"Tales of derring-do the whole family will like"
By M.S. MASON, The Christian Science Monitor


Historical romance evokes a time long ago when things were so much more exciting, what with highwaymen roaming the roads of England and Robin and his Merry Men inhabiting the forests of Sherwood.


OK, those were two different eras, but both of them are represented this week in family films designed to swash the very bucklers of the imagination. "Lorna Doone," (A&E, March 11, 8-11 p.m.) is a prize for all those women raised on the Victorian romance by R.D. Blackmore, a saga of 17th -century Exmoor. 


The other, a fantasy based on a legend - "Princess of Thieves" (ABC, March 11, 7-9 p.m.) concerns Robin Hood and his merry daughter, Gwyn.


Both these stories present rather feistier heroines than the original stories would have conceived, but they still harken back to wonderful old movies of the 1930s and '40s in terms of high adventure, daring heroes, and the good fight against tyranny. Both are British productions and both will engage parents and their offspring (over 9) equally.


The better film is "Lorna Doone," mainly because the writing stays fairly true to the spirit of the original, though Lorna has been removed from her pedestal and placed firmly on the ground. Adrian Hodges adapted the novel to suit modern sensibilities, more's the pity.


Yeoman farmer John Ridd grows up hating the outlaw aristocrat Doone clan because they killed his father. But one day he finds himself in a secret glen with the adorable granddaughter of Sir Ensor Doone and falls for little Lorna.


He finds her again as a young adult, and this time, despite her kinsmen and his, they fall in love. But Sir Ensor's plans for Lorna do not include marriage to a commoner. Lorna's history is more complex than any but Sir Ensor knows. It's up to John to save her from the dashing scalawag Carver Doone.


It's a grim world into which this romance blossoms, but what better for a heroine with a deep secret, a hero worthy of great deeds, and a villain who is hopelessly in love with the heroine? It's all so ... Victorian.


Beautifully photographed and nicely played by lovely Amelia Warner as Lorna and charismatic Richard Coyle as John, the film offers an elegant villain in Aidan Gillen, who fairly hisses as Carver, his air of menace genuinely unsettling.


What these fine old romances do, when they are well made, is tap into that same moral index as does legend and folk tale. Tyranny must be resisted (wisely and bravely), virtue is better and more interesting than vice, and lasting love is real and possible.


One terrific thing about "Lorna Doone" is that it does not come off as sentimental. For a family picture, that's a triumph.