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As a work of fiction, this is an unexceptional piece of melodrama with a
familiar story: the heroine falls in love with a man who abandons her
cruelly. Then she does it again, and finally dies miserable and alone.
Unfortunately, the main characters in this story are *supposed* to be real
people. In the course of presenting Caroline Lamb (played by his wife) as
woman wronged, Bolt rides roughshod over historical facts and turns a
eye to some of her less noble moments. In particular Lord Byron, her
sometime lover, is presented as a poorly researched caricature. (On the
bright side, the crippled leg that plagued him throughout his life has
It is true, as depicted in the film, that 'Caro' and Byron had an affair, and that Byron was the one to break it off as she became more and more obsessed with him. But the film completely fails to note that she went on to conduct a vicious campaign of revenge against him that lasted for considerably longer than the original affair, and played a major part in ruining his reputation in England with accusations of crimes up to and including murder. Byron was certainly a flawed human being, but Bolt magnifies and distorts those flaws while ignoring many of Lady Caroline's.
It appears that Bolt is more interested in making a good story than in representing the life of the real Caroline Lamb, which would be forgivable if he *had* created a good story. But there's nothing exceptional about this one, not even the costumes; just a run-of-the-mill "woman ruined by heartless men" tale. If it's 19th-century fiction you're after, a Jane Austen dramatization would be a better choice; if it's historical accuracy you like, you won't find it here.
Lady Caroline Lamb isn't nearly as bad as its reputation, but it's
still more troubled than any film has a right to be. Making his one and
only foray in the director's chair, writer-director Robert Bolt's take
on a famous society scandal may take as many liberties with history as
Cecil B. De Mille, but he has a good eye for visuals and a good ear for
witty dialogue. Sadly, he has little control of either his narrative or
his characters. It's hard to tell how much of the film's unevenness is
down to the heavy pre-release cutting, but it's easier to see why it
fails so often.
No matter how much her off screen antics may have made her seem an ideal choice, Sarah Miles (then Mrs Bolt) delivers a performance of such fearless ineptitude that it is staggering to watch sometimes painful, often laughable, always wrong in every way imaginable and frequently expressing every emotion as if she was suffering an extremely uncomfortable attack of indigestion. It's as if a monochrome Looney Tunes cartoon version of Samantha Morton had just had a giant rock dropped on her head and was wondering around in a daze, delivering her lines while counting the little birdies circling her head (her big mad scene is worthy of the East Cheam Dramatic Society on a particularly bad day). Bolt must have been very much in love not to see how disastrously she undoes his best efforts here. Margaret Leighton's archly hostile mother-in-law, Ralph Richardson and Laurence Olivier phoning in their performances and even John Mills' bland professionalism cannot help but shine by comparison. As her unfortunate husband, Jon Finch struggles in his poorly defined early scenes but makes the most of his later opportunities, but the film's saving grace comes from a most unlikely source Richard Chamberlain. His Bad Lord Byron is a remarkable star turn, a prototype sexually ambiguous 70s glam rock star (at one point he even models his vocal delivery on Bowie) revelling in the sexual opportunities his newfound infamy presents. It doesn't hurt that he has the best scenes and knows how to act the matinée idol, either.
