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Aristocrats
Aristocrats
Actors: Serena Gordon, Anne-Marie Duff, Jodhi May, Ben Daniels, Julian Fellowes
Director: David Caffrey (II)
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Television
NR     2006     4hr 53min

Decades of history unfold in a dazzling saga of privileged lives and sisterly devotion As seen on Masterpiece Theatre With characters, drama, and romance vivid enough for a masterwork of fiction, this story is all the more...  more »

     
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Movie Details

Actors: Serena Gordon, Anne-Marie Duff, Jodhi May, Ben Daniels, Julian Fellowes
Director: David Caffrey (II)
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Television
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Love & Romance, Period Piece, Family Life, Drama
Studio: Acorn Media
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 08/08/2006
Original Release Date: 10/10/1999
Theatrical Release Date: 10/10/1999
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 4hr 53min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 3
SwapaDVD Credits: 3
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 32
Edition: Box set
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Enter THEIR World!
Stephen M. Moser | Austin, Texas USA | 01/23/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

""I remained convinced that our prestigious family with its significant connections could still hold sway over history." Thus spake Emily, Duchess of Leinster, in 1798, shortly before her son, the notorious and dashing Irish revolutionary, Edward Fitzgerald, was executed for the murder of a British soldier. The world they knew was rapidly changing, and, indeed, there was little, if *anything*, the Duchess or her aristocratic family held sway over anymore, except each other. But a few short years before, she and her sisters were among the most admired and privileged women on earth. The five sisters, Caroline, Emily, Louisa, Sarah and Cecilia, were the great-granddaughters of Charles II with his mistress, Louise de Keroualle, the Duchess of Portsmouth. Their grandfather, the king's illegitimate son, was Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond. His son, also Charles, became the 2nd Duke of Richmond. The 2nd Duke married an Irish woman, of whose backround, both were deeply ashamed of and desperately tried to conceal. When their eldest daughter Caroline, an intelligent woman with a thirst for sophisticated pleasures, eloped with Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland, the Duke and Duchess were mortified at her insubordination - marrying a politician against the wishes of her father brought swift judgement upon Caroline, and she was banished from her family. Caroline missed her family greatly and grieved over their estrangement, but from her home, Holland House (the same one on the Holland House liquor labels), she kept discreet correspondence with her sisters. When second eldest daughter, Emily, begged her parents to allow her to marry James Fitzgerald, 20th Earl of Kildare, an Irish statesman, the parents were aghast at the possibility of Irish blood (re-)entering their bloodline, but fearing another estrangement, they agreed to the marriage, partially because it was evident that the Earl deeply loved Emily, and partially because the Earl was extraordinarily wealthy. She had a son, Edward Fitzgerald, a celebrated United Irishman, whose dedication to Irish freedom would have been incomprehensible to his grandparents. Louisa, the third sister, married Thomas Conolly, a kind and loving man, had a brood of children and lived happily ever after. Fourth sister, Sarah, married badly, had an affair, a baby, a divorce, and complete social ostracism all in short order. Fifth sister, Cecilia, died in her teens. There was also a brother who became 3rd Duke of Richmond.
Meticulously adapted from Stella Tillyard's masterpiece by the same name, *Aristocrats* is a story of magnificent scope and grandeur, but told without the usual gassy adoration of the British upper class. Its basis is not embellished reports and embroidered tales, but the massive archives of correspondence and household and historical records left behind by these women. It is as much a story of the sisters' love for each other and their families, as it is a historical drama, but the viewer never forgets that it is through the eyes of these women that we see the epic unfold. As with many epics, it makes short work of some of history's more momentous occasions, but that serves to keep the story focused on the sisters. The production values are top notch. With an excellent screenplay by Harriet O'Carroll, superb direction, and outstanding craftsmanship throughout, *Aristocrats* is as splendid a production as it is a story."
Rich And Elegant
John D. Cofield | 12/08/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Aristocrats is the epitome of the costume historical dramas the British do so well. It is the story of the five Lennox sisters: Caroline, Emily, Louisa, Sarah, and Cecilia who, as the daughters of the Duke of Richmond and great-granddaughters of King Charles II, stood at the apex of 18th century English society. They lived lives of splendor in magnificent homes with dozens of servants, but their love lives were tumultuous and tortured. Unusually for that period, they held significant political influence through their husbands, sons, and lovers and were witnesses to much climatic history from the mid 1700s through the early 1800s. If you have only seen the version of Aristocrats shown on Masterpiece Theater in 1999 you are in for an extra treat with this video set in that many deleted scenes have been included, adding to the richness of the drama and making the story much more complete. (We see Cecilia's sad fate, for example)."
The Daughters of the Duke of Richmond
Doug Anderson | Miami Beach, Florida United States | 11/15/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Had Jane Austen been born a royal and become the acute observer of human relationships that she would become in the mid-eighteenth century instead of the early nineteenth this is very likley the tale she would have told. For although this mini-series charts the social and political changes of the 1740's through the 1790's, social and political change alone are not what command our attention here, rather those changes only acquire importance as they affect the personal and public lives of one line of marriagable aristocrats as they look for and sometimes find suitable partners. As in the novels of Jane Austen the focus is on the trials and tribulations (as well as the politics) of courtship, marriage, and the management of social existence that keeps the process in motion from one generation to the next.

