So, if you haven’t noticed already, this is not a Hallmark movie. I hope you forgive me, but I have been overworked and over-stressed all week, and I just wanted something where I didn’t have to think about anything, where I could just watch and be entertained while eating my (very small) portion of ice cream. I’ve already ruined dinner tonight, meaning we had to order take-out, and my family has lovingly let me alone in the living room, basking in the air conditioning – because it’s still warm and muggy out for all that it’s October, and I found this perfect GEM of a movie on my watchlist on Prime. Halle-freaking-lujah. Just what the doctor ordered.
Back history of this movie – it stars a VERY young Hugh Grant, Oliver Reed, Emma Sams, Lisette Anthony and a whole bunch of Brits in 1989. I remember watching it on my grandmother’s TV back in the day (we didn’t have cable, so it was on Channel 7 or something) and then being obsessed with the little spiral curls that festoon the wigs in this movie. Later on in life, I found a VHS copy of this and had to own it. It spawned the beginning (sadly, only the beginning) of a highwayman inspired romantic novel, called Masquerade at Midnight. I was going to write this with a friend of mine, but we never got as far as really writing anything down – however, the plot got all sketched out. Anyway. There’s my story as to why this movie is the perfect antidote to the week I’ve been having, and without further ado, I give you The Lady and the Highwayman.
This is based on a novel by Barbara Cartland, and beyond the actors I already mentioned, Michael York is in this one, plus a bunch of old grey-haired men. The executive producer is Lord Lew Grade, and I feel like I should know that name but I don’t remember. It is set in the 1600s in England, in between when Charles I died, and Charles II takes the thrown. Michael York is Charles II, and Hugh Grant is Lord Lucius Vyne, and his voice is so high and tinny, you think he’s talking through a tube. Lucius is helping Charles take back his thrown from Oliver Cromwell, and he’s also going to inherit a title if anything happens to a guy named Richard, who also just asked Lucius to take care of his sister Panthea, should anything happen to him. Of course something is going to happen to him, that’s why we don’t even give a crap about who is playing this character. Off Lucius goes to God Save the King, and Charles lives to come back another day. (He’s also given Lucius a ring, should he need anything when Charles is back on the throne. Remember that, it’s important.) There are a lot of overhead shots of people in cloaks riding, but yay! everyone get’s away. Suck it, Cromwell, you and your stupid Roundheads. Ok, everyone, with me so far?
Cut to Panthea Vyne, whose brother Richard is missing, and Lisette Anthony is super pretty in this movie. There’s also a wanted poster for a highwayman named Silver Blade…I wonder who that is??? Lady Panthea is having some tax issues, but she takes her own sweet time getting to talk with him. Gross Tax Man wants to marry Lady Panthea, and he brings her news that Richard has been captured (for treason) and will be executed, but if she marries Gross Tax Man (GTM), Richard can be saved! In this movie, Panthea has a version of a Sassy Friend (her maid) who goes to her boyfriend to get help, while Panthea gets married to GTM, and he wastes no time in trying to exercise his marital rights – in the freaking open carriage – (oh, and he also kills her dog) – but who should come, but Silver Blade! And because the highwayman is such a gentleman, he buries the dog before he tells Panthea that GTM is a liar liar who lies, because Richard has been dead for 2 weeks, and now he’s going to duel GTM for his life. I cannot tell you how deadpan Hugh Grant’s delivery is in this movie, but I will tell you that his floofy hair, as seen in Four Weddings…, etc, had its origin here. Sword Fight, Sword Fight, Sword Fight, and GTM dies.
Silver Blade takes the money that GTM was hoarding, rides Panthea home on his horse, and tells her not to tell anyone. And she’s certainly not going to tell anyone that she was married for 5 minutes to GTM, so it’s all fine. He walks out of her life, floofy hair and big old hat and all, but not before we get a close-up of Panthea looking out the window with artistically placed lighting just on her eyes.
