The real Lillie Langtry (1853-1929) was the original Victorian supermodel and America's first "superstar." Inauspiciously born on the Isle of Jersey, Lillie began life as a small-town tomboy and went on to challenge Victor... more »ian society's attitudes toward women. Eventually sought after by painters, photographers, writers, and hostesses, the beautiful Lillie befriended Oscar Wilde, bedded the Prince of Wales, bore a daughter to Prince Louis of Battenburg, owned a California winery and winning racehorses, gained a British title, left a trail of broken hearts behind her wherever she went, and even had a town in Texas named after her. What the controversial Lillie did not gain through marriage, she earned as an actress and notable advertising figure who endorsed everything from soap and cigarettes to bustles. Originally released in 1979, this 13-part Masterpiece Theatre presentation re-creates Lillie's tumultuous life. The DVD features include well-implemented interactive menus, a slide show, cast filmography, and Web links. While the Victorian and Edwardian details are convincing, the series as a whole has an unfortunate 1970s TV aesthetic--the color and lighting often fail to meet current standards. And although Peter Egan is enthralling as Oscar Wilde, Francesca Annis's performance as Lillie is disappointingly flat. For this reason, Lillie will let down viewers seeking to be inspired by a boldly rebellious Victorian woman. After all, Lillie Langtry was no suffragette. On the other hand, anyone who enjoys a little Wilde-style gossip and social intrigue will find hours of scintillating entertainment in Lillie. --Tara Chace« less
E. Hornaday | Lawrenceville, NJ United States | 12/15/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Quite simply, one of the best BBC Classic TV Miniseries ever produced. Filmed in 1978 and to be released in a four-disc DVD set, the miniseries stars the brilliant Francesca Annis (Tommy and Tuppence, etc.) as Lillie Langtry, one of the most famous and infamous courtesans/ladies of the Victorian age.
In an era when women were to be seen and not heard, the unforgettable Lillie broke every taboo without a backward glance. The series chronicles her long life, and in so doing presents one of the best portraits of Victorian England ever filmed.
We watch Lillie as a young tomboy, grow to an awkward adolescent, a stunning woman, and a beautiful old woman. Each stage of her life is portrayed perfectly by Annis, the makeup transforming her body while her awesome talent transforms her character development as Lillie.
Lillie is one-of-a-kind, a calculating woman of immense presence, grace and substance. Unfortunately, she becomes trapped in a loveless marriage, but she devises her own way to cope.
Taking full advantage of her beauty, Lillie deliberately attracts as many as a dozen lovers and admirers including the married Prince of Wales and notorious Oscar Wilde.
As her husband slowly drinks himself to death, she relies on her looks, wiles and self-assurance in the London Society of the 1870s to embark upon a sensational career as a marginally talented actress.
With guile, Lillie creates a truly unique life of the courtesan, eventually gaining prestige by going on the stage and touring America many times over.
Throughout her life she endures financial ruin and scandal, yet maintains her celebrated lifestyle. Because Lillie lives to be a very old woman, viewers are given an honest glimpse of the Victoria Era through the span of her life.
As with every BBC miniseries dealing with period stories, the acting, staging, filming and music is all well above top notch."
A VICTORIAN SIREN...
Lawyeraau | Balmoral Castle | 01/01/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This thirteen part Masterpiece Theatre series, which first aired in 1979, is certainly worth watching as it is quite entertaining and well done. Detailing the life and loves of the notorious Lillie Langtry, the Victorian era superstar, it gives the viewer a taste of an era gone by. beautifully acted by a stellar cast, the production suffers only from the unfortunate lighting used in the nineteen seventies, giving the sets and actors a somewhat washed out and flat appearance. That being said, it is still a series well worth watching.
Born on the British isle of Jersey to a womanizing clergyman and his wife, Lillie grew up as a tomboy with a rare beauty. At an early age, she marries Edward Langtry, a purportedly wealthy yachtsman from a shipping family, who takes her to live in Southampton. There, she finds life not to her liking. She soon discovers that her husband has sold her a bill of goods, as his wealth has been spent. After a bout with a serious illness, she contrives a move to London, where she is exposed to a taste of high society. After a false start, she gets noticed by the local swells and becomes a renowned beauty, sought after by all. Now, a fashionable society woman, she finds herself with her name on everyone's lips. Lillie eventually comes to the attention of the married Prince of Wales and becomes his mistress.
Trapped in her loveless marriage with the hapless and alcoholic Edward Langtry, Lillie goes on to have numerous love affairs with some of the most socially prominent and wealthy men of her day and eventually has a love child. Courted by all, her beauty and need for money brings her to the stage, where she becomes an actress with her own company. Her fame by now has spanned the ocean and made her a celebrity in America, as well as in Europe.
Lillie certainly knew the value of marketing, as she endorsed numerous products with her name. A woman ahead of her time, who marched to the beat of her own drum, she still went to great pains to avoid scandal, though it was never far from her doorstep. Alas, in the end, her fame and beauty decimated by age, her lovers dead or gone, Lillie, no longer the toast of two continents, ends up nothing more than a lonely old lady.
The cast for this production is stellar and the costumes are first rate. Francesca Annis is beautiful and certainly gives a competent performance as the notorious Lillie. Though her performance is acclaimed, however, the viewer cannot help but wonder why such a fuss was ever made over Lillie, as she comes across as supremely shallow and vapid. I attribute this to the fact that Ms. Annis' portrayal of Lillie comes across as being rather flat, failing to make her a truly likable character. Peter Egan, on the other hand, is superb as Oscar Wilde and, as far as I am concerned, steals the show. Filled with much social intrigue and witty repartee, the series will keep the viewer riveted to the screen.
