; Lillie
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									"Lillie" is a half-forgotten classic from the golden age of the British
television miniseries that starred Francesca Annis as Lillie Langtry, a
turn of the 20th century society beauty - professional beauty, as they
called them, although they weren't supposed to be professional at all.
The DVD has been remastered from its TV incarnation, however, as the
series is rather old, there are a few odd moments that resisted
clarification. But the production, by Granada for London Weekend
Television, is at least as sumptuous as any treatment of the material by
the British Broadcasting Corporation might have been. The costumes and
carriages are accurate; filming was done on location; and the thirteen
episode entertainment utilizes a cast of over 1,000, including live
musicians at the numerous balls.

The drama traces the rise of the beauteous Jersey clergyman's daughter,
through London society - where she caught a number of royal eyes--to
become one of the first famous, independent - and infamous - women of
the twentieth century. The gorgeous Annis, who was a British TV star
from her teenage years, carries the production in a BAFTA-winning
performance, appearing in most scenes, from youth to old age. She may be
best remembered from the British TV series Reckless [DVD] [2007] and
Cranford Collection Box Set [DVD], but she's actually played Langtry
twice, as well as playing Madame Bovary, and Jackie Kennedy Onassis, for
British TV. She is ably assisted here by Peter Egan as Oscar Wilde;
Anton Rodgers as her first husband, Edward Langtry; and Denis Lill,
playing the Prince of Wales, to briefly sit the English throne as Edward
VII. Each of these men show up on several episodes, must age along with
the star, and have dramatic character arcs. Jennie Linden also does well
as Langtry's close friend, Mrs. Patsy Cornwallis-West.

Lillie was first taken up by London society for her extraordinary
beauty, and was painted by James Whistler and John Everett Millais,
among others. She was lionized by Wilde, Walt Whitman, George Bernard
Shaw, and Judge Roy Bean of Texas, who, as viewers who remember an old
Paul Newman movie, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean - Paul Newman
[DVD], will know, named his town "Langtry," after her.

The young beauty scandalized London society by a string of affairs with
royals: Prince Edward, who was called Bertie - while she always remained
on good terms with his wife Alexandra -- and Prince Louis of Battenberg,
among others; and turned down Leopold of Belgium and Price Rudolf of
Austria (who was, famously, later to kill himself and his mistress at
Mayerling). She was also collecting spectacular jewels all the way. But
she still needed more money. So she was the first `professional beauty'
to pose for paid celebrity endorsements. And she went into business for
herself, buying numerous properties; meanwhile she had to pay the
alcoholic Langtry, who refused to give her a divorce, to keep his
distance. She went on the stage, becoming an immensely popular actress,
if not one of the most prestigious, and toured America many times. She
had her own racing stable.

Lillie bore one daughter, illegitimately, to Prince Louis of Battenberg.
He unfortunately was a cousin of the Royal Family, and a career naval
officer. The Prince of Wales did not think it advisable to let him marry
Lillie; so she was forced to have her daughter in secret, and
misrepresent the girl to herself, and the disapproving world. Whether
because of resentment at this treatment, or simply as a result of the
pendulum of character's swinging from one generation to the next, the
daughter, Jeanne Marie, appears to have grown up an extremely
conventional woman. She refused to see her mother for nigh on twenty
years; nor would she let the woman know her grandchildren. There can be
no doubt that Jeanne Marie caused her mother great pain: as Shakespeare
says in "King Lear," "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a
thankless child."

Meanwhile, Price Louis, the girl's father, was to rise very high indeed
in the British Navy, to Admiralty rank. But anti-German prejudice in
World War I forced him to resign. However, his youngest son by the
German princess whom he married would also have a highly-successful
naval career. Lord Louis Mountbatten would be given many titles and
honors; he was a friend of the royal family's, as well as a relation. He
was also an uncle to Prince Philip, the current-day consort of Queen
Elizabeth II, and was instrumental in making that marriage. He was an
outstanding figure; so much so, unhappily, that he was assassinated by
the Irish Republican Army at the age of 79.

The series is quite engrossing, a seductive telling of the life of a
famed seductress. A series of thirteen episodes requires more of a
commitment than perhaps we are accustomed to make today (some of us may
wonder how we ever did it back then); but its length allows the viewer
to immerse him- or herself in an immensely pleasurable experience.

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