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Case Number 13630

Buy The Romance Collection: Special Edition at Amazon

The Romance Collection: Special Edition

Pride and Prejudice
1995 // 300 Minutes // Not Rated
Emma
1997 // 107 Minutes // Not Rated
Ivanhoe
1997 // 270 Minutes // Not Rated
Jane Eyre
1997 // 108 Minutes // Not Rated
Tom Jones
1998 // 300 Minutes // Not Rated
The Scarlet Pimpernel
1999 // 294 Minutes // Not Rated
Lorna Doone
2000 // 180 Minutes // Not Rated
Victoria And Albert
2001 // 200 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by A&E
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // May 14th, 2008

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All Rise...

Half a league, half a league, half a league onward, into the valley of estrogen rode Judge Jim Thomas.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Emma (1996) (published October 23rd, 1999), Emma (2009) (published February 9th, 2010), Gwyneth Paltrow 4-Film Collection (published May 9th, 2012), Ivanhoe (1952) (published February 14th, 2005), Ivanhoe (1982) (published May 14th, 2009), Jane Eyre (1996) (published November 23rd, 2011), Jane Eyre (2011) (published August 11th, 2011), Jane Eyre (2011) (Blu-ray) (published August 8th, 2011), Jane Eyre (1943) (Blu-ray) (published November 23rd, 2013), Lorna Doone (published March 17th, 2011), Pride And Prejudice (1995) (Blu-ray) (published April 2nd, 2009), Pride and Prejudice (1995) (Blu-ray) Keepsake Edition (published January 30th, 2014), Pride And Prejudice (1995): 10th Anniversary Limited Edition (published September 26th, 2006), Pride And Prejudice (2005) (published February 27th, 2006), Pride And Prejudice (2005) (Blu-ray) (published January 26th, 2010), Pride And Prejudice (2005) (HD DVD) (published November 15th, 2007), and The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982) (published May 18th, 2013) are also available.

The Charge

Fourteen discs of pure digital estrogen.

The Case

"Mikey, you've got to help me," I pleaded with Chief Justice Michael Stailey. "My wife has been very understanding about the horror movies, the action movies, the science fiction—she even appreciates that I've reviewed some cartoons for the kids—but she really wants me to review something that the two of us can watch together."

"Hmmm," he pondered. "You know what she really means, don't you?"

"Yes," I shuddered. "She wants me to review some…some…chick flicks."

"Jim, are you sure about this?"

"Yeah, it's gotta be done. Surely we've got a few romcoms lying about the office, right?"

"Leave everything to me." Stailey's voice was warm, reassuring.

Several days later, a large package appeared on my doorstep. Trembling, I unwrapped it. Chief Justice Stailey had taken matters into his own hands, all right—by flinging me directly into the path of a juggernaut. Specifically, he had sent me The Romance Classics Collection from A&E. Darcy…Miss Woodhouse…Thornfield…Sir Percy Blakeney…Wilfred of Ivanhoe…the Doone Forest…frippery beyond measure (which I put in just to up the site count on the word "frippery" to seven (well, now eight)—eight of the most beloved romances from the A&E vaults. Thirty hours of chick flick goodness—and I've got to watch all of it and review it in a little over two weeks. The sacrifices I make for my wife.

The set is nothing more than a repackaging of the A&E Literary Classics—The Romance Collection, with the MSRP cut roughly in half. In short, it's a double dip. The movies are exactly the same as in the previous set, with no restored images or new extras; the only difference is that instead of getting the movies in individual snapcases, you get a somewhat cumbersome book, with the discs on plastic pages, stacked two to a page. The stacked arrangement is a little clunky, and I've already had problems with discs falling out. They should have stick with the snapcases. On the plus side, the cover has portraits of the major characters, with Colin Firth's Darcy manfully holding the center position.

Overall, it's a good set. You get:

• Pride and Prejudice
• Victoria and Albert
• Emma
• Jane Eyre
• Tom Jones
• Lorna Doone
• The Scarlet Pimpernel
• Ivanhoe

These films were initially broadcast between 1995 and 2002. Overall, it's an excellent set, with a good deal of variety in style and tone. All the movies have solid Dolby Surround 2.0 mixes; there's no need to discuss the mixes of individual films (video is a bit more varied, though, and will be addressed as warranted). In the event that any of you guys out there get roped into watching any of these with your significant other, I'm including Judge Jim Thomas' Real Men's Guide to the Film with my discussions. This guide will enable you to watch any of these chick flicks safely, without endangering your manhood.

