Acorn Media // 1990 // 87 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Roman Martel (Retired) // March 17th, 2011
The British costume drama was a staple of 1990s cinema. Of course there are the classic Merchant Ivory films, like Howards End, but there was also a resurrection of Jane Austin and Shakespeare adaptations. This version of Lorna Doone comes from that boom time. Let's see how it fits in.
Based on the novel by Richard Blackmore written in 1869, the film starts around 1673 in northern England. John Ridd and his son John (just to be confusing) are riding through the moors when they see a group of riders coming toward them. John fears that they may be the dangerous Doone clan, and is quickly proven right. His son ends up revealing their hiding spot and the father is killed.
Jump forward a decade or so and young John has grown into Clive Owen. One day while failing spectacularly at fishing, he meets the lovely Lorna Doone (Polly Walker). The two talk for a bit and immediately become twitterpated. Of course this is the worst idea ever, since John hates the Doone clan, and Lorna is promised to the snarling viper named Carver (Sean Bean).
What follows is a tale of forbidden love, bloody revenge, secret heritages and burning homesteads. Will our two lovers live to enjoy a life of bliss, or are they doomed to a tragic fate?
Hard to care really.
I'm guessing something got lost in the adaptation from the novel into a made-for-television production. One big chunk missing is the political situation occurring in England at the time the story takes place. There was a rebellion going on against King Charles II. While this movie makes some passing mention of it, you get the feeling that something is absent from the tale. Indeed, after some research I found that this historical element was a key part of the novel, as well as many of the other adaptations of this story. This version decided to tone down the rebellion material and focus more on standard romance novel stuff.
This can work just fine if it's executed correctly. But here, there is too much not gelling. First off are the performances. Clive Owen has been better -- much better. He spends most of this film looking pouty but confused, stunned but confused, sleepy but confused and confused with a dash of confused. As our hero, John is dull and lifeless. His rakish cousin Tom Faggus (Miles Anderson) is much more interesting and steals nearly every scene they share. You end up wishing the movie was about him.
Polly Walker looks lovely in her various costumes, but the script gives her nothing but fluffy lines and googly eyes. Walker can be a wonderful actress. Her performance as the delightfully devious Atia in the HBO series Rome is proof of that. But here, she does very little to enchant us.
Finally there's Sean Bean who is always an effective villain. In Lorna Doone he's in over the top mode. It should work out, but this time around I blame the costume. He looks like a 1600s glam rocker, with gloves that have golden skulls on them. No, seriously! Combined with the hair and the scarf...well, he looks ridiculous and not the least bit intimidating.
Director Andrew Grieve just doesn't construct the final product well either. The movie has some bizarre editing, flying along at some points, and then padded out with sequences of people riding horses in the fog. The best scene is the raid on the Ridd farm by Carver and his goons. This is filmed with some effective camera angles, quick editing and tight close ups. It sparks the movie up a bit, but the climactic battle scene at the end doesn't come close to topping it.
I will give the movie credit for filming on location in northern England. The moors look gorgeous, as do the rolling hills and valleys. It looks like it was really cold during this shoot with actual rain and snow falling in some scenes. At least I could enjoy the scenery.
Acorn gives this a mediocre release. The print looks like something from television in the early 1990s. It's a soft image and the sound comes across as tinny and pinched at times. Most of the dialogue is clear, and the functional music by Jilian Nott never overwhelms. You get a text biography on the writer of the novel and cast filmographies.
You can tell that the story of Lorna Doone has potential, but this version of it is lackluster. Even fans of the cast will be disappointed.
Guilty of being pretty lifeless.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Wikipedia: Lorna Doone