Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Author Francis Hodgson Burnett is best known for her delightful children's stories, but she also wrote two books for adults that have been blended into this Victorian love-and-horror story.
Emily (Lydia Wilson) is a penniless assistant to a wealthy and dismissive woman at the center of London's society. Her hope is that Lady Walderhurst will hire her as a full-time secretary, thus defeating her financial woes. But when she does something for Lady Walderhurst's charming, widowed son, James (Linus Roache), against his mother's wishes, it displeases her mistress enough to get her sacked. Feeling responsible and out of admiration for her sensible nature, James proposes a relationship in which each benefits equally... his marriage will ensure that his mother ceases to match him up with flighty girls, and Emily will have security and respectability in society.
Their marriage raises a few brows but leads toward a lasting romantic love... then, James feels compelled to return to India with the army. In his absence, his cousin Alec (James D'Arcy) and his wife come for a visit. But nothing is quite what it seems and Emily will soon find herself in grave danger.
I enjoy stories in which I'm not sure what may happen next and in many ways this adaptation succeeds. My first time through I could not help finding certain characters (such as Emily) very foolish, but on a subsequent viewing I realized her naivety makes her vulnerable to influence. She is one of the more delightful heroines I have seen in recent years, and James is an unusual hero... a very quiet, very self-contained and almost awkward man whose romantic attentions are hesitant out of fear of taking advantage. Some of their interactions together are painfully shy and that's what makes them so riveting. No one here is without their flaws and virtues equally.
There are certain flaws; the rapid pace makes for a great deal of energy but doesn't allow for immense character development, and there isn't much chemistry between the leads. Yet, it works and it works well. The costuming is absolutely gorgeous -- when Emily removed her embroidered coat to reveal a fully hand-stitched, lace-laden wedding gown, I gasped in appreciation. The build-up of suspense is also wonderful, since at each moment as the story goes on, you're fearful for the lives of not only the main characters but the staff as well. It's simply quality entertainment of an unexpected sort.
Very brief backside nudity as a man puts on a nightshirt. Brief sexual content (a man on top of a woman, kissing her, with his hand under the covers). A married couple is romantic toward one another (he pushes her down on a bed and climbs on top of her).
Mild abuses of deity and a few profanities.
A man grabs a woman by the throat; evidence of other physical abuse. Characters struggle with one another; a woman is nearly smothered. A body is found drowned in the lake. A gun goes off, implying a man has been shot (we see him with bloodied wounds).