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Tuesday, February 02, 2010:
What I'm watching: Lillie (1978): miniseries

The real Lillie Langtry (1853-1929) was the original Victorian supermodel and America's first "superstar." Inauspiciously born on the Isle of Jersey, Lillie began life as a small-town tomboy and went on to challenge Victorian society's attitudes toward women. Eventually sought after by painters, photographers, writers, and hostesses, the beautiful Lillie befriended Oscar Wilde, bedded the Prince of Wales, bore a daughter to Prince Louis of Battenburg, owned a California winery and winning racehorses, gained a British title, left a trail of broken hearts behind her wherever she went, and even had a town in Texas named after her. What the controversial Lillie did not gain through marriage, she earned as an actress and notable advertising figure who endorsed everything from soap and cigarettes to bustles.

Originally released in 1979, this 13-part Masterpiece Theatre presentation re-creates Lillie's tumultuous life. The DVD features include well-implemented interactive menus, a slide show, cast filmography, and Web links. While the Victorian and Edwardian details are convincing, the series as a whole has an unfortunate 1970s TV aesthetic--the color and lighting often fail to meet current standards. And although Peter Egan is enthralling as Oscar Wilde, Francesca Annis's performance as Lillie is disappointingly flat. For this reason, Lillie will let down viewers seeking to be inspired by a boldly rebellious Victorian woman. After all, Lillie Langtry was no suffragette. On the other hand, anyone who enjoys a little Wilde-style gossip and social intrigue will find hours of scintillating entertainment in Lillie. --Tara Chace

I still continue to wonder how movies end up in my queue because I don't remember putting them there, but this one was there anyway. It sounded interesting, and I do like knowing about infamous people in history, so when the first disk showed up in my mailbox, I gamely put it in the player and decided to see if it was worth my time.

At first, I was very disappointed. We begin the series when Lillie is only 15, however she's a 15-year old played by a woman in her 30's. Right then the eye-rolling started. I couldn't help thinking this was a disaster of epic proportions. (Note: a very young Anthony Stewart Head - Rupert Giles from BtVS was in the first episode) I was all tempted to just send the DVD's back w/o watching them, but instead I fast-forwarded to the 2nd or 3rd episode and let it play. And before you knew it, I was hooked.

Now, this is a very outdated bit of cinematography, but engaging all the same. It's definitely a bit campy, and the actor who played Oscar Wilde was delightfully over the top, and I enjoyed it very much. Lillie is played by Francesca Annis, who most recently might be remembered as the woman for whom Ralph Fiennes left his wife for. (She might also be remembered for a sexy British t.v. serial called Reckless where she plays a surgeon's wife who is the object of affection for a much younger man). Anyway, Annis is very beautiful, and as Lillie, she knows it and exploits it to her best advantage. She is a married woman who nevertheless has countless affairs and makes a sensation in London as well as in America. It's rather amusing to watch as just about every man she encounters is overcome with maddening love (read: lust) for her and wishes to marry her. And chances seem to be that she takes them up on their offer, especially if there is bling involved. Despite her materialistic heart, I found myself liking Lillie very much. Though not the most empowering and heroic of role models, she managed to cultivate a career and following with her looks and savvy. And it was so much fun to watch all the drama.

I still have 3 more episodes to watch out of the 13, and I can't wait to get the last DVD. I don't care what the reviewers say, I think Francesca Annis is a compelling Lillie, and she's the main reason I'm still watching. So while it may be outdated and frothy, that's part of the reason why I'm liking it so much. Good, jolly fun *g*

Do you like watching biographies/movies based on real people?

If so, can you name a favorite?



  1. My secret shame is that I watch The Karen Carpenter Story EVERY.TIME. IT'S. ON.

    I don't know why, but OhEmGee do I love it. Also love The Grace Kelly Story too. Which let's face it, is just like a fairy tale (it ends before she dies).

    I love TV bio-pics. The trashier the better!

  2. This sounds like an intriguing mini-series! I've never heard of it or Lille, but her life sounds fab.

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