Title: Lady Audley's Secret
Original Airdate: May 17th, 2000
Availability: The DVD is out of print, but you can still track down copies via Amazon and Half.com
Synopsis: Sez the DVD package, apparently: "A twisted tale of deception based on the Victorian novel written by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET is a classic tale of mystery, romance, and betrayal. When Lucy Graham weds the much older, aristocratic Sir Michael Audley, his nephew Robert becomes deeply suspicious of the lovely young woman's motives. To further complicate matters, Robert's dear friend George has gone missing, and Robert believes Lucy may be involved in his disappearance. As Robert attempts to discern the truth about Lucy's dark past, he cannot help but feel irresistibly drawn to her beauty and dangerous allure..."
I add: An odd adaptation of Braddon's "sensation novel" (read: period potboiler!) of the same name, which I'm comfortable saying tho I haven't even read the book. The majority of the people in it are pretty much rotten, or at the very least make crappity decisions, though George Talboys - Jamie's character - is relatively high on the list of good'uns. Shame he's in the film for a total of about 10 minutes, give or take a pretty close up or two. (Actually, most likely take. As I noticed comparing the action of the movie to the Wikipedia summary of the book, damn this script takes a LOT.)
Worth Watching? Just baaaarely. Despite the fact that Jamie is young and exceedingly lovely in a long-haired, cravat-wearing dreamy kind of a way, he disappears early on in the film and although much of the drama centers on his character, not having him around to watch during it means that the experience vacillates between boredom and irritation most of the time.
Does he live or die? Umm... you're going to have to read to find out, only because, as noted, it's the point upon which the ENTIRE film revolves around. Oh, bother...
Quick summary of the pre-George intro: Alicia Audley lives with her rich father, Sir Michael, and her pretty governess, Lucy. One day Sir Michael proposes marriage to Lucy, who professes discomfort at the implications of marrying a rich older man like himself which will cause her to rapidly rise above her station... but of course, she accepts anyway. And when she's giddily packing her meager governess' quarters up, she mentions something about "married and forgotten"... hmm, whassat all about, aye?
Oh, who cares tho really, because now we get to meet GEORGE! Well, OK, technically we're also meant to be meeting Robert Audley (Sir Michael's nephew), who has just returned from an extended fortune-hunting trip to Australia with his friend George Talboys. George gets rankled when Robert makes light of his earnings abroad, pointing out that "every minute of every day" he busted his arse seeking gold because this money is to support his wife and child, whom he had to leave in England because he could only afford a single passage. Basically, he bailed so that he could earn a better life for his family. We aren't given proper back-story to indicate why there were so poor, but for now I'll allow it as I expect we'll get plenty of detail later (*ahem, ahem*) Anyway, now he's back. And he has rather luscious floppy hair and I like him already. Which is unfortunate, as he's going to go *poof* in about 20 mins. time...
So back at Audley manor (or whatever), we discover that Robert is courting Alicia. (Which I realize was a far more common practice in those days, but still, courting cousins always squicks me out a bit...) He is introduced to Lucy as his new aunt, Lady Audley, and is clearly smitten with her from minute one. Later that evening, as Lucy is playing the piano while everyone converses in the drawing room, Robert mentions his good friend George Talboys and Lucy promptly gets a good-old fashioned attack of the vapors and faints. No one questions the timing, but we see that she continues to be plagued by screaming, crying nightmares. All the while, Sir Michael nudges Robert to propose to Alicia because if they can produce a child, they stand to inherit his fortune; he's trying for his own heir with Lucy, but it hasn't been working. Though it doesn't stop her, once she recovers from her vapor-stupor, from hopping back into bed to try again. Whilst asking her husband for a new dress. Seriously, EW. The dress is for a London trip, BTW, in which we see Lucy visiting an older man and a wee gingery boy whom she tells "I won't let you live like this." Oh, hang on... hang on one cotton pickin' minute... (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
Right. So... there's a bit where Sir Michael is encouraging his daughter to be more aggressive in reciprocating to her courtin' cousin (Poor Alicia, she really is a pawn in this whole damn affair...)... but whatever, it's been like 10 minutes since we saw George, which is way too long.
