Sunday December 16, 8pm, ITV 1
This might be an exceptionally strange opening gambit, but when I say film director Paul Thomas Anderson could learn a lot from watching The Making of a Lady, I am being absolutely sincere.
Yes, The Making of a Lady is yet another period drama that, due to its appearance in the prime time Sunday evening slot on ITV1, instantly invites lazy reviewers to offer comparisons with a programme that I refuse to name, but does rhyme with Clown Ton Shabby. And yes, it is far removed from the complex, intellectual dramas that Anderson has so brilliantly rendered on screen.
But, as many who flocked to see The Master will be all too aware, in recent years his sense of pacing has gone seriously awry, while The Making of a Lady is an exemplar of conciseness.
Satirist Chris Morris once convinced an MP to ask a question in parliament about Cake, the made-up drug that makes a second feel like a month. If he were to remake the same episode of Brass Eye today, he might well substitute Cake with the experience of watching The Master.
Don’t get me wrong – I am a huge fan of Anderson’s films. And, by and large, I can count the number of times I’ve felt compelled to watch a period drama on the fingers of one hand, if that hand had already come off second best in a fight with a circular saw. But – and I can’t quite believe I’m saying this – if this review were an affidavit to be submitted at an inquest investigating which of the two offered the most enjoyable viewing experience, then I am firmly in The Making of a Lady camp, your honour.
An adaptation of Frances Hodges Burnett’s not especially well-known The Making of a Marchioness, it certainly came flying out of the blocks in the first half an hour. No sooner were we introduced to our heroine Emily, a lowly secretary living in unmistakably dour digs, than she has caught the eye of kindly landed gent and eligible bachelor Lord Walderhurst and inspired him to propose. All within 15 minutes. Another five and they are married, giving Emily her very own manor, grounds and a butler/housekeeper duo who look like they’ve come direct from a Reeves and Mortimer period spoof.
So far, so Mills and Boon. But then everything goes deliciously bonkers in the style of an Adrian Lyne or Paul Verhoeven film of the early 1990s, except with added bonnets and cravats. Duty calls Lord Walderhurst off to India to protect the British Raj, and in his place arrives nephew Alec, who, as Joanna Lumley has kindly explained, stands to inherit the manor if Emily fails to provide good old Waldy with a sprog. Lo and behold though, it turns out that she now has a bun in the oven and is well on course to do just that.
What possible dastardly doings could arise from such a scenario, no-one will have wondered. However, the psychological thriller that transpired zipped along with relish and never outstayed its welcome during a taut and well-structured 90 minutes. Paul Thomas Anderson: take note!