Lorna Doone (2001)
Mike Barker


R.D. Blackmore's passionate tale of forbidden love and warring factions is brought to life in this outstanding BBC television film (aired on A&E earlier this year). Set in 17th-century Devon, this remote corner of southwest England is terrorized by the villainous Doones, a clan of royal blood who were banished from their lands, and have since become murderous brigands preying on the local farmers.

Hatred for the Doones stretches far and wide, but nowhere more than in John Ridd, a farmer's son who saw his father murdered at their hands. But one day while fishing, John slips and almost drowns, only to be rescued by a young, raven-haired beauty named Lorna Doone, and the two fall passionately in love.

Impressively realized, Lorna Doone is infinitely superior to almost anything Hollywood has attempted to create in this genre. Shooting on location in England and Wales invests the production with a verisimilitude which is hard to match. The costumes, art direction, and photography are unassailable, as is the reliable hand of director Mike Barker, which proves once again that nobody makes historic dramas better than the British.

But it is Blackmore's tale itself which is ultimately most captivating. Set against the backdrop of the of the Protestant uprising and its attempt to replace James II with the illegitimate Duke of Monmouth, the unexpected twists and turns of the story keep the viewer hooked for its 150-minute duration. Rescuing Lorna from the clutches of the Doones, John wishes only to live with her in peace, but Lorna has a secret (of which she herself is unaware)-a secret which makes her vital to the Doones' plans, and they will not give her up without a fight. And as the Doones ultimately take up the cause of Monmouth, the incendiary events of the time catch up with, and ultimately separate the two lovers.

The cast is first-rate, with Richard Coyle (as John Ridd) and Amelia Warner (as Lorna) heading a superb cast of great British actors, including Martin Clunes, Michael Kitchen, and Peter Vaughan. Special mention must also go to actor Aiden Gillen as the villainous Carver Doone, the young leader of the clan who is consumed with bloodlust and determined to see Lorna as his bride.

Rife with passion, adventure, and bittersweet romance, Lorna Doone is the finest television film to emerge from the UK in some time, and is better than anything released in the cinema over the past several years. (Available on DVD and VHS from A&E home video.)


—Paul Andrew MacLean

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