Turns out he's back at Robert's flats catching up on what's gone down since they were away and realizing he has no idea where his wife's gone. She doesn't seem to be in Yorkshire. Though he does find a lock of her hair in a trunk... Robert notices it's the same color as his new aunt's (!!!) and then goes on about how beautiful and fragile she is in a totally stalker-ish and icky manner, which George kinda blows over since he's too preoccupied with thoughts of his wife (!!!) Oh, and for the record, his pinky ring keeps drawing attention to his hands, and his trousers are impeccably tight and don't get enough screen time, either.
Suddenly, Robert approaches George with a clipping from a newspaper which poor George attempts to read aloud, only to get choked up when he realizes it's his darling Helen's obituary. Ohhh, hell.
George and Robert travel to the Isle of Wight where Helen is apparently buried. George gets told that she died of consumption and never spoke of him on her death bed, and promptly collapses upon her grave, sobbing. Poor puppy and his adorable bowler hat.
He also inquires with some drunken sea captain about Helen's father, gets asked "What do you care?!" and then slugs the old codger in the gut. Temper, George, now... oh, who are we kidding? Three years with snakes and dingos and big frak-off spiders looking for gold to support his family, and now THIS?! Also, where the HELL is his babby boy? I'd have a short fuse, too.
Robert does the least he can do, which is bring George back to his Uncle's lush estate and get him proper drunk. George thanks his friend for the hospitality, but he and his bulging shirtsleeves (unf) are not fit for company, he says. Besides, he's got a son he needs to set about finding. Suddenly, Sir Michael, Lucy and Alicia approach in a carriage; Alicia sees Robert and George through the window, and presuming (correctly) as to George's identity, announces it... at which point Lucy promptly faints again and gets rushed into the house pasts the guests. O HAI HOW CORNVENIENT. *facepalm*
Lord Audley inquires with the doctor whether or not his wife might be pregnant, but the doc says it's too early to tell. Meanwhile Lucy begs off greeting Robert and George because she "can't cope with guests" right now. (So, kinda like how you couldn't cope with having the hottest husband in Yorkshire, eh? O SNAP.) Which leaves Robert and George to kind of just hang about the estate waiting to be properly introduced, while they fish in their crisp white shirtsleeves and all we get is a deeply unsatisfying long-shot like this one:
Lucy finally recovers her faculties, only to quickly and stealthily lock up her quarters and cover the ego-licious portrait of herself, then hustles out with her husband to London again. On the way she encourages Alicia to be more aggressive with Robert as well (Jeez, that poor girl!), which leads Alicia back to the riverbank where George and Robert are still fishing, albeit in their greatcoats now. (Damn.) Robert still seems to be giving far more consideration to his beautiful aunt than to Alicia, who totally recognizes the creepy but continues to try to insinuate herself, asking if perhaps George wouldn't like a tour of the house? Though he really doesn't seem to care (and who could blame him - as if we needed another reminder, MISSING CHILD), George agrees to this. Robert says "Oh, right good, cause you need to see my hot aunt's portrait!" Honestly, I don't know why Alicia doesn't kick him in the balls.
When they discover Lady Audley's quarters are locked, Alicia leads them upstairs through a super-sekrit passage which she and Robert used to play in as children. (Cousins, remember? Blech.) George looks at Robert as if to say "This better be worth getting my spotless coat all dusty." Meanwhile, on the train, Lucy is having day-mares about, seemingly, taking her child away from the old man and placing him in an... orphanage? It's unclear. As so much is in this film. Bloody hell.
Alicia and the boys sneak into Lady Audley's chambers and while they're snooping around, Robert pockets one of Lucy's combs in - wait for it - a totally creepy fashion. Alicia beckons him to where the paintings are, and with everyone in full view, Robert yanks the drape Lucy covered her picture with off.... and it's time, George m'boy! REACT!:
(Okay, and I wanted to post two shots because he's BEAUTIFUL. Anyway, moving on...)
