A Woman of Substance charts the life of Emma Harte, from kitchen maid at the beginning of the 20th Century, to respected business woman and Grandmother in the 1980's. From humble beginnings... See full summary »
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Nominated for 2 Primetime Emmys. See more awards »



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Series cast summary:
 Young Emma Harte (3 episodes, 1985)
 Major Paul McGill (3 episodes, 1985)
 Emma Harte (3 episodes, 1985)
 Laura O'Neill (3 episodes, 1985)
 Edwin Fairley (3 episodes, 1985)
 Joe Lowther (3 episodes, 1985)
 Adam Fairley (3 episodes, 1985)
Mick Ford ...
 Frank Harte (3 episodes, 1985)
Christopher Gable ...
 Arthur Ainsley (3 episodes, 1985)
Christopher Guard ...
 Gerald Fairley (3 episodes, 1985)
 Winston Harte (3 episodes, 1985)
Del Henney ...
 Jack Harte (3 episodes, 1985)
 Olivia Wainwright (3 episodes, 1985)
 Murgatroyd (3 episodes, 1985)
 Blackie O'Neill (3 episodes, 1985)
 Adele Fairley (3 episodes, 1985)
 Paula McGill Amory (3 episodes, 1985)
Joris Stuyck ...
 David Kallinski (3 episodes, 1985)
 Elizabeth Harte (3 episodes, 1985)
 Bruce McGill (3 episodes, 1985)
Megs Jenkins ...
 Mrs. Turner (3 episodes, 1985)
Harry Landis ...
 Abraham Kallinski (3 episodes, 1985)
 Henry Rossiter (3 episodes, 1985)


A Woman of Substance charts the life of Emma Harte, from kitchen maid at the beginning of the 20th Century, to respected business woman and Grandmother in the 1980's. From humble beginnings Emma Harte starts her business with a small shop, but over the next twenty years she expands her stores and invests in the growing textile industry in Leeds. By the time of World War 2, Emma is the head of a major retail and manufacturing empire, but she has struggled all her life to find love. After an illegitimate daughter and two marriages, she finally meets the love of her life, Paul McGill, but their affair is cut short by a tragic accident, leaving Emma with his daughter. In the 1980's Emma faces one of her biggest tests - her childrens attempt to remove her as head of her company, but Emma is far from the senile old woman they think she is - she is determined to stop them at all costs. Written by Stacey Mitchell

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | Romance


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Release Date:

25 November 1984 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Des Lebens bittere Süße  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


(5 episodes) | (DVD)

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


As of 2010, 25 years after it was first screened, this is still the highest ever rated programme on Channel 4 in the UK - peaking at 13.84 million viewers on the third night - 4th January 1985. See more »


The transatlantic liner Queen Elizabeth on which Paul McGill says he is booked to go to the USA in 1939 was not completed until 1940 and did not enter commercial service until after WW2, about 1946. He may have meant the Queen Mary. See more »


Young Emma Harte: [to Gerald, after he has attempted to rape her early in the film] I mean to ruin you... all of you. The entire Fairley family.
See more »


Followed by Hold the Dream (1986) See more »

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User Reviews

One of the best miniseries of all time
18 December 2004 | by (Long Beach, California) – See all my reviews

"Woman of Substance" began as a hugely successful novel by Barbara Taylor Bradford and"successful" does not simply refer to its popularity. Bradford writes knowingly and convincingly about England's most difficult historical period: the 20th Century. Beginning in the then present of 1974,Bradford tells the story of Emma Harte, who begins life as a maid in the household of a local Yorkshire Squire in Edwardian times and end her life the mistress of a commercial empire worthy of Rockefeller. Not only do we see her triumphs, we see her errors and her failures etched in fine detail. Emma Harte is both noble and vengeful, bitter and loving; she is, in fact, one of the most complex characters of modern popular literature. One can dismiss Bradford's novel as "romance fiction" but it is not: Bradford presents a woman as complex as the Yorkshire she comes from.

The miniseries based on the novel captures it perfectly. Not only is Jenny Seagrove an outstanding Young Emma Harte, we see Deborah Kerr as the older Emma and a young Liam Neeson in a brilliant comic and dramatic performance as Emma's friend, Blackie. The movie shows us glimpses of such disparate history as the lives of British Jews and the development of the ready to wear industry, with outstanding performances by the supporting cast, including Diane Baker and John Mills. For any fan of sagas such as The Thornbirds or Rich Man, Poor Man, A Woman of Substance is a must see.

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