Well, enough stalling. Cover me, men; I'm going in.

The Evidence

Pride and Prejudice
Mr. Bennett (Benjamin Whitrow) has a serious problem: His considerable estate, due to the whims of English law, is "entailed"—that is, it will not pass to Bennett's wife or daughters following his death, but will instead pass to his closest male relative, in this case, to his cousin, Mr. Collins (David Bamber). Consequently, Bennett and his wife are highly motivated to find advantageous marriages for their five daughters. Fortunately, Mr. Charles Bingley, with his annual income of five thousand pounds (basically, he has a net worth of $5 million) has just moved into the area. The family is excited not only by the prospect of having such a wealthy bachelor in the area, but also by the prospect of having Mr. Bingley's wealthy acquaintances in the area as well—friends such as Fitzwilliam Darcy (Colin Firth, Bridget Jones' Diary), who is twice as wealthy as Bingley. At a public function, Bingley seems taken with the eldest Bennett girl, Jane. The next oldest Bennett girl, Elizabeth (Jennifer Ehle, Paradise Road), takes an immediate dislike to Darcy, finding him proud and aloof. For his part, Darcy finds Elizabeth not attractive enough to merit his attention. Elizabeth overhears this comment, further endearing him to Elizabeth.
As the film progresses, Elizabeth finds herself drawn to the dashing George Wickham, a soldier who was himself wronged by Darcy. Relationships develop, secrets come to light, and love conquers all. But then again, given that the collection is entitled The Romance Collection, you probably figured that out already.

The wonderful thing about the five-hour runtime is that it allows all of the plots to play out fully and at their own pace; something you don't often see in literary adaptations. Supporting characters in particular get developed to a degree you rarely see anymore; more importantly, the direction is sure enough that the five hours never drag. We get a real sense of the Bennett family dynamics, as well as the highly structured and mannered society within which they must function.

The acting is splendid, particularly that of the leads. Jennifer Ehle shines as Elizabeth, her quick wit and intelligence always right there at the surface. She handles the gradual shift in Elizabeth's feelings towards Darcy deftly and subtly; by the time she visits Pemberley (Darcy's estate) for the first time, we can already see that she is beginning to fall in love with him—which is critical if we are to avoid seeing her as a gold digger. Colin Firth leapt to stardom in the role of Darcy, as his cool demeanor slowly thaws in the presence of Elizabeth. Benjamin Whitrow as Mr. Bennett, though, is really an unsung hero—he holds things together, encouraging his more sensible older daughters while trying to imbue his younger daughters with some sense of their own (with decidedly mixed results). He advises without preaching, suggests without pontificating. His quiet talk with Elizabeth towards the end of the film, making sure that she loves Darcy the man and not the money, is a lovely depiction of a father whose only concern is the happiness of his daughter, not her financial security.

Video is a little uneven. Colors are a bit washed out, and there's a fair amount of grain, particularly indoors. Flesh tones are inconsistent, particularly between indoor and outdoor shots. I understand not wanting to do a full restoration, but is basic color correction really too much to ask for?

With all due respect to Keira Knightley, this version is the definitive take on Austen's most popular novel, and belongs in the DVD library of anyone interested in literary adaptations.

Real Man's Guide: The biggest obstacle with P&P is just keeping everyone straight. Luckily, I found a character map on Wikipedia.

To further your "sensitive guy" cred, after George Wickham's first appearance, comment "I don't know; he seems pleasant enough, but he has 'douchebag' written all over him."

Victoria & Albert
Victoria & Albert is the odd man out in the collection; it's not based on a popular novel, but rather on actual events. The 18-year-old Queen Victoria (Victoria Hamilton, In Search of the Brontës) ascends to the throne of England in 1837. Her advisors recommend marriage to Prince Albert (Jonathan Firth, An Ideal Husband) of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (two Bavarian states). She had found him distant and aloof when they met several years earlier, but upon their second meeting, she is entranced. She proposes, and they marry in 1840. Although the two are happy enough, Albert becomes frustrated by his inability to take on a more direct role in government; the Privy Council fears that the nation will not accept a foreigner having so much power. Albert struggles to find different ways to show his love for his adopted country and to help his wife in her official duties. Over time, Victoria and Albert develop a deep, abiding love for one another. Albert dies in 1861, most likely from typhoid. Victoria is devastated, and wears black for the rest of her life.