But otherwise it's a film of incidental pleasures - Richard Rodney Bennett's superb score and Oswald Morris' excellent widescreen photography chief among them. If only Bolt had cast a real actress
After enduring Robert Bolt's rather turgid retelling of Lady Caroline Lamb's ill-fated love and finding myself, once again, unable to warm to his real-life wife (at the time), the rather tiresome Sarah Miles, the whole enterprise was redeemed by that fabulously funny curtain line. When told that Lady Caroline has died of a broken heart, one of her chief female detractors faces the camera (through the lace curtains of a window, I seem to recall) and hisses, (Alas! I'm not quoting verbatim, since I haven't seen this since its theatrical release, but here goes...) "She would!, wouldn't she?!?" I laughed all the way out to the parking lot. Not available on video, apparently, and if they do unearth this bit of cinematic costume jewellry (not really a precious gem, mind you), let us hope that it will be on DVD where the Panavision/widescreen ratio will be preserved.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It doesn't really matter when pondering the origins of artistic
creative genius when you have the privilege of actually hearing it, and
it doesn't come much better than listening to Richard Rodney Bennet's
musical score to this film. I watched the VHS version which,
unfortunately, is still the only one available, last winter, and was
struck by the film's musical message and subject content. It also
doesn't really matter if historical accuracy is somewhat shrouded by
other matters, considered more important, such as the core, or center
of the soul, which was the essence of Caroline Lamb's relationship with
Byron, and which caused her life to break down into hopeless violence
and chaos; "it'll end badly," according to her husband's accurate
prediction. This is what Bolt wanted to portray and did so
successfully, much like his portrayal of Thomas More in 'A Man For All
Seasons.' Of course, the film isn't without flaws - very few are. Sarah
Miles was probably more successfully cast in films such as 'Those
Magnificent men in Their Flying Machines,' or 'Ryan's Daughter.' But a
historical Lady Caroline is probably difficult to act. Margaret
Leighton did a much better job portraying a shrewish hard-nosed Lady
Melbourne. You couldn't, in those days, go beyond being "a little
shady," right to her ignorant, inexpressive and unmoved response to
Caroline's bizarre 'wild' death from a broken heart: "My god...
wouldn't she!" All she ever cared about was her son's political status
and ambition, no less than her own reputation. It's perhaps ironic that
these two actresses played opposite each other in a contemporary
version of 'Great Expectations' when Leighton as Miss Havisham regrets
rearing a heart of stone, Estella. The death scene is almost
reminiscent of dark and stormy parallel film genre situations, such as
Susannah York's wandering around the Yorkshire Moors in an adaptation
of Jane Eyre, and Anna Calder Marshall's performance as the ghost of a
dead Catherine Earnshaw in a 70's adaptation of Wuthering Heights.
Byron and Heathcliff are rocks on which their heroines dash themselves
against. There are other examples of 19th Century tragic women caught
in wind or rain, such as Hardy's 'Far From the Madding Crowd,' and for
which Bennet also wrote the film score.
But to top it all, it's the music that shines forth, right from the striking opening, hearing the symbol percussion instrument when the film's title appears on the screen (like switching on a light) and is much better in the original widescreen format, to the solo violin elegy and closing credits. Miles galloping across the moors is incurably and slaveringly romantic like the romance of the times, enhancing the passion, wildness, eagerness, an unquenchable flame, in this music. Being rich, ravishing, unquenchable, insatiable, I listen to it again and again and again. It's dramatic and overwhelming; even haunting cold, hollow. Enough said.
I loved this film the first time I watched it more than a dozen years ago.
It does not surprise me that the writer and director Mr. Robert Bolt was a
playwright-this film captures the best of what makes a film and a play,
which is a very unusual occurrence.
This film always-always captivates me with it's genius beginning-the camera is the mind of the director and writer and this mind is a brilliant and passionate one! The first minute of this film reveals Sarah Miles' character, Lady Caroline Lamb, perfectly. The rest of the film is just as honest and raw. I suppose it's the raw humaness and beauty of this film that holds me and shall always cause me to hold this film so much higher than others. I am willing to bet that because Mr. Bolt was a playwright that he had a high respect for the craft of acting-perhaps this is another reason the film is so rich-the actors are given the time to do their art. Thanks to Mr. Bolt and Sarah Miles for coming together and bringing into the world this beautiful, poetic and tender work.