Episode one features the story of the Duke of Richmond's eldest daughter Lady Caroline. Lady Caroline is a woman who prefers books to fashionable society and though she is courted by young men her own age its only the free-thinking Voltaire reading Mr. Henry Fox, a good twenty years her senior, that attracts and captivates her most lively attribute, her mind. Mr. Henry Fox is a rising star in the King's cabinet but since he is not of noble birth and since he has a reputation as a libertine who has fathered at least one child with a stage actress, Lady Caroline's father refuses to approve of the match. Since they know they cannot marry with permission the two elope and the result is that Lady Caroline is banished from her parents home. The Duke of Richmond, proud as he is of his noble status, was an illegitimate child, the result of one of Charles II's royal flings, and his wife was an attendant to the Queen. So they are technically royal but not royalty of the highest and most respectable rank. The King is, nonetheless fond of the Duke and his family and he, now and then, gives him a new title but the ineffectual Duke who is known for his encyclopedic knowledge of many trivial things like wild animals and fireworks never has any real political influence over the king and this lack of respect infuriates and humiliates him. Ironically the man who does have influence over the King is the Kings cabinet minister of war, Mr. Henry Fox. This fact also proves to be humbling and infuriating to the Duke. Eventually the Duke of Richmond forgives his daughter for marrying without his permission but this is a political move designed to win him influential friends as much as it is a personal move and this becomes clear to Lady Caroline after the Dukes death. Disobeying her royal father and then being married to an influential and powerful man means a lonely life for Lady Caroline. Though she has two sons they grow up to be two fashionable young men about town who spend their youth drinking & gambling & womanizing, very much their fathers sons, and so they offer her very little company or satisfaction. Lady Caroline's life started out with the promise of adventure but she is never able to crawl out from under the shadow of her father or her husband. Her own life never fully blossoms; she is almost always photographed in a sunless library, as if her own life had been literally eclipsed by the lives of her father, her husband and her sons.

Episode two features the Duke of Richmond's second daughter, Lady Emily. Lady Emily is also the narrator of the series and so it is through her perspective that each of these stories is told. As a young girl she watched her older sister Lady Caroline make descisions and she saw what the results of those decisions were. Lady Emily thus grows up acutely aware of the rules that govern the social world, some spoken and some unspoken, and she knows that one bad decision can lead to banishment from the privileged world. Lady Emily knows herself well enough to know that she is quite attached to privilege and so though she may initially be attracted to a young man that her father disapproves of she knows it is best not to press the issue but to wait it out. And her patience is rewarded as her father eventually decides that the Irishmen that has captured her heart is in fact worthy of his daughters hand, not because he is no longer prejudice against the Irish but because he discovers that this particular Irishmen is immensely wealthy and that the match will only increase his own wealth. Lady Emily is wise to the ways of the world and she learns early that it is a mans world and that in order to negotiate ones way through a mans world one must learn the arts of tenderly managing mens fragile egos as well as understanding mens inherent inconstancy. Lady Emily as a young girl learns exactly how to flatter her father with feigned obedience and she learns to live with her own husband's indiscretions by resigning herself to the idea that "mens inconstancy is as common as the rain." Still it is bittersweet when it comes time to watch the next sister, Louisa, experience the happiness of a newlywed bliss that she no longer has. To compensate she surrounds herself with a houseful of children, and she finds ways to make life enjoyable if not always ideal. Writing in her journal is in many respects a way of coping with the world as it is.