Most people think of Queen Victoria as a prude, but that's not the case—she and Albert were both very passionate. However, they felt it important that all members of the government comport themselves with dignity in public—as opposed to the rowdy spectacles of previous courts. There's a lovely scene shortly after Victoria's coronation that crystallizes the distinction: She's preparing for her first Privy Council meeting, and worries that she will be dismissed as a "silly little girl." She resolves to do her best to maintain her composure so as not to give anyone the option of dismissing her. During the meeting she displays grace and steadfastness, winning the respect of the council. As she leaves the meeting room, one minister comments to another that England finally has a monarch who understands the meaning of dignity—and we cut directly to Victoria, skipping down the hall and giggling, delighted that she actually pulled it off.

The performances are first-rate; given the presence of Diana Rigg, Peter Ustinov, David Suchet, and Jonathan Pryce in supporting roles, it's remarkable that the unknown principals have little trouble holding their own.

There's not a real plot per se, just a series of events that happen to be in chronological order. You can't really identify the moment at which Albert falls in love with Victoria; it just happens. You can't really point to any one event that makes Victoria decide to bring Albert into her official duties; it just happens. That's not necessarily a weakness, but the result is that the movie becomes more of a character study (characters study? Let's go with "relationship study"). With so much going on in the world during Victoria's reign, it must have been a challenge for screenwriter John Goldsmith to keep the story focused on the couple, as opposed to the myriad changes in the world around them. I can't help but wonder if a little more historical grounding might have helped, though; for one thing, what was the cause of the rift between William IV (Ustinov) and Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent (Penelope Wilton, Shaun of the Dead)? While the movie is enjoyable, I get the distinct feeling that it would be even more enjoyable for English audiences or for Anglophiles, whose knowledge of English history would allow them to connect the dots. As a result, this is the one film in the collection that suffers from the lack of extras.

Real Men's Guide: Forget the "Prince Albert in a can" jokes. You've got James Callis (Battlestar Galactica)—Gaius Baltar himself—in a brief role as Albert's older brother Ernest. Really, at this point the jokes pretty much write themselves: "Have fun with Vickie, Al; I'm off to shag a couple of robo-babes and see about destroying all of humanity."

Emma
Emma Woodhouse (Kate Beckinsale, Underworld is a young woman, living with her elderly father (Bernard Hepton, Gandhi). He's a decent man, though something of a hypochondriac. When Miss Taylor (Samantha Bond, Goldeneye), her former governess, marries the wealthy Mr. Weston, Emma takes the fact that she introduced Miss Taylor to her husband as proof of her matchmaking prowess. Family friend George Knightley (Mark Strong, Fever Pitch) cautions Emma against rash behavior; nevertheless, Emma knows what is best for those around her, and she determines to find a husband for Harriet Smith (Samantha Morton, Sweet and Lowdown), a young girl of questionable parentage. Even though a local farmer has already expressed an interest in Harriet, Emma determines that Harriet would make a good match with Mr. Elton, the local vicar. The plan backfires spectacularly when Mr. Elton concludes that Emma is in love with him. Additional characters move into Emma's life, with Emma repeatedly making snap judgments concerning their character, and repeatedly discovering that she is sorely mistaken. Through it all, the one constant in her life is Knightley, and she slowly—very slowly—comes to realize that rather than find true love for those around her, she might be better served finding it for herself.

The movie clocks in at a brisk 107 minutes. Emma needs the fast pace, as it is much more comic than other Jane Austen novels. This change in tone was a conscious effort on Austen's part; she said as she began work on the novel, "I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like." Unlike most Austen heroines, Emma is financially secure, and so does not have the pressing need to find an advantageous match as, say, the Bennett sisters, allowing Emma to table the question of her own marriage as she goes about attempting to arrange others.

