Lady Audley’s Secret (2000)

“One thing I’ve learned in my new life, it’s simply a matter of money.”

If you are expecting BBC quality drama here, you are about to be disappointed. Lady Audley’s Secret receives soap opera treatment in this 2000 television version. Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s novel is a splendid example of Victorian ‘sensation fiction’ and as such it certainly lends itself to melodrama, smelling salts, and swooning heroines. Unfortunately, this production goes through the motions, but an unpolished production, and a clumsy script create a mediocre result.

When the film begins, governess Lucy Grey (Neve McIntosh) agrees to marry her wealthy employer Sir Michael Audley (Kenneth Cranham). His daughter Alicia (Juliette Caton) is delighted. Meanwhile cousin Robert Audley (Steven Mackintosh) arrives back from Australia with his friend and fellow traveler, George Talboys (Jamie Bamber). George’s wife and young child have mysteriously disappeared, and he searches for them while Robert goes to the Audley mansion. Robert is immediately smitten by his uncle’s youthful beautiful new bride. Robert returns to the house dragging along his friend, George along with him ….

The unsubtly of the script manages to take all of the mystery out of the plot, making it clear exactly what skullduggery is afoot from almost the first scene. The mystery here–what happened to George’s wife–is so clumsily portrayed that it should be obvious (even to all the characters). What remains–once the suspense is slaughtered–is just an exercise in soap opera shenanigans with no substance. Perhaps this wouldn’t be such a crime, but the script is choppy and leaps all over the place. The audience should be kept on the edge of their seats with breathless anticipation, but instead the film runs through the scenes with an almost mechanical desire to get to the conclusion. With this sort of material, it’s impossible to do justice to the subject in 108 minutes (the time frame alone for the complexities of this story should set off alarms). Steven Mackintosh manages a valiant performance, but it’s simply not enough to salvage the film. From director Betsan Morris Evans.

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