Robert Bolt won two Oscars back to back, (for "Doctor Zhivago" and "A
Man for All Seasons"), as well as penning that most literate of epics
"Lawrence of Arabia". Indeed for a time he seemed to be David Lean's
writer of choice until his script for Lean's elephantine "Ryan's
Daughter" and that films critical failure, severed those ties. In 1972
Bolt not only wrote, but also directed, "Lady Caroline Lamb". It wasn't
really a success and, as may be expected, is a very literate-minded
costumer but also, as may be expected, is highly intelligent and very
It is, of course, an account, for the most part, of the title character's scandalous and disastrous affair with the mad, bad and dangerous to know Lord Byron, seen here as some kind of 19th century rock star. As Lady Caroline, Sarah Miles is quite splendid, (she was, of course, Mrs Bolt), I've always felt Miles was a much better actress than she was ever given credit for, though her tremulous style wasn't to everyone's taste. As Byron, a somewhat surprising Richard Chamberlain acquits himself somewhat surprisingly well, while Jon Finch is more than adequate as Lady Caroline's husband. The supporting cast are made up mostly of the great and the good of the British acting establishment, (a superb Margaret Leighton, John Mills, Laurence Olivier as Wellington, Ralph Richardson in an excellent cameo as King George IV, Michael Wilding), and the production overall is extremely handsome to look at. (It's obvious, on the whole, no expense was spared). Indeed, as historical dramas go, this one is a cut above the rest with Bolt displaying a keen sense of the cinematic in several scenes. Hardly ever revived, it's worth seeking out.
I gave the movie an 8 out of 10 stars--because I thought the actors
gave convincing portrayals of a drug-addled Caroline Lamb, and an
ambitious William Lamb 2nd Viscount Melbourne, and an equally ambitious
mother of William Lamb. Without seeing Lady Caroline Lamb as one
addicted to laudanum, the viewer misses an important part of the Sarah
Miles portrayal; I was convinced from the acting and make up that Lady
Caroline was addicted and emotionally disturbed--the cropped hair, the
pale--wan look, the bugged eyes. Lord Byron, played by Richard
Chamberlain came across as the cad Byron was in real life. The other
actors more than fulfilled their contract and gave exemplary
As always, anything from Hollywood and its environs in England or Italy or Germany, etc. is to be suspect. The business of Hollywood is to tell a story, not to describe history. Apparently Lady Caroline Lamb died at the early age of 43 (in January 1828) of influenza-- the dramatic collapse of Lady Caroline is just that--drama. The viewer can readily conclude from the movie that addiction to laudanum severely compromised her health. One turns to books to verify the information in the movie.
The movie portrays William Lamb as long suffering with an unstable and unfaithful wife--where in reality, William Lamb himself was no slouch in the infidelity department. William Lamb did not become Lord Melbourne till his Father's death in 1828-- after Caroline had died; Melbourne did not become Prime Minister till 1834--again, years after Lady Caroline died.
The movie is available on YouTube and is worth spending the two hours it takes; like I say, I'm glad I didn't spend the $2 to see it in 1973. There were many better movies to see at that time.
I have watched this movie countless times, and always find its understanding of hopeless romance (is there any other kind?)very striking. This film is filled with vulnerability and compassion - I recommend it to anyone that would like to be swept away. It's unfortunate that it's almost impossible to find these days.
I first saw this film on holiday in London c1973 when it was first
released. It was showing at the prestigious Odean Cinema in London & I
recall at the time this film was such a 'big deal' that the we were
given (or bought) a large glossy souvenir program that came with the
film. It was treated like we were attending the opera or theater. Look
at the line up of big names who were a part of this. Laurence Olivier,
John Mills, Ralph Richardson, Margaret Leighton & 'super star' Richard
Chamberlain after his 'Dr Kildare' fame.
Forty years on it all seems rather ordinary and we know that Bolt was rather loose with the historical facts. But I still enjoyed seeing it again remembering that first time I saw it all those years ago. In fact, some of the best work Richard Chamberlain would do was in the 5-6 years he lived in the UK and about the time he made this. And even now I give it an 8/10
This is a beautiful picture and makes me cry every time I watch it. Also Richard Chamberlain is fantastic as Lord Byron. Sarah Miles give a wonderful portrayal of the tragic woman. Anyone who can't appreciate this film has no knowledge of Lamb's inner feelings. I loved it and am glad there was a film made about one of history's most slandered women.
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