When Lucy returns later and sees the passage door open and her portrait exposed, she knows the jig is up. She then berates Alicia to tears without telling her why she's so upset about it, and then goes to the window; who should be looking up at her standing in the rain like a poor wet tomcat but George. (Admittedly, this might also fall under the "creepy" column, but I'm waiving it in his favor because let's face it, the boy has a right to seethe...)
We suddenly cut to the rainstorm where wet George and Lucy are struggling; despite manhandling a lady not being very gentlemanly at ALL, he's got a point in that he's attempting to force her to confess to Sir Michael... but this scrappy gold-digger's having none of this honesty bull-hockey. She smashes him over the head, he falls arse-over-elbows into an open well, and while he's down there screaming "Whyyy?!" and apparently drowning, Lucy leaves her real husband - you know, THE HOT ONE WHO RISKED EVERYTHING FOR HER AND HER SON - to die. Oh, hell no, Polly Prissy-Pants, you just lost all your sympathy privileges. Not the least of which because Jamie's more or less out of the action now and I'm really not looking forward to spending the bulk of my time with you and Robert the Creeper.
Alright, now bear with me, my dears... here goes a VERY LONG chunk of recap that involves George being discussed constantly but is screencap-free. Which ZOMG SUX, but there we have it...
Robert goes searching the grounds for George, can't find him. Meanwhile Lucy's maid, Phoebe, and her boorish fiance, Luke Marks, are snooping about in her box full of baubles when they find... a baby shoe. HMMMM. Lucy tries to distract everyone with pretty piano playing, and telling Robert she bets George split for London, but Robert insists his friend went to see his father-in-law and look for his son. Next day Lucy sends a telegraph to Southhampton, and narrowly avoids Robert and Alicia in the street; Robert heads straight there, where a very drunk Captain Maldon (Helen's father) tells him George came last night then headed to Liverpool to sail for Sydney, a tale which reeks of bullshit to Robert. Also, lucky for him, he finds a torn-up telegram in the fireplace, more or less repeating what the captain just said verbatim. This has to be the most half-assed subterfuge EVER.
Lucy and Robert continue to not-flirt-well-kinda-but-not-really (eww), while bantering about how boo-hoo, her childhood was not as "blessed" as his. He confronts her with the telegram and she tries to dodge, meanwhile Sir Michael continues to press Robert to propose to Alicia, which he does and she accepts. (Poor, poor Alicia.) Luke bursts in on Lucy and Phoebe and blackmails Lucy for money because he's got the baby shoe; Lucy asks Phoebe not to marry that brute, but Phoebe insists she must. Once we get to Lucy protesting that she knows what it's like to be in a "bad marriage" firsthand... OK, I'm trying not to lay on the hate because lord knows the script does NOT help us understand why her marriage to George was bad. (There's no evidence that he beat her or anything else truly awful, besides more than likely leaving for Australia without properly stating his intentions... yeah, that was a big mistake. But a big enough mistake to deserve choking to death on well water?! I PROTEST.)
So Phoebe marries Luke, and then around Christmas, there's a really skeezy scene where Robert spies on a half-naked Lucy, who shuts the door in his face, only for him to run directly into Alicia who he then kisses before running off. EW EW EW, both of these two just make me want to shower for days. At the Christmas party, Alicia chats with a nice chap called Harry who clearly would make a better husband (so it's safe to assume that'll never work out); Robert, then, follows Lucy outside where he sees her paying off another bribe to Luke Marks. When he goes back inside, they're chatting about George because as it turns out Harry is a neighbor of his family; Harry says he hasn't seen him since "he made a fool of himself with that fortune-hunting," at which point a huffy-to-the-point-of-hyperventilating Lucy says "Ooh, better watch what you say about the great George Talboys around Robert!" and then cites gossip claiming George abandoned his late wife. Ever more suspicious now, Robert proceeds to explain about how George's entire Australian adventure was for his wife and son's benefit; Lucy goes on a ridiculous snooty rant in which she generalizes that ALL men find women completely replacable and, despite considering myself something of a feminist, there isn't much I'd rather do right now than stuff that baby shoe in her gob to get her to shut up. Alicia VERY RIGHTLY points out that no one should question George's constancy in his absence, but Lucy just keeps ranting and ranting and claims she's standing up for Mrs. Talboys honor, even though oh, no, she didn't know the woman personally... and when they have a moment to themselves, Robert more or less figures it out and confronts her. She confesses her secret is that she finds his attentions "tiresome"... well, she has got a point there.