The performances are good, but nothing more. Kate Beckinsale has little trouble projecting a well-meaning, yet rash, headstrong young girl, but struggles somewhat with the more intimate scenes. Mark Strong anchors the movie as Knightley, the one person who respects people for what they are. The thing about Knightley is that he in no way fits the traditional image of "leading man"; he's not particularly handsome, and through most of the movie, he is just a family friend. It isn't until the very end that he emerges in a new light, and that's a critical part of Emma's character development, because Emma has to move beyond to making snap judgments based on appearances. Only then can she appreciate Knightley's full worth.

The movie takes pains to distance itself from the earlier production of Pride and Prejudice. Gone are the well-lit sitting rooms and sprawling ballrooms. Instead, there is greater emphasis on natural lighting, with most night scenes lit by candlelight. Another key difference is the presence (omnipresence, really) of the serving class. Their presence not only allows for some comic moments, but also allows us (and Emma) to see, through Knightley's compassionate interactions with those who work his estate, what a truly decent man he is.

The video is something of a disappointment. Colors are a touch oversaturated, and images are consistently soft (largely due to the low lighting conditions). The result is a transfer more appropriate to a movie twenty or thirty years old.

The year this movie was first broadcast also saw a theatrical version of Emma starring Gwyneth Paltrow. I'd give the edge to Beckinsale, mainly on the strength of her unassuming performance.

Real Men's Guide: When all else fails, just imagine Kate Beckinsale in her leather outfit from Underworld. That ought to perk you right up.

Jane Eyre
Orphaned at a young age, Jane Eyre is sent to an orphanage by her indifferent relatives. Finally ready to go out into the world, she is hired as governess at Thornhill, the estate of Edward Rochester. Rochester's a querulous man, with a colic temper and a manor in which odd things happen on a regular basis. Over time, Jane comes to love the irascible, enigmatic Rochester, who in turn professes his own love for Jane. For a brief instant, all is right in Jane's world—until her wedding day turns into a nightmare.

Did we really need another version of Jane Eyre? Charlotte Brontë's novel has been filmed no less than nineteen times—and that doesn't even count movies inspired by the novel, such as Val Lewton's I Walked With a Zombie. Surely one of those adaptations got it right. At least, I certainly hope so, because this one pretty much screws the pooch. The writers were brutal in their unholy quest to achieve a running time under two hours. Almost every subplot is gone—even Jane's childhood, which encompasses six or seven chapters in the novel, is glossed over in just a few minutes. As a result, the complexities of Jane's character fall by the wayside, and she becomes just another romantic heroine.

Samantha Morton (Emma) does a wonderful job as Jane (with what's left of her, at least), and is easily the strength of the production; unfortunately, the same can't be said for Ciaran Hinds as Rochester. His emoter has been cranked up to eleven; as a result, he's in turn too angry, too frustrated, and too emotional, with jarring transitions from one state to the next. It makes it very difficult to see what in him Jane finds so appealing. Rochester is usually considered a type of Byronic hero—moody, magnetic, and mysterious—but Hinds performance manages to downplay all of the romantic qualities of the type, resulting in a character who appears more dyspeptic than tortured. There's a certain amount of chemistry between the two, but this story demands not sparks between the leads, but raging bonfires, and that just doesn't happen.

If you are familiar with the novel and can fill in the plot gaps from memory, this is a somewhat passable adaptation, simply on the strength of Morton's performance. Those coming in blind—so to speak—probably won't care for it too much.

Real Men's Guide: At some point you may be asked what you would do in Rochester's situation. It's a trap: There. Is. No. Right. Answer. Your best bet is to fake a cerebral hemorrhage.

Lorna Doone
R.D. Blackmore published the book in 1869; it's a historical romance, set two hundred years earlier, during the waning years of the reign of Charles II.

It was an anxious time: Charles had no legitimate children; his heir, his brother James, was openly Catholic. The country feared letting another Catholic on the throne, concerned that a Catholic monarch would try to restore Catholicism as the state church, much as Mary I had attempted. Many called for James to be excluded in favor of the Duke of Monmouth, the eldest of Charles' illegitimate sons, who was staunchly Protestant. No one managed to change the succession, and James assumed the throne as James II after Charles' death in 1685. That same year, Monmouth led a rebellion against James, but he was defeated and executed. The climactic chapters of Lorna Doone take place during that rebellion.

