Acorn presents the complete miniseries “Lillie,” a classic Masterpiece Theater offering from 1979 on DVD for fans and new audiences to enjoy. Brought to life by the beautiful Francesca Annis as Lillie Langtry, the story of a remarkable woman making her way in a dazzling age of manners and social intrigue is simply irresistible viewing.Lillie Langtry (also known affectionately to the public as the Jersey L.ily) was a late 19th century actress and celebrity. Born Emilie Charlotte Le Baron on Britain’s channel island of Jersey Lillie was NOT the first example of a Jersey Shore citizen as my co-worker announced when I began telling him about her.
The events of her life might make one think she was a model for the modern series story lines, but hers was an existence that began simply but by her having the fortunate combination of beauty, wit and intelligence, was to conquer high society in London and become famous throughout the world. Existing photographs and paintings from this period verify her good looks and it is even thought that she was inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character “Irene Adler” the woman in Sherlock Holmes life.
The troubles in Lillie’s life began in early adulthood. She fell in love with a young man from Jersey and they planned to marry only to discover that his parentage shared a component of hers. Soon young Lillie married an Irish aristocrat Edward Langtry and the couple moved to London. Lillie was desperate to be a part of the glittering social world, and through her beauty gained entrance to this dazzling place. She became a “professional beauty,” a celebrity of the day who was sought out by painters, photographers and the highest members of the social scene.
She caught the eye of Edward, Prince of Wales, and soon became his official mistress. Amazingly enough she was able to create an amicable relationships with Edward’s wife Princess Alexandra. When the relationship with Edward ended, Lillie put herself on the stage. No less than Oscar Wilde encouraged her in this endeavor. It has been said that critics were not kind when writing about her performances, but that didn’t matter to an adoring public.
Lillie lived a long life with ups and downs that would have squashed a lesser human being. She knew the worth of her beauty early on, and was one of the first socially prominent ladies to sell her image for advertising purposes. Who wouldn’t want to buy a product that was used by the lovely Lillie Langtry?
In later life she became a racehorse owner and even moved to America after several successful tours there in theater productions. Lillie was a living legend, and has been a figure visited in many literary and film productions. You might know of Lillie Langtry in connection with another colorful character of the American West, Judge Roy Bean (self-proclaimed law West of the Pecos) and while we don’t know how much of the legends are true, the fact that they exist at all are tribute to Lillie’s aura and prominence.
“Lillie” is presented on four discs containing 13 episodes of the series. Included is a fascinating essay by Shannon Cox on Lillie’s continued impact on pop culture. For the age of the production, it first appeared in the late 1970’s the episodes have held up well.
Any flaws due to technology changes are easily overlooked thanks to the impact of the story. The attention to detail, together with a superb cast that have been given evocative scripts to work with, make it easy for audiences to fall into Lillie’s world.
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