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A gripping 18th century drama details the scandalous life of Lady Seymour Worsley, who dared to leave her husband and elope with his best friend, Captain George Bisset. Lady Seymour Worsley escapes her troubled marriage only to find herself at the centre of a very public trial brought by her powerful husband Sir Richard Worsley.
Eighteenth Century Drama Focusing on Possibilities for Female Liberation
The most important thing to realize about David Eldridge's adaptation of the book by Hallie Rubenhold was the lack of power given to any wife in the eighteenth century. They were simply regarded as a husband's property, denied any possibility for self- determination. This film explored the ways in which the eponymous central character (Natalie Dormer) tried to circumnavigate the law.
Told through flashbacks, we learned how Lady Worsley had a sexless marriage to Sir Richard (Shaun Evans). Rather he forced his spouse to make love to a succession of titled nobles, while he watched them in the act through a keyhole - the supreme act of voyeurism. Unfortunately things go terribly wrong when Lady Worsley falls in love with Captain George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard). There follows a protracted court battle, where Sir Richard tries to obtain £20K in compensation from Captain George for hurt feelings, while steadfastly refusing to allow his wife a divorce.
Natalie Dormer portrays Lady Worsley as a woman trying to make the best of an impossible situation. Forced into a series of unwanted relationships to satisfy her husband's vicarious lust, she has cultivated an inscrutable outward shell as a means of self- protection. During the act of love-making her face remains impassive as she looks to her right at her husband staring through the keyhole. In public she maintains a similar expression, especially when confronting her husband over the possibility of divorce. In one sequence she is shown walking away from his stately home, her face staring impassively at the camera. No one, it seems, can penetrate her tough exterior.
Yet perhaps she needs to cultivate that facade in order to survive. Captain George comes across as something of a hypocrite who professes his undying love for Lady Worsley yet cannot accept the sexual humiliations she has undergone. He still believes in that patriarchal construction of female purity, especially in someone he hopes to marry. Eventually he decides to leave Lady Worsley as he proclaims in uncertain tones that he no longer loves her. Whether this is true or not is immaterial; we realize at this moment that he lacks any real moral or intellectual fiber, preferring instead to embrace the majority view that women should be servile to all males.
Although set in the eighteenth century, THE SCANDALOUS LADY W makes some important points about the necessity for female self- determination. Even in our so-called enlightened world, there are millions of women worldwide who are faced with similar dilemmas as experienced by Lady Worsley, and have to find the best means to negotiate them.
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