Our story begins a decade earlier, in 1675. A quiet village is attacked by the Doones, a once noble family that now lives as bandits in the dense Doone forest, pillaging nearby towns at will. Young John Ridd sees his father murdered by a member of the Doone clan during one such raid, and vows revenge. Several days later, John is fishing in the river when he loses his balance. The swift current carries him over a waterfall and deep into the forest. There he meets young Lorna, who shows him a secret path out of the forest.

Ten years later, the adult John (Richard Coyle) has taken his father's place as a respectable farmer, but he can't get the image of that young girl out of his head. He returns through the secret path and happens across the now-adult Lorna (Amelia Warner). It's love at first (okay, second) sight for both, but it is a doomed love: Not only is she a member of the Doone clan, but her grandfather is the lord of the Doones. She is destined to marry the ruthless Carver Doone (Aiden Gillen)—who (although John doesn't know it) happens to be the man who killed John's father.

Struggling to reconcile his love of Lorna with his hatred of the Doones, spirits Lorna away from the Doone forest, where his family must reconcile their hatred of the Doones when faced with the kind-hearted Lorna. And then a new complication rears its head: Lorna's necklace is identified as a family heirloom, and identifies her as the sole heir to Lady Dhugal, making Lorna heiress to one of the largest fortunes in England. She reluctantly goes to London to become a ward of the king; marriage to a commoner such as John becomes out of the question.

Remember King Charles? Well, he dies, James takes over, and Monmouth leads his insurrection. The Doones throw their lot in with Monmouth with the understanding that he will restore their name. John finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and gets arrested for treason. A family friend vouches for him, but John finds himself faced with a trial by combat: He is to lead a force against the Doone stronghold; if he succeeds (and survives), not only will the treason charge be dismissed, but he will get a knighthood—thus making him eligible to marry Lorna.

Is this a setup for a good time or what? Although much of the plot has become borderline cliché, it works for the most part, thanks to strong acting and direction. Richard Coyle and Amelia Warner hit all the right notes in the first half of the movie, and they get you invested in the proceedings. They have some problems later on due to some stale dialogue, but they do their best.

Video is excellent, the colors sharp and vibrant; some of the landscapes are so green that I can't help but wonder if they were digitally processed, but a friend has assured me that fields in Scotland are indeed that green.

The only real weakness (if you want to call it that) rests with the villains of the piece. Aiden Gillen and Anton Lesser (as Carver's father) do well with what they've been given, but they are so unrelentingly evil that you have to shake your head. They remind me of a line from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "I like my evil like I like my men: evil. You know, straight up, black hat, tied to the train tracks, 'Soon my electro-ray will destroy Metropolis' bad." That's what we're talking here. Carver is even dressed in black from head to toe.
The women and the children all seem decent enough, but apparently as soon as the males hit puberty, some rogue gene kicks in and they transform into scheming, murderous bastards without a single redeeming feature.

But still, it's a fun, well-paced movie, so no real complaints from me.

Real Men's Guide: Please, no jokes about Lorna's delicious shortbread cookies. Show some class.

The Scarlet Pimpernel
They seek him here, they seek him there;
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven? Is he in hell?
That damned, elusive Pimpernel!

It's 1792. The French Revolution has given way to the Reign of Terror. Anyone, particularly those of noble blood, can be snatched up by the Committee for Public Safety (think Homeland Security with wigs) and thrown into La Force prison, there to await the inevitable trial and execution. But there is a savior of sorts roaming the French countryside. A secret society known as the League of The Scarlet Pimpernel, led by the Scarlet Pimpernel, has confounded the government of Robespierre by spiriting innocent prisoners right out from under the noses of the French authorities.

In London, Sir Percival Blakeney (Richard E. Grant), a foppish member of English aristocracy, has a strained relationship with his French wife Marguerite (Elizabeth McGovern, Ragtime), having learned shortly after their marriage that she had denounced the Marquis de St. Cyr to the Revolutionary government. As a result, the noble and his entire family were executed. Marguerite longs for reconciliation, but Sir Percy will have none of it.
One evening at a party, Marguerite is surprised by the appearance of a friend from Paris, who herself has recently been rescued by the Pimpernel. The woman tells Marguerite that she recognized the safe house in Paris in which the Pimpernel hid her as the very house in which they had met years ago. Before Marguerite can process any of this information, she is further surprised by the appearance of Paul Chauvelin (Martin Shaw), a former lover. Chauvelin, an agent of Robespierre, reveals his true purpose—Marguerite's brother Armand has been arrested on his orders, and will be tried and executed. There may be a way out for Armand, however. Chauvelin has become convinced that The Scarlet Pimpernel is an English nobleman. If Marguerite can get information that will lead to the capture of the Pimpernel, Armand will be spared.

