Reviewed by: Charity Bishop
|Featuring||Richard Coyle, Amelia Warner, Aidan Gillen, Martin Clunes, Michael Kitchen, Martin Jarvis, Barbara Flynn, Peter Vaughan, Anton Lesser, Anthony Calf, Jack Shepherd, Jesse Spencer, Neil Finnigan, Jack Baverstock, Trevor Cooper|
|Producer||Delia Fine, Alison Gee, Deirdre Keir, Gareth Neame, Jane Tranter|
|Distributor||A&E Television Networks|
Based on the best-selling classic novel by R. D. Blackmore, Lorna Doone is a poetic, romantic, and adventurous tale of forbidden love, compassion, and the strength that spans the gulf of hatred to find one man’s soul. The tale begins on a somber note. There is trouble in the wind for England, as with the King’s death, there will be a dispute over whom is to rule the crown, his heir or illegitimate son. However, this tension does not reach into the countryside, where much more prominent issues are pressing upon the nobility and peasant alike… namely, a band of notorious and brutal outlaws made up of the Doone family. Once noble and possessive of great lands and titles, they are now reduced to pillaging and thievery to satisfy their voracious appetites. And when one young boy’s father is murdered in cold blood by Carver, the heir to the ring of cruelty and bloodshed, the lad, John Ridd, swears revenge.
Now laden with the responsibilities of manhood, John strives to provide for his family, and in doing so encounters a dark-haired and mysterious girl named Lorna. Their brief but sweet encounter leaves a lasting impression, even through the years, until one day, John decides to seek her out once more. She is reluctant in his company, but he is persistent, until she reveals the reason for her apprehension… namely, that she is a Doone, and sought by Carver as his wife. John’s hatred for the family drives him away, but he finds himself strangely drawn back again, and what follows is a sweet romance. However, all is not well in the Doone Valley. Carver finds Lorna sufficient of age, and demands that they be married as soon as possible. His grandfather, and Lorna’s guardian, puts off the match, somehow hoping that she will find love and not lust in marriage.
But Carver is not to be dismissed, and knows that when Sir Ensor dies, there will be nothing to stop his marriage to Lorna. In the meantime, John’s uncle has been beaten, flogged and robbed by the Doones, and seeks revenge. John, as the witness and provider for the family, is called away to London without warning, and must find a chink in the cruel hearts of British leadership. But his stay may be longer than he’d thought, and Lorna’s defender is on his deathbed. What will emerge from this nest of passions and deceptions is an astonishing and somehow bewitching story of courage, family, and love with only a few minor caltrops that line the way.
The romance between John and Lorna is a pure one, kept to a couple of passionate kisses. Carver’s intentions are not so chaste, and he makes that plain. His obsession goes too far, but he never once misuses her, save for a forced kiss and veiled threat. A highwayman-turned-honest flirts with John’s younger sister, and John confronts him, saying that she is not “some barmaid to be seduced and left by the roadway,” but the man’s intentions are honorable, and they are happily married soon thereafter. John is faithful to Lorna even when a twist of fate pulls them temporarily apart. Language is extremely minimal, with one or two inappropriate uses of “God,” and several of “d*mn.”
Violence, however, is prevalent, and although the film is rated TVPG (available through A&E home video), I would press it into the PG-13 criteria. There are several violent and implied battles (with very little blood), fistfights, and a scene in which John is forced to travel through a battlefield strewn with bodies. (A bloodied stump is shown, but makes up the worst of the gore.) The Doones attack the farm in order to regain Lorna, and struggle with some of the women. Several people are shot and/or threatened by gunpoint at close range, and Carver is once quite rough with Lorna. A character commits suicide by allowing himself to drown in a bog. A beheading is also made apparent, although we merely see the man being lead up to the platform, and then the sound of an axe coming down. (Wealthy socialites in London also cheer as traitors are pronounced to be “hung,” or “beheaded.”)
Moral values are highly praised in this film. Lorna stops John from killing Carver early in the film by telling him that he would be the same as Carver—a cold-blooded murderer. John’s compassion is shown again later, when he attempts to save one of his enemies from the bog. However, he is not afraid to stand up for what he believes, and fights against the Doones when threatened. Sex is never implied, nor is impropriety, and even Carver passes up other women for his obsession with having Lorna. The bad guys are bad, the good guys are good, and each side is clearly defined; no shades of gray, but blunt and point lessons of honesty and truth are driven home. The acting is excellent, the quality surprising for the BBC, and the cast explosive and charismatic on-screen, especially eighteen-year-old Amelia Warner in the title role.
It is a pity that God was never mentioned as Lord and Savior in a story so full of unexpected twists and turns, gorgeous costuming, breathtaking landscape, and spine-tingling suspense, but as it stands, Lorna Doone is a surprisingly good—and surprisingly clean—feast for the eyes.