Episode three & four follow fourth sister, Lady Sarah, as she is introduced into London society and catches the eye of the future King. Though Sarah feels nothing for the future King her entire family encourages the match as a royal alliance would restore honor to a family reputation that has been tarnished by Fox's now scandalous reputation as a war-time profiteer. But the King alas asks another to be his Queen and Lady Sarah marries a rather humble scholar who shows her no affection. Trapped in an unhappy marriage, she seeks diversions in ever more scandalous amusements including gambling, flirting with Frenchmen, and having an illicit affair with a Lord. This affair produces a child and brings scandal not only onto Sarah but onto the entire family and it creates a rift between Lady Caroline and Lady Emily who feels betrayed by Lady Caroline's choice to keep knowledge of Sarah's scandals and affair to herself.

In episodes five and six: Lady Caroline's health is in decline, Lady Emily finds herself attracted to the tutor of her children, Lady Louisa devotes herself to doing good works for the much abused lower classes, and Lady Sarah finally finds lasting happiness with a captain in the royal army. Amid these personal affairs widespread democratic sympathies (in both the upper and lower echelons of society) begin to take their toll on the family and mark the beginning of the end of the aristocratic way of life.

The best Masterpiece Theatre productions, specifically the period pieces, exert a strong appeal because they capture a style and easy elegance that has vanished from the world. This in itself is attractive. And I suspect that one thing that will appeal to audiences of both sexes is the enormous amount of time that these aristocrats had to spend with their families. In the modern world leisure is the rarest commodity and so perhaps the most fascinating thing for a contemporary viewer is to see what a class of people with so much of it does with all its free time. However, if we pay close attention we notice that the style and easy elegance that leisure seems to afford is largely a matter of surfaces and appearances for when we listen to Lady Emily relate her marital woes we recognize them as pretty much the same marital woes that afflict contemporary relationships. Some things about marriage seem to be true regardless of time period and class: ie when you marry you marry not just a person but an entire social world. Social worlds are not the same today as they were then but today our marriages do still in large part determine our social status and determine what social group we will belong to; they determine whether we will be outcasts to our families and communities or part of the fold. So these aristocrats despite their unfamilar surroundings are strangley familiar for they have the same concerns we have. Connecting with history on a personal level is very appealing. It makes one think there is more continuity to the world than it sometimes seems. In some respects this is a good thing and allows us the comfort of knowing that the world does not change all that much, but in other respects it is disturbing as it indicates that the same social pressures that shaped the lives of the eighteenth-century continue to shape our lives today."
Sheer Bliss for History and Biography Fans
HRH Catherine Anne | CALIF | 08/04/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Perfection! The actors, costumes, scenery, and mannerisms were consistant with the era portrayed. A fascinating storyline that happens to be a true story, it exceeded my expectations and I was completely enchanted. I have just ordered the book that is the companion to this film and eagerly await its arrival. If you enjoy films of this era that accurately portray the people and their culture then I guarantee you will adore this achievement in filmmakking. Bravo to PBS & BBC for another classic. By the way, rotten tomatoes to the networks adaptions of "The Love Letter" and "The Inheritance." A public school's drama class would have given these the respect and accuracy they deserve. (A grown woman wearing her hair down?? Never!!! And using today's slang?) Please leave these period pieces alone if you can't do them justice. Thank you."