Panthea’s Aunt Emma arrives to take Panthea to London and we cut to 1662. Charles II is back on the throne, and has just married Catherine of Braganza. And here at court we also get to see Emma Sams, who plays Lady Barbara Castlemain, Charles II’s mistress. There’s also a guy named Rudolph Vyne, who is probably related to Panthea, and all the court gossip is boo on Barbara Castlemain. Panthea is looking all around court like she’s never seen people before, and Barbara is not impressed by her at all – she’s clearly threatened. BTW, Cousin Rudolph wants dead brother Richard’s title that went to Lucius, so they’re all inter-related, and all upset with each other, and once Rudolph finds out that Panthea’s so rich (from GTM’s hoard) he makes up his mind to marry his cousin. And can we say, ew.
Charles thinks Panthea is pretty, makes a big stir over her, and voila, she’s a member of Queen Catherine’s household. And none of that sits well with Barbara Castlemain. And Aunt Emma insults Barbara Castlemain and you know that doesn’t sit well, either. She vows revenge!
But soft! Who is looking out for Panthea from some kind of bell tower but Silver Blade / Lucius Vyne. If he’s a wanted highwayman, hanging out at court in a bell tower is kind of dumb.
Barbara seeks out Oliver Reed, who plays Sir Philip Gage, who is apparently going to do…something? for her? I don’t know, it’s very vague. But since it’s Oliver Reed, you know someone is going to die.
Rudolph is very desperate trying to get that title, and he tells Panthea that Lucius is a highwayman. I am not quite sure, but the fact that it’s common knowledge that high-born Lucius is a highwayman seems wrong. However, what do I know, I’m not someone in the 1600s in love with my cousin who’s pretending to be a Robin Hood guy. Panthea browbeats her SassyMaid into telling her that Silver Blade, who rescued her from GTM is none other than her cousin. So yay, Panthea knows who she’s in love with, and is NOT at ALL upset that he’s her cousin. She daydreams in movie flashbacks, and again, I say, ew.
SassyMaid’s boyfriend is still with Silver Blade, and they’re on the hunt for Secret Roundheads, who don’t want the King back on the throne. Montages abound of Silver Blade robbing the rich and giving to the poor. Out of all historical fashions, I really hate this 1600 look – it’s got pilgrim collars and big hats, plus wigs and red heels for the men. It’s just a weird thing.
Rudolph wants Barbara to intercede with the King to get him the title, but Barbara is like, yeah, no, I’m not going to do that, oh, and by the way, I’ve heard Lucius is pretty fine. Shame you’re not like him, Rudy. But schemes are afoot to get Silver Blade hung, and then all of a sudden, Barbara is super crazypants jealous about Panthea. Barbara, you need to CHILL. It’s not a good look for you.
Panthea meets the King out riding, and their conversation is interrupted by Oliver Reed, who says he’s gonna go kill Silver Blade. Panthea is freaking out inside, but her face is serene. Good for her. But off Panthea goes to warn Silver Blade on horseback without a lantern in the middle of the night. How did people do that? I have a hard enough time driving at night right now.
Silver Blade is hiding in Panthea’s house. As a hiding place, that’s not great. But Hugh Grant is happy to see Panthea, but she’s not that happy that Lucius is being a dork about not wanting to be a Duke. Floofy Hair ON POINT, and the music tells us that they’re falling in love over their conversation – she’s totally just said she loves him, and he’s like, whoa, what? But the violins are too much, and the special face light on Panthea is back, and he’s powerless to stop himself from loving her too, but then ba-bam, he’s off to escape Oliver Reed, and Panthea is there to throw them off the scent. Oliver Reed’s soldiers are wreaking her house, and one of them was driver back on the day when Silver Blade killed GTM and Rudolph notices that they know each other. Uh oh, what will happen?
Before we get to plot, though, we get more of Panthea’s stupid daydreaming of Hugh Grant on a horse.
And back to plot, Rudolph brings the solider to Barbara Castlemain, and confesses the whole story about GTM and the aborted wedding day. Ruh-roh! With considerable money, and Barbara in a very tight corset, soldier man has remembered the day in quite a different way than it actually happened.