That night, Marguerite begs her husband for help. She finally explains why she denounced St. Cyr: When she was 12, after her father had affronted the noble, St. Cyr had her parents hanged. She and her brother were forced to watch. Years later, Chauvelin, with whom she was having an affair, convinced her to avenge her parents by denouncing the noble; at that early stage in the Revolution, she had no idea she was condemning an entire family to death. Sir Percy remains aloof, however, and insists that he is powerless to help Armand.

The following morning, Marguerite tries to get advice from her husband, but he has already left. Reluctantly, she gives Chauvelin the location of the house in which the Pimpernel used to hide her friend. Later, sitting at her husband's desk, trying to wonder what has become of her life, she notices a small, gilded flower—a pimpernel, in fact—inlaid on the front of the desk. When she presses it, a secret drawer springs open, full of maps, plans, and timetables. Stunned, she realizes her husband Sir Percy is The Scarlet Pimpernel, and is probably headed to Paris to try and rescue her brother—right into the trap being set by Chauvelin. A frantic Marguerite rushes to France to warn her husband before it is too late, setting the stage for a chaotic climax and a touching reconciliation between Sir Percy and his lovely wife.

The Scarlet Pimpernel, the invention of Baroness Emmuska Orczy (a British writer of Hungarian origin), first appeared in a 1903 play, which was such a success that Orczy rewrote it as a novel. Ten more novels followed, along with several collections of short stories. This set includes all three episodes than made up the 1999 miniseries (a second three-episode series was broadcast the following year, but is not yet available on DVD):

• "The Scarlet Pimpernel" (The above summary is for this episode.)
• "Madame Guillotine"
• "The Kidnapped King"

As with Jane Eyre, the quest for a short runtime seriously undermines the proceedings. The characters are reduced to types, the plot reduced to a series of barely connected episodes. The writers made a number of significant changes to the books, and the series was a critical and commercial disappointment. We never learn what motivates Blakeney, or how he determines whom he will save. For all we know, he's just doing it to annoy the French. We do get Lady Blakeney's motivations, though they have changed substantially from the novel. In the book, St. Cyr had Marguerite's brother beaten for presuming to be worthy of his daughter; Marguerite denounced him in a fit of pique, not realizing that the entire family would be killed. She remains haunted by her actions. But in the movie, St. Cyr has Marguerite's parents hanged in front of her; even though she still indirectly caused the death of an entire family, it's difficult to judge her harshly (particularly since we see her parents' death in a flashback), allowing the barrier between husband and wife to be conveniently swept aside at the appropriate time.

The first movie manages to stay under control. The other two, on the other hand, are mishmashes of barely related plot elements that retain a sense of direction by only the slimmest of margins. The episodes are shot with a certain sense of style, but style with substance is of little use.

On the plus side, Richard E. Grant is always a delight to watch. His face can go from foppish to haughty to sly all in an instant. He's having a blast and it shows. Martin Shaw is in an odd position. In the first episode, he does a nice job as Blakeney's nemesis Chauvelin—determined, intelligent, ruthless, with a touch of arrogance. He's a worthy adversary. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of consistency in his characterization from movie to movie. Elizabeth McGovern, on the other hand, doesn't quite work as Marguerite. She has good chemistry with Grant, but her English accent is inconsistent, which is all the more notable since her character is French.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is probably the weakest entry in the collection. It tries to find a precarious balance between comedy, romance, and action/adventure, but never fully succeeds at any of them.

Real Men's Guide: We have another Battlestar Galactica sighting: Jamie Bamber (Apollo) has a small role in the first episode as Lord Tony Dewhurst, a member of the League (there's even a totally gratuitous shot of his naked butt), while James Callis (Baltar) makes his second appearance in the collection, this time as Henri, the leader of a group of rebels in the second episode. He has a fair amount of screen time, providing ample opportunity for Six-based references.

