‘Lady Caroline Lamb’ may not be the greatest movie ever made, but I happen to like it. Very much. It’s about the tempestuous love affair between Lady Caroline Lamb, (the wife of Lord Melbourne), and the poet Lord Byron. My senior English class was taken to see ‘Lady Caroline Lamb’ at the pictures by an over-zealous teacher, far too many years ago for me to remember. I don’t recall studying the poetry of Lord Byron at school, so I suspect our teacher was playing hookie with us by proxy.
Going to the pictures was a good way of escaping the schoolroom. In our senior year we were allowed
the freedom of going to see a movie –
any movie -- that had anything remotely
to do with what we were studying for exams. I suspect our teacher closed her eyes and used a pin to stab at the local paper’s entertainment page because she wanted a break, but this is only conjecture on my part. Not meaning
to sound ungrateful, for I preferred being at the movies to being at
school, so I knew she was doing us a favour, whether she thought she was or
|Sarah Miles as Lady Caroline Lamb|
Based on real-life historical characters, ‘Lady Caroline Lamb’ is set in the early 19th century, during the Napoleonic wars, and the defeat of French forces by the English at Waterloo. Born to the purple in 1785, Lady Caroline Ponsonby married the Hon. William Lamb, heir to the 1st Lord Melbourne in 1805. In 1812 she embarked on a foolish, but passionate liaison with George Gordon, Lord Byron. In the film, Byron and Caroline’s first meeting is depicted at a bare-knuckle boxing match. These pugilistic events were frequent in Regency England at the time.
|a portrait of historical Lady Caroline Lamb|
Lamb’s mother ( Margaret Leighton) is against her son marrying Caroline. Caroline was very much at odds with her society in that she shunned, almost violently so, the sexual hypocrisies of her era. Her downfall appears, at least in the film, to be her lack of ‘discretion’, which let powerful men do what they wished, with the onus being on the woman to keep quiet about what was going on..
|Mad, bad, dangerous to know?|
Firstly, you should watch ‘Lady Caroline Lamb’ in its original wide-screen aspect ratio. It looks pretty ravishing. Photographed by Oswald Morris, the rural English countryside is truly picturesque. With Art Direction by Carmen Dillon, its interiors are quite beautiful, and seem truly authentic. If you like lavish costume design, then you may also be in seventh heaven: Sarah Miles looks lovely as she dresses to seduce Lord Byron. That is at least, before being deserted by him.
Historic houses true to the Regency period were used for exterior shots, namely Chatsworth House, home to the (current) Duke and Duchess of Devonshire; Brocket Hall and Wilton House. (They are open to the public at the moment. Just do a Google search.) All three appear to be fully preserved as of 1972 when the film was made and add an atmosphere that is pleasingly authentic as an historic backdrop to the more personal dramas of the protaganists. The musical score by Richard Rodney Bennett is for a full symphony and is by turns melodic with solo viola, and evocative of the romantic era in classical music, the period of Beethoven, Schubert and other great classical composers.
|watch the film for an explanation of this still|
Laurence Olivier is in the film briefly, playing the Duke of Wellington, but the most interesting thing he does, is wearing what appears to be a false nose. Whilst some people do not like Sarah Miles and find her a little mannered in speech, I think she’s perfectly cast in the lead role. She captures Caroline’s delicacy as well as her iron will to live life on her own terms, which, being two extremely contrasting personality traits, must be a difficult thing for even the most accomplished actress to pull off. She gives herself to the part, which has the viewer sympathising with her through every temper tantrum, when they could be laughing at her. But I think she does well.
|The Iron Duke & Caroline in intimate conversation|
As I said at the beginning. ‘Lady Caroline Lamb’ is not without its faults, but I also think it has its share of virtues. If you’re looking for an undemanding but solid, romantic costume drama, based on a little bit of history with some good lead and supporting players (I also forgot to mention that John Mills is also in the cast), as well as excellent production values, I recommend ‘Lady Caroline Lamb’.