Party time – all the major players are there, when Oliver Reed shows up with soldiers to arrest Lady Panthea Vyne for murdering her husband, the GTM. Oh the shame! The bad manners – she didn’t even get dinner before getting sent to the Tower. (Oh, and btw, she has the nicest room in the Tower – even Anne Boleyn had a crappier room). The key to her defense is stating who Silver Blade is, but Panthea won’t give him up, and so because of …um, not quite sure why, Panthea dismisses her lawyer and will represent herself at her trial. Can I just say that she must live in some kind of rarified place that is not Earth (especially in the 1600s) that she thinks she’ll get any kind of fairness on being a woman on trial for murdering her husband. I mean…really.
Trial Day (insert the Law and Order chung-chungs here). Soldier is another liar liar who tells lies, but this time he’s under oath, and that’s called perjury. Oliver Reed is OverActing a la the School of Shatner, and Panthea is not a lawyer and sucks at defending herself. But it also seems that Oliver Reed’s prosecution case is one witness, so none of this seems like it’s good judicial practice.
And So Panthea gets convicted, and sentenced to death, but before she finishes a daydream of a cry for help to Lucius, Lucius arrives at the court – only to be caught by all of Oliver Reed’s soldiers! Oh it was a trap after all! Rudolph unmasks Silver Blade, and takes his special King Ring, so there’s no way to help Lucius, is there?
Panthea is in the Tower, listening to them build a scaffold, and Lucius is showing off his manhood by beating up his jailer. He’s all dirty but the hair is still quite big.
Question – didn’t they just keep the scaffold up at the Tower, or did they have to keep building one and then taking it down? Panthea just keeps pacing and swishing her big skirts, very dramatically as she waits for death. Lucius just sits in his own filth and meditates.
It’s 2 days to Execution day – and they have just started drumming. Poor drummers, they are going to get tired before the death day. But oh, plot twist – Barbara shows up in Lucius filthy jail cell, offering to get him freed if he gets her…well, you know. Hugh Grant has such dead-eye face at all of Barbara’s overacting. She does not take rejection well, and Lucius doesn’t care.
The executioner shows up at Panthea’s cell to get a sense of how big her neck is. That’s gotta suck if they really did that. But beyond that terror, Lucius is now almost catatonic.
Back to Panthea – she’s daydreaming flashbacks with violin music again.
What’s this? Did Lucius hang himself in his jail cell? Of course not, silly – that was just to fool the jailer. More swashbuckling and sword fighting, and off they go to rescue Panthea. For a jail, it’s not very heavily protected – there were like 3 guards, and there were horses just waiting for them, like the end of The Princess Bride.
Rudy is claiming his inheritance before Lucius is dead, and he’s stupidly wearing the King Ring in front of King Charles, and the jig is up, Dumbass Rudy.
More drums, and Panthea’s in her cap, ready for her beheading. Poor SassyMaid, she’s crying her eyes out. Seeing as how her boyfriend was arrested with Lucius, you’d think she’d be at the hanging place where he’s scheduled to die, instead of at the Tower. But no matter – Lucius has arrived! He’s stabbed the executioner with a dagger while he was in mid-stroke – and that means he’s freaking lucky that that falling axe didn’t kill Panthea.
Swordfight Swordfight Swordfight, with the most dramatic music, and voila! THE KING! There to solve all the problems of these two kissing cousins. No one dies today! Yippee!
Panthea and Lucius get married, and he’s wearing the MOST ATROCIOUS Wedding outfit, and holy crap the lighting in this movie is awful, but we’re done.
So. I haven’t watched this movie since, like, 1999. I do not know why I loved it so much back then. It hasn’t aged well, and the version that is available on Amazon Prime isn’t the best. However, if you like big floofy hair, and big poofy dresses, and tons of cleavage and Michael York hamming it up, then this is the movie for you. If you had a bad week, and just can’t figure out how you’re going to learn all your lines for the production of Macbeth you’re in, and you’re stressing about that, and Older Son’s Science Grade (back to awesome, thank you very much, Older Son) and work, and the weather, and why the diet isn’t working too well – well, then, this is the movie for you. Enjoy! Or not. I did, just so you don’t have to.
As a fun aside to the end of this recap, while I was doing my family’s geneology, I discovered that we’re related to a highwayman – Humphrey Kynaston. Read about him here!