Reviewer: Charity Bishop
A production filmed in the late eighties is The Lady & the Highwayman, a costume drama set during the turbulent 16th century in England. Beautiful costuming and impressive acting make this noteworthy, but the overall DVD quality undermines it.
England lies in turmoil after the death of the reining sovereign and King Charles II seeks to take claim upon the throne with the assistance of his most trusted men, including dashing young Lucius Vyne (Hugh Grant). Entrusted to his care is his beautiful cousin Panthea (Lysette Anthony), an heiress who would do anything for king and country. A devious official of the crown has sought her hand in marriage, but it has been refused. Gaining information of her brother's imprisonment and planned execution, he offers Panthea an exchange -- the release forms for her brother, if she will become his wife. Unwilling to see her brother hanged, the innocent girl agrees. But after the marriage ceremony, her husband proves to be brutal and cruel -- first killing her beloved pet dog, and then trying to take advantage of her in the coach.
Then the notorious highwayman Silver Blade rides to her rescue. The masked nobleman duels with her husband, resulting in the wealthy man's death, and carries Panthea to safety. Awed by his bravery and compassion, the girl longs to know the identity of her savior. Her marriage never comes to light, as the carriage-men are sworn to secrecy, and ten years later finds her the crowning jewel of the king's court. Her beauty has earned the respect of many throughout the realm but proves a threat to the king's mistress, Lady Castlemaine (Emma Samms), who fears her influence will be undermined by the girl's innocence. Together she schemes with Panthea's cousin Rudolph to bring both Lucius and Panthea to ruin. Shabby release not withstanding, once you get into The Lady & the Highwayman it proves a pleasurable watch. While it's true that the script is not particularly noteworthy and has "Harlequin Romance" written all over it, there's a sweetness to the main characters and an excitement to the action scenes.
Duels, daring escapes, and narrow scrapes with death pepper the dialogue, which also contains some romantic passages. I did feel in some respects the storyline failed; the ending seemed too swift in coming, and I would have appreciated a little more realism in the final battle, but overall there isn't much to complain about. I particularly liked the acting efforts from the ladies involved. Emma Samms was both beautiful and treacherous, and Lysette Anthony as Panthea has a sweetness and open sincerity I've not seen in other actresses. The men somewhat pale in retrospect. Hugh Grant is never particularly noteworthy but does get in some good lines.
In many respects, The Lady & the Highwayman reminded me of The Scarlet Pimpernel merely for its narrow escapes and daring adventures. But there's also a hint of Zorro and Robin Hood thrown into the mix. It's also a pity that the quality is so poor, for in its original state I'm sure it was a very beautiful production to look at. A little more time and energy spent on this disk could have turned out a beautiful period production from an era in which even VHS tapes turn out remarkable quality. But when the studio doesn't regard it as anything more than "TV fare," how is the audience to differ?
Sexual banter, references to lovers; a man tries to undress his wife (she resists).
A handful of mild profanities.
Sword duels; a a man apparently beats a small dog to death (unseen).