Hugh Grant’s the dandy highwayman who you’re too scared to mention…
It’s back to those Swashbuckling Restoration times, the time of dashing heroes and damsels in distress with an All Star cast to die for.
1989 – Promo for ‘The Lady and the Highwayman, TheClassicSports
When Darlin Husband recommended I check out the “historical” (read hysterical), romantic, drama The Lady and the Highwayman (1988), I immediately thought of “bodice ripper” and gave an emphatic no. He then read out the cast in Darlin Husband order – that is in a list from more likely to less likely to convince his wee wife that this would be one to watch – so his list started with Emma Samms and then he swiftly followed this up with Oliver Reed.
After wading through thirteen cast members, he ended with the TV Movie’s leading lady, Lysette Anthony. I have nothing against Anthony as an actress, it’s just that she unlike Samms didn’t appear in Dynasty (1981-89) and The Colbys (1987) or Venom (1981) with Oliver Reed. The latter will be reviewed here soon, as he’s the snarling best in this Ollie vs
Klaus Kinski killer snake kidnapping movie. So watch this space…
After (smugly) convincing me, he then dropped the bombshell and told me this film was based on a Barbara Cartland novel, Cupid Rides Pillon. I immediately had a certain Matt Lucas character, Dame Sally Markham from Little Britain (2003-06) in my head narrating this book to her secretary. As I hate contrived romance, I thought again, until Emma Samms convinced me with her posting a picture of herself from this TV movie, off set and in her wellies.
The plot takes us to Merrie Englande at the time of Oliver Cromwell – not I hasten to add as played by Richard Harris because that would be weird – at around 1658. Some may argue this is a far better movie… but I digress. Anyway, the narrator womansplains the scene, saying Charles I’s son, Charles (Michael York in a wig) is sussing out if he can take the throne back with some Cavaliers. Cue just that…
Some Roundheads arrive and a Royalist, Lucius Vyne (a mulleted Hugh Grant) offers to ward them off. The future King gives Lucius his hat and ring, saying to take the ring as a pledge that he will help him out one day should he need it. Lucius distracts the men, who
incredibly believe they are chasing the future King. Lucius enters a cave, with the men in pursuit (which would be a far more convincing scene if it was actually dark inside the cave)…
Meanwhile, his cousin, Lady Panthea Vyne (Lysette Anthony) has to leave her family ancestral home. This as she is a woman, and therefore she isn’t the rightful male heir and because the presumed heir, her brother, John is missing. She is warding off the sleazy affections of Lord Drysdale (Ian Bannen) and Panthea marries him as he says he’ll help to save her brother’s life.
After Drysdale and Panthea marry, he tries to get it on in the carriage, and she’s having none of it. So Drysdale stomps on her – keeping in with the period – King Charles spaniel dog in a hissy fit. Panthea’s then saved from Drysdale’s evil clutches by a masked wonder, her cousin Lucius, now known as the Silver Blade (Hugh Grant this time in an S and M mask).
She doesn’t know it’s her cousin, Lucius because she’s a bit gleekit (stupid). This even though it’s much more obvious especially compared to other masked heroes. On a scale, it’s more obvious when compared to Pfeiffer’s Stephanie not knowing that girly swot Michael is the
Easy Cool Rider of her dreams in Grease 2 (1982) but less obvious than Bruce Wayne as Batman (1989). Panthea falls in love with him (these scenes setting the scene for future soft focus flashbacks).
Silver Blade tells Panthea that her brother died. She then tells Drysdale that Silver Blade is the best swordsman ever – as she swoons – and then he has a sword fight with Drysdale. Silver Blade wins (of course) and after he kills Drysdale, he then helps Panthea bury her dog – as a handy spade.. er handy – then he takes her home… cue Love Rides Pillion.
Fast forward two years later, and the Restoration is done and dusted. After saving more people than Carry on’s The Black Fingernail in Don’t Lose Your Head (1967) and holding up more carriages than Reverend Flasher in Carry on Dick (1974), we learn that Silver Blade has a huge bounty on his head.
Panthea is still a widow and she goes to live with her aunt, Lady Emma Darlington (Claire Bloom). She then joins the King’s court, where Charles now Charles II is the King with a new wife. Lovely Panthea gets his attention and is invited to be a lady of the bed chamber. This really pisses off the King’s (real life) mistress, Lady Castlemaine (Emma Samms).
Castlemaine gives her “rival” evil looks – these looks to kill were sadly never used by Samms in those soaps (unless I missed them in the Sammy Jo and Fallon Jeff Colby triangle), and so deserved a storyline just to include them – as this little upstart is now the centre of the men and court’s attention. After Castlemaine is snubbed by Panthea, she rues revenge… as this means wa-r.
So Castlemaine bands up with Rudolph (Christopher Cazenove), another of Panthea’s cousins who also has an axe to grind. Rudolph wants to claim the title of Duke of Manston Hall. The rightful heir, Lucius is missing. Panthea guesses that Silver Blade is Lucius (hence the wonderful overacting until she works out that he’s Lucius) and goes to warn him (after working out where he is) and they have a soft focus moment even though she is his cousin (and she works out that she loves him).
