This DVD set is huge in all forms of the word. I mean ginormously huge. Four discs, 13 episodes, approximately 672 minutes, over 1000 cast members, meticulously researched — it is the best kind of British television. Every detail is obsessively perfect from the costumes to the locations to the smallest details. Watching it, I felt like the cameras were in place to capture Lillie Langtry’s original life story in the finest of British history.
The series follows the life of Emilee Charlotte “Lillie” Le Breton from the time she receives her first marriage proposal at the age of 14 from an army officer through her first marriage to Edward Langtry – for his yacht, not for him – to her rise in London society by becoming a “professional beauty,” which led to her becoming the Prince of Wales' mistress. A savvy businesswoman, she paid her first husband to take an extended fishing trip; she became one of the first world famous actresses. She was a vineyard owner and became an American citizen. She lived a scandalous life that was highlighted by numerous high profile affairs.
At that time in Europe, women were expected to be demure and docile. An education for a woman was in needlework and household management. Lillie, the only daughter to Vicar Le Breton and his wife, was educated with her seven brothers in the classics. In life learning, she was educated by her brothers. She was ambitious; nobody’s fool, she was not the doormat some men expected early on. After making her reputation in society, men respected her wit, appreciated her candor, and loved her beauty.
She was beautiful, too. So beautiful that Walt Whitman called her the essence of poetry. James Whistler admitted that even he could not capture her beauty adequately. Oscar Wilde was inspired to write “The New Helen” about her. At the height of her reign among the “Professional Beauties”, she was mobbed whenever she went out in public. George Bernard Shaw called her intelligent, daring, and independent — high praise for a woman of that time indeed.
Francesca Annis places Lillie perfectly, leading a cast of well over 1000 actors. The quality is of the filmmaking is so good, you will be surprised to find that it was originally filmed in 1978 because the costumes and details are so good. Included on the DVD set is an essay on Lillie Langtry’s impact on pop culture as well as cast filmographies for the main characters.
Although my favorite place to watch movies is on my bike trainer, this series is more deserving of a cup of tea, a warm blanket, and a lazy Sunday afternoon. If those things sound like heaven to you as well, then this series is for you, too.