Blah blah bliddy blah, Luke Marks sells Lucy's effects that he took to Robert. He tries confronting Lucy again, who notes he shouldn't do anything to "distress" his uncle, and they not-flirt some more and it's still skeezy; Lucy goes back to Phoebe, who finds her husband intolerable now and accepts her old maid's position back. Harry proposes to Alicia, who turns him down (mistaaaaake!), Sir Michael wishes Robert and Alicia would get the hell married already, so he tries to get Lucy to talk sense to Robert which results in them SNOGGING, which Sir Michael totally sees. Jeeez. Alicia runs after Robert, and finds him only to see Lucy emerge from the bushes having torn the front of her corset to make it look worse than it actually is. No, really, can these two just elope to Crazytown together right now? Because I'm OVER them both. Intensely.
Lucy whines and sobs to Sir Michael for forgiveness, Robert heads to his quarters in London, just missing Phoebe who Lucy sent there to retrieve something from him... namely all the letters and effects George had which connect her to him, which Lucy promptly burns. Robert does still have an annual that Helen gave George, which he uses to match the handwriting to a note Lucy wrote and... FINALLY, solid proof.
*zzzzzzzzzz* Sorry, dozed off... anyway, Robert confronts Lucy for the billionth time, at which point she continues to deny though now, finally, somewhat copping to the truth? They're just talking in circles at this point... The Audleys continue to bicker, during which Alicia is told to go to her room at least twice (What? She's at least 20!); Robert goes to Yorkshire to investigate where the Talboys once lived, discovering first that George perhaps unadvisedly left just a week after the baby came (OK, fine, I'm still advocating in his favor because... CRAY CRAY HELEN/LUCY)... and also happens upon some letters that Helen wrote in which she begins to detail a "darkness" overtaking her in her husband's absence. Depression? True madness? We don't really know yet... though we get plenty of evidence soon enough as, while Robert sleeps at the inn in Yorkshire, it appears Lucy made a long distance trip up there with the sole intention of BURNING HIM ALIVE. She sets his bed on fire with a candle and takes off. OK, we're in honest to goodness Fatal Attraction territory now.
Back at the Audley Asylum, Sir Michael reads a letter stating that Harry has packed up and left for the continent (There went your ticket out, Alicia...); Lucy goes for a walk only to run into Robert, who has survived the attempt on his life though he's got a nasty burn scar on both his face and hand. Still, he looks quite well for being maimed. FINALLY, they march back inside and Lucy/Helen gives a full confession - though it's so full of boo-hoo, woe is me, I couldn't stick it out despite poverty because I truly loved my COMPLETELY GORGEOUS husband, oh and thank you for throwing us a bone, film - here's a flashback of George in his cavalry redcoat being extra-floppy-haired and dreamy:
*sigh* Anyway, yeah... poor Helen. Who left her son with her drunken father, then in order to fake a new life as a governess, PAID a dying woman to pose as herself so there would be a body to bury and announce in the papers. Ew, ew, and a sprinkling of BARF. Oh, and apparently when she was a kid, she discovered the mother she thought was dead was in fact alive and totally psychotic, in a straitjacket in an asylum, and she blames alll this on a "hereditary" insanity she is convinced she's going to succumb to. Ooookay then. Sir Michael is utterly distraught, so it's up to Robert to bring in a shrink to examine Lucy; the head doctor determines she's not insane, per se, but she is a cold, remorseless, raging narcissist. Well, DUH.
Sir Michael departs for Europe with Alicia, who we sense is now consigned to a lonely existence as she cares for her aged, heartbroken father indefinitely. Lucy, meanwhile, is still being institutionalized; Robert accompanies her to France, and along the way she also confesses to killing George by leaving him to drown. (Also in this version of events, we actually hear George say to Lucy's protest of the three year absence: "I would have waited a lifetime for you!" And I believe him. So there.) Robert tells her she destroyed two of the finest men he's ever met, but she is still smug and superior to the last... and alright, she has a point yet again when she indicates that with herself locked up, Robert now stands to inherit the entire Audley fortune. (Frankly, though, I suspect that part of the creeper would rather be locked up with her. Eww.)