Castlemaine – after giving more evil looks – accuses Panthea of murdering Drysdale. Panthea knows the truth, but loyally stands by her
cousin man and says nothing… even though it means she will be executed if found guilty. Now that’s true cousin love. So it’s off to court with her lawyer, as Sir Lawrence Dobson (John Mills) advises Panthea, as she decides to defend herself… against the (soft voiced) prosecutor, Sir Philip Gage (Oliver Reed)…
What can I add about this swashbuckling romance tale… ?? This film has far too much expedition which wasn’t really needed. This constant introduction – and reintroduction with expedition – to the characters tell you the name of the character and it also outlines a short mostly irrelevant work profile.
It gets more than annoying and doesn’t really do much for the storyline apart from giving the starry cast more to say. If anything it makes the plot seem more confusing than the simple plot it is of a “During Restoration times, a girl falls for her masked cousin and the future heir to her estate and hopes to live happily ever after with him and her King Charles spaniel…”
Despite the silliness of the plot, the cast give it their all, and Emma Samms steals the show as she is based on the only real-life person – apart from Charles II (obviously) – so rightfully she needs a sterling performance. And who better to give it than our Em… Samms easily convinces us in this role, and she makes a fantastic villainess. But why they included this real-life woman, I have no idea especially as she does fictional things under a fictional name.
John Mills and Robert Morley join in this romp for enough time to warrant their paychecks. Both are billed as Special Guests rather than cameos. Cazenove like Samms is clearly enjoying himself, and his bad guy role is conniving as Ben Carrington and as camp as Dale Winton. Despite him snogging Samms, which this Dynasty fan found really clashed with her Dynasty knowledge. This was almost as bad as Maxwell Caulfield playing his off-screen wife’s on-screen second cousin (I think that’s what you call the son of your cousin). In Dynasty, Samms was Fallon and Cazenove was her father Blake’s long lost brother, Ben.
There is plenty of sword fighting, long curly wigs, King Charles spaniels and heaving bosumms as you would expect from this era. The frocks are lovely. Both the Roundhead and Cavalier costumes well designed. But the rustling noise they emit does drown out the
expedition plot. However, Grant’s mullet and those mulleted followers of his do look like – as Darlin Husband put it – the lead singer and extras from a New Romantics boyband pop video.
The sumptuous, rich castle settings are beautiful, and these add more music credibility to these historical events than the zany music used. The latter seemed to have little in common with the plot, and again Darlin Husband hit the nail on the head saying it sounded more akin to a Two Ronnies (1971-87) sketch than a swashbuckling “drama” of historical times.
The opening credits, take a while as they comprise all of the all-star cast shown as individual wee artistic pictures in a frame. The pictures on top of some really awful wallpaper and the credits in joined up writing (as I believe real romantic movies are). But don’t blink or you will miss Gordon Jackson, Gareth Hunt, Bernard Miles, Liz Fraser, James Booth and a Deus ex machina.
There are flashbacks aplenty, and one near flashback. In the latter, it looked like Gareth Hunt was having a bit of an epiphany in a crucial scene, but then he wasn’t. The flashbacks – where it’s clear there is a bit of cousin attraction – are complete with romantic soft-focus Grant and Anthony and their echoey voices – as if they were viewed through a telescope – are reminiscent of With Six You Get Egg Roll (1968) but were infinitely more disturbing as it’s her cousin, FFS.
The script is as you would expect banal, but with some wonderful acting, that enhances it (far more than it should) beautifully. It’s often repetitive and like you are re-mansplaining this to a toddler. For example…
The opening narration…
In 1649, the English Parliament had executed Charles I and England became a republic under the oppressive reign of General Oliver Cromwell, backed by the army. The king’s son, Charles II, made repeated attempted from France to regain the throne.
Cue Michael York as Charles II in the opening speech…
Lord Lucius, I am glad you persuaded me to risk coming out of exile in France to see for myself. I know now that the people are for me. They’re sick of Cromwell and his Commonwealth! They want their Charles II. But you have made powerful enemies…
However, this is the TV Movie that is one to watch, if you want to play a drinking game, I lost count around the times that characters were mentioned in other’s expedition-fueled speeches. This film has distinctly more family ties, than those in Dynasty and The Colbys. As it literally is – in both reality in this and in those soaps – a Dynastic acting delight with Emma Samms and Christopher Cazenove, and for these reasons alone if you do try to give this a wide berth, your resistance would be futile…
Weeper Rating: 0/10
Handsqueeze Rating: 0/10
Hulk Rating: /10
The Swashbucklathon 2021 No 18.
For Silver Screen Classic‘s 2021 Swashbucklathon I added this post on The Lady and the Highwayman. Other reviews with this cast included Christopher Cazenove in Dynasty, Three Men and a Little Lady and the Hammer House of Horror TV Series. Claire Bloom starred in The Spy who Came in from the Cold, Emma Samms in Dynasty and The Colbys. Gordon Jackson in Madame Sin, Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill. John Mills in Murder with Mirrors and Tiger Bay. Liz Fraser in the Carry on film series. Michael York in Murder on the Orient Express. Oliver Reed is in Oliver and Burnt Offerings.