Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The Scandalous Lady W

"I belong to no man!"

It's almost a cliche to say that the BBC could do a costume drama in its sleep. Unfortunately that's what it seems to have done here.

Oh, it all looks good. You expect that. And Natalie Dormer is good and not to blame for her underwritten character. But given the huge themes at play here- the fact that women, in 1782 as here and for ninety years after, were legally their husbands' "property" and, of course, our old friend those sexual double standards- the script doesn't really involve us much inter characters, or get us to understand or care about them.

The concept is huge here: a woman isbeing persuaded by her husband to indulge his cuckolding fetish by shagging other men while he watches through a keyhole, thereby meeting another man with whom she elopes. She wins s victory of sorts by successfully fighting in court his attempt towin punitive damages against her new lover, but this comes at the terrible cost to herself of a shattered reputation, ultimately costing her access to her daughter and the very lover for whom she sacrificed all.

This is a heady brew. Why, then, do I not feel emotionally engaged? Perhaps this is not a story that could have been told over a mere ninety minutes; it feels extremely rushed, to the point of being hard to follow. Why not a six part series?

There are a couple of lines that made me smile- Lord North tells Sir Richard that "Lady Wortley will no more give up her independence than will the American colonies": rather witty for such a terrible prime minister. But beyond this there isn't much historical depth. The role of Lord Mansfield, presiding over the trial, in the ending of slavery on English soil is not even remarked upon, and neither is anything except plot, plot, plot.

This is a wasted opportunity of a story that could have made great telly. Hopefully one day it will. 

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