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A Married Prince of Wales With A Mistress! Sound Familiar?
on 18 October 2007
This 1978 Granada production tells the life story of the legendery actress and beauty, Lillie Langtry. The only girl in a family of 6 brothers, Lily was a tomboy who failed to hold men in awe as was expected in the 1800's society. Marriage to the dashing Edward Langtry (Anton Rodgers) proves a disappointment as his financial situation fails to live up to his boasts. Lily (BAFTA winner Francesca Annis) has her picture sketched by a friend of her Bohemium chum Oscar Wilde (Peter Egan) - and is unexpectedly launched as a P.B. - Professional Beauty - when her glorious red hair and creamy complexion become favourites with the public who like to buy postcards of the society women of the time.
As portrait painters line up to draw "The Jersey Lily", Lily comes to the noticed of Bertie, The Prince of Wales (Denis Lill). The scenes where Lily and her husband are gently guided into the Prince's society whilst she is vetted for her suitability for the mistress role are fascinating to see - the double standards of the time being breathtaking. When a journalist prints a story of Lily's friendship with the Prince he is sued for libel - and convicted - despite members of the all male jury being fully aware that Mrs Langtry is holidaying with the Prince at that very moment!
Turning to the stage, Lily proves a competent actress and is soon being feted in America where men fall over themselves for her charm and good looks. Now estranged from her husband, Lily longs for divorce, but the increasingly alchoholic Edward has no intention of giving up his "meal ticket".
Her affair with a foreign prince results in the birth of a child whom Lily gives to her parents to raise and refers to as her "niece". The possible scandal of having a child which is clearly not her husbands gives Edward Langtry a chance to obtain more financial benefit from his wife, but as his health deteriorates, so does the threat he poses for Lily.
With beau's by the score, a second ill-chosen marriage, a violent society lover and touching scenes with the now King Edward VII - and his remarkably understanding wife Alexandra - Lillie gives us a glimpse at a bygone age where double standards ruled the echelons of society and the affairs of a Monarch were approved of and regarded as his right. Indeed, history tells us that on his death bed the King was attended by his wife -and his favourite mistress, Lily Langtry.
The costumes are stunning, the attention to detail of the ball scenes, race course meetings, riding in the parks of London are faultless and this 1978 production is a must for fans of costume drama. Firm favourites such as Stephanie Cole and Annette Crosbie appear in the cast, but the leading roles are faultlessly played and Francesca Annis was a worthy winner of the Best Actress BAFTA for her glittering Lily Langtry.