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The Clandestine Marriage (1999)

A period film, set around an English country house whose owners want to arrange a marriage of convenience between their elder daughter and an aristocratic heir of a hard-up noble family. ... See full summary »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Sir John Ogelby
Cyril Shaps ...
Mark Burns ...
Craster Pringle ...
Lara Harvey ...
Mrs Trusty
Philippa Stanton ...


A period film, set around an English country house whose owners want to arrange a marriage of convenience between their elder daughter and an aristocratic heir of a hard-up noble family. The planned marriage suffers a last-minute upset when the would-be husband switches affections to the bride's sister. Written by Anonymous

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Release Date:

12 November 1999 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

Gamos gia klamata  »

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Did You Know?


Nigel Hawthorne and Joan Collins used their own cash to fund the film when financial difficulties arose during production. See more »


Written by Trevor Bentham, Julia Taylor-Stanley, Stanislas Syrewicz
Arranged by Julia Taylor-Stanley, Ian Lynn, Stanislas Syrewicz
Performed by Miriam
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Hugely Enjoyable Romp
7 August 2015 | by (Tunbridge Wells, England) – See all my reviews

The British cinema has often relied heavily upon literary sources, but certain parts of our nation's literary heritage have always appealed more to film-makers than others. Shakespeare has always been good box office, as have the great novelists of the 19th century, although even here there are discrepancies. (Dickens, for example, is more popular than Hardy, who in turn is more popular than George Eliot. Jane Austen is highly popular today, but until the 1990s there had only ever been one feature film based upon her works, and that was American rather than British). Restoration and 18th century comedy, however, has never really found favour in the cinema; "The Clandestine Marriage" is one of the few exceptions, and even that almost never got made; it ran into financial difficulties and had to be bailed out by two of its stars, Nigel Hawthorne and Joan Collins.

Beyond a few obvious big names such as Goldsmith and Sheridan, 18th century drama is largely neglected today, and "The Clandestine Marriage" by David Garrick and George Colman, dating from 1766, is a particularly obscure example. The film also seems to have slipped into obscurity since it was made in 1999.

The story is based on what has become a common theme in English literature, the uneasy relationship between the country's traditional aristocratic ruling class and those who have acquired wealth through trade or industry. At the heart of the play is Mr Sterling, a nouveau-riche merchant who aspires to join by the upper classes. He has acquired an elegant country mansion, and lives in the style of a gentleman, but realises that this is not enough to be accepted as the genuine article. Like many in his position, both before and since, he sees marriage as the route to social advancement and has therefore arranged the betrothal of his elder daughter Betsy to Sir John Ogleby, the son and heir of a once-grand aristocrat who would not have considered an alliance with a parvenu like Sterling were he not in a precarious financial position and therefore in need the money that such a match will bring him.

There is, however, an obstacle to the marriage of the young couple; neither is in love with the other. Betsy is in love with her future position as Lady Ogleby, but that is not the same thing as being in love with Sir John, who is a good-looking but vapid and generally useless young man. He is not, however, so useless as to be completely blind to Betsy's selfish, materialistic nature and has fallen for her prettier, sweeter-natured younger sister Fanny. An added complication is that Fanny has, unknown to her family, secretly married her father's handsome young clerk Richard Lovewell. (Yes, I know it's a silly name, but the dramatists of the period loved giving their characters names with symbolic meanings).

There is perhaps a good reason why plays like this one have fallen from favour in the modern era; in the wrong hands they can be intolerably dull. Here, however, in the hands of director Christopher Miles "The Clandestine Marriage" becomes a hugely enjoyable romp. It is ostensibly a romantic comedy, but in common with many 17th and 18th century comedies (and unlike most modern rom-coms) the emphasis is less upon celebrating the joys of the young lovers than upon satirising the follies of the elder generation. The best performances come from Hawthorne as the pompous, lecherous old Lord Ogleby, from Collins (obviously at 66 wanting a change from the sort of sexy older woman roles she had made her own in the previous couple of decades) as Sterling's old dragon of a sister Mrs. Heidelberg, from Timothy Spall as the bumptious, status-obsessed Sterling and from Emma Chambers (best- known as the dim-witted Alice in "The Vicar of Dibley") as the spiteful, scheming Betsy. Comedy and period drama are sometimes thought of as two quite separate genres; this film shows that they can be combined to good effect. 8/10

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