The Real Charlotte (1991)

 “Not a drop of dirty Saxon blood in him.”

Set in late nineteenth century Ireland, The Real Charlotte is a tale of passion, jealousy and revenge, which revolves around the ambitions of bitter spinster Charlotte Mullen (Jeananne Crowley). When the film begins, Charlotte inherits her aunt’s house and a sum of money with the promise that she’ll offer help to a young cousin, Francie. While she doesn’t relish the task of taking over seventeen-year-old Francie’s care, Charlotte keeps her promise. Poverty-stricken Francie, who lives in Dublin with her widowed mother and a house full of siblings, arrives to live with Charlotte.

Francie (Joanna Roth) is young, beautiful, vivacious, and a flirt. Charlotte sets her ambitious eyes on an advantageous match for Francie, and her target is shy Christopher Dysart (Robin Lermitte). The Dysarts are the most powerful, wealthiest family in the area, and with Christopher as the only son, he’s set to inherit the family mansion, the title, etc. But Francie doesn’t cooperate with Charlotte’s plan; she’s attracted to a young British officer, Gerald Hawkins (Nicholas Hewetson). There’s another man who desires Francie–Roderick Lambert (Patrick Bergin). Although Lambert is married, he adores Francie, and showers her with attention and gifts. Lambert has known Francie since she was a child, and some people are oblivious to the underlying nature of his attentions. But when Charlotte discovers Lambert’s true feelings for Francie, she’s bitterly jealous, and this sparks a chain of disastrous events.

All the main characters in this drama are duplicitous to one degree or another. Charlotte for example, poses as a friend to several people while she laces these relationships with poisonous remarks. The overview of the class structure with its subtle and not-so-subtle differentiations is very well done. While the Anglo-Irish Dysarts with their British connections are on the top of the human pile, their British visitor considers the Dysarts quaint and unpleasantly eccentric. Charlotte and Lambert fall beneath the Dysarts on the ranking chain, but they are both merciless to anyone who is ‘beneath’ them socially–and this includes the local peasantry, and Julia Duffy–an Catholic Irishwoman who’s most effectively, and legally, disenfranchised.

The servants are portrayed sympathetically, and since they are largely treated like invisible vermin, they are privy to scenes that reveal the true natures of their ‘masters.’ As for the gentry, well, Sir Benjamin Dysart is indulged and demented, and Charlotte is hated and feared by the Irish peasantry who see her true vicious, grasping nature. The seeds of civil unrest in the country are present and will erupt within a few short years.

The Real Charlotte is a made-for-British television four-part series on a 2 DVD set. If you enjoy costume dramas, or just love British television, then you should enjoy The Real Charlotte based on a novel by Somerville. Unfortunately the ending was a bit abrupt, and this weakened the film. If you enjoy The Real Charlotte I also recommend the DVD Troubles (novel written by J.G Farrell). From director Tony Barry.

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