched TMoaL on Netflix last night and while I didn’t LOVE it, I didn’t mind it. Except I really liked Hester and it bothered me how passive she was. IMO her husband and maid were the crazier ones. Anywho. Well done.
If I’ve made even one person laugh, I feel I’ve accomplished something. Glad you enjoyed it!
To the blogger: Where to start? It is mentioned in the early part of the movie that Emily is a “companion,” otherwise known as a “ladies’ companion,” to Lady Maria and other, presumably upper class, women. Later she hopes to be made a secretary to Lady Maria. She wouldn’t necessarily get paid regularly then, though. These were official positions with recognized duties and there were differences. Your blog would be more fun – and more accurate – if you knew a little more of the history, manners, and mores of the period in question. If you have a mind, you could do a little research into the relationships between British troops in India during the Raj and the various women in their lives. Find out what the term “Anglo-Indian” means. I heartily recommend the four books by Paul Scott called “The Raj Quartet.” It is compelling reading and informative. Try used bookstores. I got my omnibus copy at GCF.
Understatement is good. Overstatement, when done very infrequently for effect, is tolerable. Using too overstatement becomes trite and annoying. Using them both too much and together is off-putting at best.
Sarcasm is cheap.
It is a mistake to judge peoples who have vastly different histories, cultures, customs, and ways of relating to each other than ours by our own lights. In an article in the Telegraph last year some educated person or committee came up with a list of the 100 Best Novels. I had read a majority of those, many of which were English novels. (Consider the source….) Reading these made me want to go see Great Britain for myself, as I suspect is the case with most Anglophiles. It didn’t do a good job of preparing me to live there, though, except to provide a list of tourist stops and possibly a talking point or two. By the time we left there we were more convinced than ever that we did not understand the basic presuppositions the English Everyman operates under.
Not sure what you want to accomplish by giving some of the characters abbreviated names. Maybe a mash-up of a TV commentary on the British Royal Family with an episode of “East Enders”? Waldy? Really?
Ok, just to start with: I do actually know quite a bit about this period and how things worked. In fact, my great-grandmother was a ladies’ companion, just like Emily, and she was definitely paid for it. It was an actual job with certain duties just as any other position with an upper-class lady was during the period, so of course she’d expect payment for it. I’m not sure why anyone would do something like this on a purely voluntary basis–that’s basically just being the person’s actual friend.
Thanks for the reading recommendations, I’ll have to check those books out. The Raj is a subject that’s starting to interest me, and I’ve been doing a bit of reading about it myself recently. Based on your comment, I’m guessing I gave the impression I was surprised by Alec’s relationship with an Indian woman. I don’t actually recall that being the case. I certainly know that many British men had relationships and even married Indian women, though it was a fairly taboo subject at the time and these women were almost never brought back to England to live with the man as his acknowledged wife. Those women tended to have quite a hard time of it, if the man was recalled or abandoned her in any way. Even if he didn’t, the ladies found themselves outsiders everywhere: not fully accepted by either the native Indians or the Brits.
At any rate, this blog is not really meant to be a deep investigation into British history or society. It’s supposed to be fun and lighthearted. That’s not what everyone wants, I get that, it’s fine. Thanks for reading and giving this a go. I’ll check those books out. Hope you enjoy further travels in Britain and find a blog that’s more to your liking!
Great review, I did enjoy it, had some good laugh . I did not reed the book, started to watch it tonight on itv and got bored and annoyed with the storyline . The departure of Waldy actually was a last drop for me, couldn’t bear to watch it anymore. So reading your blog made my evening .
I just watched The Making of a Lady and liked it. The plot is good, although the manuscript isn’t. I would have loved to see more of Emily’s and Waldehurst’s relationship. Things happened too fast. Especially we would deserve to see more how Emily and Waldehurst got to know each other and ”enjoy one another’s company” like Waldehurst said before going to India. And we would definitely deserve to see how they finally got together after the nightmare in the house. It all happened in a few minutes.
I loved your blog and your comments on the film. You made me laugh! (Who would buy a craphole?) ( Come on Waldy, you can kiss your own wife, for God’s sake!)
And I agree – the costumes are gorgeous. The actors do a good job. Linus Roache acts very well an upperclass, well behaving gentleman. He is sexy!
Glad you enjoyed reading! I agree it would have been nice to see the relationship actually unfold–that’s what the original novel is about. This was mostly based on the sequel, The Methods of Lady Walderhurst. Oh well.
I just finished watching the thing and I was left with so many questions. Like did dude really have malaria or maybe it was an opium addiction? What’s with Jane—she fell in love with gross fever man that the other maids are afraid of and the next day she kills him? Anyway, you perfectly articulated my questions and then some and made me feel like I wasn’t alone in scratching my head after.