Mopey Robert returns to his flats in London, so that we can have about a minute and a half that sort of justifies slogging it out through all this tiresome psycho-drama.... he finds a strange girl sleeping on his bed, and over in the corner: OMFG GEORGE!:
Oh, yes. The lad explains that managed to pull himself out of the well with a broken arm after Lucy had gone, stumble to a nearby village where a doctor set it for him and gave him a change of clothes. The girl, apparently, is called Mary, and they are clearly an item by the way George affectionately caresses her cheek... though we aren't told who she is or how she helped him get by, though he implies as much. Also, we have no idea how he's been spending this time and whether or not he found, or even tried to find, his son. WHY, SCRIPT, WHY ARE YOU SO OBTUSE?! I demand to know that George set shit RIGHT! Anyway, Mary gains a few brownie points when Robert asks "What about Lucy?" and she replies "LET HER ROT!" (Hee.) Still, Robert insists Lucy/Helen simply cannot be allowed to continue believing she's a murderess, which leads to the Bamber-Face which almost of makes this whole turgid exercise worth it...
"Hmm, really, old sport? Are you sure? Because I sort of think she CAN." Bwahahaha.
Anyway to sum up as fast as I can... Alicia is pissed at Robert for throwing Lucy in the nuthouse, despite everything, because that was her greatest fear (ending up like her mother). So a reconciliation THERE is out. Sir Michael bemoans the house being quiet without Lucy, and he's lounge-bound which means he's probably dying of a broken heart. Yeesh. Robert goes on his merry way, and ends up at a train station where he catches sight of a beautiful blonde woman with a very familiar face... can it be? Oh, hell no... OH YES IT IS. She escaped! She done did it again! What the hell did we suffer through this bloated potboiler for?! *head-desk*
Now, to illustrate just how full-of-holes and unsatisfying an adaptation this is, I'm going to copy for you a couple of paragraphs from the plot summary of the book on Wikipedia:
Suspecting the worst of Lady Audley and being afraid for little Georgey's life, Robert travels to Lieutenant Maldon's house and demands possession of the boy. Once Robert has Georgey under his control, he places the boy in a school run by Mr. Marchmont. Afterwards, Robert visits George's father, Mr. Harcourt Talboys, and confronts the Squire with his son's death. Mr. Harcourt listens dispassionately to the story. In the course of his visit to the Talboy's manor, Robert is entranced by George’s sister Clara, who looks startlingly like George. Clara’s passion for finding her brother spurs Robert on.
So, the child whose welfare we NEVER get a clear read on in the movie is looked after by Robert (oh, and BTW, his creepy lust for Lucy/Helen doesn't seem to be a factor here... anyone actually read the book who can confirm that?) Also... GEORGE HAS A SISTER?! I find it amusing that her similarity to George "entranced" Robert, as that might have injected a healthy and welcome dose of latent homoeroticism into these proceedings, that might have at least been interesting. *chortle*
Oh, and this is the original ending...
Robert grieves for his friend George until Luke Marks, who was fatally injured in the fire, manages, before dying, to tell Robert that George survived Lady Audley’s attempted murder and that George, with Luke’s help, returned to Australia. Robert is overjoyed, and he asks Clara to marry him and to go with him to Australia to find George. Clara accepts, but before they set out, George returns. The narrative ends with Clara and Robert happily married and living in a country cottage with George, with Alicia marrying her once-spurned suitor, Harry Towers, with the abandonment of Audley Court and all its unhappy memories, and with Lucy dying abroad.
*facepalm* So basically, everyone in the book sounds more sympathetic and the ending much more satisfying. Why, film? WHY ARE YOU SO FULL OF FAIL? Anyway, this has gone on long enough. I leave you to the comments... and seriously, if anyone has read the entire novel, weigh in PLEASE!
*Addendum: I should point out that the Neve McIntosh and Steven Mackintosh are both very good in this. Just that their characters are appalling.