Tom Jones
Henry Fielding's The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, published in 1749, is generally considered to be the first English novel, if not the first novel in all of literature. The distinction comes down to how one defines the novel, a digression I will not inflict upon you, gentle readers, who have done me the honor of reading thus far.

Squire Allworthy (Benjamin Whitrow, Pride and Prejudice) returns from a trip to find that an infant boy has been left in his bed. At length, a young girl named Jenny Jones admits to being the mother, but refuses to name the father. Allworthy has Jenny moved to another town, where her reputation will not follow her, and promises that he will raise the boy, whom he names Thomas.

The story, which follows Tom's development from a headstrong young boy to an equally headstrong young man (Max Beesley), is a "romance" only in a general sense. The story is really more of a picaresque—that is, an episodic tale involving a roguish hero, who must overcome all manner of obstacles in order to gain a happy ending. In Tom's case, one of the main obstacles is
Allworthy's nephew Blifil (James D'arcy) who continually schemes to remove Tom from Allworthy's favor. The story is somewhat allegorical, given that Tom's foster father is named Allworthy, and his true love is named Sofia (Samantha Morton, in her third appearance in this collection), or "wisdom." Simply put, while he is a truly decent person, Tom must learn to temper his headstrong nature with wisdom to achieve true happiness. At the same time, Sophia, suddenly immersed in the intrigues of society, must become worldly enough to see through others' pretentions without becoming jaded herself. Only then can she fully appreciate what a truly decent, good-hearted person Tom is, as opposed to the schemers and poseurs surrounding her at every turn.

The description makes it seem like such a dreary affair. This is a rousing, raucous, bawdy, farcical business, with betrayals, assignations, and revelations around every corner, and Tom bouncing from bed to bed in his quest to reunite with his one true love—leading to a moment of sheer terror when Tom realizes that he may have inadvertently slept with his own mother. Once the proceedings arrive in London, the plot hurtles forward at a breakneck pace, with everyone playing their parts just a little over the top, but none as hysterically as Brian Blessed (Hamlet) as Sophia's father, Squire Weston. Blessed stomps through the film like a particularly uncouth force of nature, flinging raspberries and foul imprecations at anyone who gets in his way. A narrator, Henry Fielding himself (John Sessions), works feverishly to keep the plot from spinning completely out of control and to ensure that the rambunctious tale has some
redeeming moral qualities. He isn't merely a disembodied voice, but an actual character, walking amidst the characters, interacting with them. As you might expect, this sort of production may not be to everyone's tastes, but it captures the spirit of the novel admirably. Once you get used to the movie's peculiar rhythms, it's a fun ride.

Real Men's Guide: Are you kidding? This film combines the artistic and thematic sensibilities of Dangerous Liaisons and Porky's. We live for this stuff!

Ivanhoe
Dashing knight is captured during the Crusades, refuses to break under torture, everyone thinks he betrayed King Richard, he escapes, returns home incognito to find his beloved betrothed to another, fights to redeem his name, wins the jousting competition, the Catholic Church is corrupt, yada yada yada, Prince John is a prick.

Perhaps more than any other film in the collection, this movie comes across as hopelessly generic. We've seen all of this before, and we've seen it done better. Part of the problem is the extended appearance of Robin of Locksley, a.k.a. Robin Hood. While Robin is an integral part of Sir Walter Scott's novel (up to and including Robin's winning of the archery competition), his presence here also brings in the ghost of Errol Flynn, reminding us that this should be a fast-paced action movie, and not a dreary marathon of a film. For that, I could have watched Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and at least gotten to enjoy Alan Rickman's scenery chewing antics.

The plot meanders a bit too much for its own good (a problem it inherits from Scott's novel). There's an extended stretch in which the focus shifts from Ivanhoe to Robin and other characters, as Ivanhoe is recovering from injuries. But the main problem is that the direction is incredibly pedestrian. Shots are sloppily framed without any real composition to speak of, and the camerawork does little to inject and originality into the proceedings, which is critical in a movie such as this, which contains so many familiar plot elements. (See Lorna Doone for an example of how strong direction can transform a generic plot.)