This four disc DVD is well done with good visuals and clarity of sound. It does not offer much by way of bonus features, but with such a lengthy production, who cares. All in all, this is a very enjoyable and entertaining series that will provide the viewer with hours of viewing pleasure. Those who like period pieces and historical dramas will most certainly enjoy this one."
A Thoroughly Enjoyable Historical Biography!
Tiggah | Calgary, Alberta Canada | 12/29/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Born Emilie Le Breton in 1853 on the Channel Island of Jersey, Lillie Langtry went on to become one of the most famous women of the late 19th century, and this 1978 series (consisting of thirteen 50-minute episodes) does an admirable job of chronicling her fascinating life. Lillie was gifted with exceptional beauty, and although she and her new husband Edward Langtry (played by Anton Rogers (May to December, Fresh Fields)) were people of very modest means when they moved to London, it didn't take long for Lillie to become noticed. Indeed, Lillie craved London society and did all she could to secure herself a place therein. Becoming a Professional Beauty (the 19th century equivalent of a Supermodel) certainly helped for soon her portraits and photographs were everywhere. (Her friendships, by the way, included the artists Millais and Whistler and the playwright Oscar Wilde (played to absolute perfection by Peter Egan)). It was, however, her relationship as one of the mistresses of Bertie, the Prince of Wales, that really sealed Lillie's position in society. Society, however, failed to hold Lillie's interest for long, and she soon embarked upon a career as an actress, a decision that was to bring Lillie international attention and acclaim--to such an extent that a town in Texas was even named after her!In this series, Lillie is portrayed by the stunningly beautiful Francesca Annis who, at least in my opinion, is simply splendid as Lillie; indeed, so perfect is her portrayal that I cannot possibly imagine anyone else in the role. Having seen pictures of the real Lillie Langtry, both my mother and I have often remarked on how Lillie's beauty pales by comparison with Francesca's--evidence, no doubt, that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and that which one society considers to be perfection is often very different from that which is considered to be so by another!In conclusion, this is an engaging and entertaining story of a woman who led a very interesting and atypical life. It is perfectly cast and extremely well-acted, and I highly recommend it to anyone with a love for either period drama or historical biography. For those interested in delving even deeper into this fascinating woman's life, I highly recommend Laura Beatty's highly acclaimed biography entitled Lillie Langtry--Manners, Masks and Morals (a 1999 UK publication)."
Tiggah | 07/04/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I doubted whether anyone's life really needed this many volumes, yet the story is well told and the characters well performed.Some reviewers have been disappointed in Annis's performance, saying she is "flat" or uninteresting, but I cannot agree. The "Lillie" she portrays is fascinating, but selfish and shallow, exactly as as she should have been. Anyone who's been to High School should know that the class coquette is usually neither deep nor likable once you get to know her. Annis plays the class coquette in the right place at the right time.Peter Egan steals the show as Oscar Wilde, witty, light years smarter than anyone else, yet tortured by being the wrong person at the wrong time. (He might have avoided those charges if he could have just kept his mouth shut--Egan plays, beautifully, a man too witty for his own good.)Lillie's family are all believable, and it is poetic how much her father and her catastrophically wrong-for-her husband have in common, as this story is told. Artist Jimmy Whistler is brought to life quite convincingly.At the end, when Lillie is just another old, forgotten woman, the story feels unerringly true. Can't ask for more in a bio/drama."
Brilliant characterizations give life to a great miniseries
F. Behrens | Keene, NH USA | 01/26/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Masterpiece Theatre" was originally designed to show dramatized versions of great classics or of historical periods from England's past. "The First Churchills" led the way and many a great adaptation of a novel or a biography has followed. (Alas, a lot of junk was soon considered "masterpieces" and the glory of the series faded.) Among the best of them was the 13-part miniseries titled "Lillie," and it is now available in a boxed set of Acorn Media DVDs. Grab it!
Part of the plot of the 1940 film "The Westerner" is concerned with Judge Roy Bean's infatuation with an English actress named Lillie Langtry. That character shows up in "Lillie" just once but memorably, but the scene does raise the question of how just another pretty face could so become the rage of England and America without its owner having any other particular talents (they say her acting was amateurish at best)--except an iron will to get what she wants and a high degree of intelligence.
As played by Francesca Annis, whose own good looks make the story believable, Lillie suffers an early disillusionment when she marries Mr. Langtry (brilliantly played by Anton Rodgers) because he is a "gentleman" (= an utterly useless person) with a yacht. Then she quickly realizes he has far less fortune than she thought and even less understanding of how a wife should be treated (after their wedding night, he spends the rest of the day in town). In the years that follow, although she becomes the mistress of the Prince of Wales (Denis Lill) and of several other men, Langtry doggedly refuses a divorce--and his end is possibly just what he deserves or rather a bit more than he deserves. The very fact that I wonder about this shows how deeply I felt for these characters as I again watched this 672-minute miniseries, which was first shown on American public television in 1979.
Actually, my fondest memories of "Lillie" are of the unforgettable Oscar Wilde of Peter Egan. Having seen Robert Morley, Peter Finch and others play the role, I have to call Egan's Wilde the very best. If one views only those scenes in which he appears, the price of the set would still be worth it.
The cast list on the Internet Movie Database runs for seven pages, and I refer my readers to that website. I ran off a copy and kept it near my chair to identify familiar faces along the way, one of which was that of Jennie Linden who portrays Lillie's closest friend, Patsy Cornwallis-West.
I will be replaying this one over the years to come. Ten stars out of ten.