The acting, on the other hand, is pretty good. Steven Waddington (Sleepy Hollow) does a decent, though somewhat bland, job as Ivanhoe, and Ciaran Hinds does a marvelous job as Brian de Bois-Guilbert, the conflicted, tormented villain. The great Christopher Lee (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) has a supporting role as Lucas de Beaumanoir, Grand Master of the Knights Templar. The man has one of the great voices of cinema, and the movie is worth watching just to hear him intoning Latin and going off on inquisitorial tirades. Amazingly, this was his first BBC role since 1947. Victoria Smurfit does her best with a criminally underwritten part as Ivanhoe's true love, Lady Rowena, while Susan Lynch steals scene after scene as Rebecca, the Jewish healer who saves Ivanhoe's life, and with whom de Bois-Gilbert becomes dangerously obsessed.

Real Men's Guide: You're safe with this one: Sword fights, guzzling ale, and blood and guts.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

With the exception of Pride and Prejudice, the oldest movie in the collection, all of the movies are presented in full frame. Surely a few more could have been presented in a widescreen format (Lorna Doone and Ivanhoe in particular would have benefitted greatly from widescreen presentation). Also, with the exception of Pride and Prejudice there is nothing in the way of extras beyond author biographies and cast filmographies (a link to A&E.com just doesn't count anymore).

In addition, the lack of any kind of restoration is troublesome. It's kind of understandable from the BBC's perspective—they have made these films before, they will make them again (in fact, they made another version of Jane Eyre just a few years ago. But if A&E is marketing these films as classics, they should treat them as classics.

Closing Statement

"And I only am escaped alone to tell thee."

That was an egregious assault on my masculine sensibilities. Fortunately, James Garner shows us what to do in times such as these: Go find the seediest, toughest bar in town, stride right up, and order a glass of milk.

Kidding aside, though, this is a good set. While none of the other films reach the same high standards as Pride and Prejudice, the only really bad entry is The Scarlet Pimpernel.

The Verdict

A&E is hereby found guilty of making an impressive collection of chick flicks available at a bargain-level price, thereby inflicting these movies on unsuspecting men everywhere. A&E is hereby sentenced to begin broadcasting The Sopranos unedited, so that men can get in touch with their sensitive side the way God intended—by seeing someone's brains splattered all over the cannoli. Badda bing!

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• Television

Scales of Justice, Pride and Prejudice

Video: 80
Audio: 80
Extras: 80
Acting: 96
Story: 100
Judgment: 93

Perp Profile, Pride and Prejudice

Studio: A&E
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Pride and Prejudice

• "The Making of Pride and Prejudice"

Scales of Justice, Emma

Video: 78
Audio: 83
Extras: 5
Acting: 85
Story: 90
Judgment: 83

Perp Profile, Emma

Studio: A&E
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Emma

• Brief Text Biography of Jane Austen

Scales of Justice, Ivanhoe

Video: 82
Audio: 82
Extras: 5
Acting: 85
Story: 80
Judgment: 81

Perp Profile, Ivanhoe

Studio: A&E
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 270 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Ivanhoe

• Sir Walter Scott Biography
• Cast Filmographies

Scales of Justice, Jane Eyre

Video: 84
Audio: 83
Extras: 5
Acting: 82
Story: 75
Judgment: 77

Perp Profile, Jane Eyre

Studio: A&E
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Jane Eyre

• Text Biography of Charlotte Bronte

Scales of Justice, Tom Jones

Video: 83
Audio: 82
Extras: 5
Acting: 92
Story: 95
Judgment: 91

Perp Profile, Tom Jones

Studio: A&E
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Tom Jones

• Biography of Henry Fielding

Scales of Justice, The Scarlet Pimpernel

Video: 84
Audio: 82
Extras: 0
Acting: 80
Story: 68
Judgment: 71

Perp Profile, The Scarlet Pimpernel

Studio: A&E
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 294 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Scarlet Pimpernel

• None

Scales of Justice, Lorna Doone

Video: 88
Audio: 85
Extras: 5
Acting: 88
Story: 82
Judgment: 86

Perp Profile, Lorna Doone

Studio: A&E
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 180 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Lorna Doone

• Cast Filmographies

Scales of Justice, Victoria And Albert

Video: 85
Audio: 83
Extras: 5
Acting: 91
Story: 85
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile, Victoria And Albert

Studio: A&E
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 200 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Victoria And Albert

• Cast Filmographies








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