Lorna Doone Brings Romance & Drama to the Screen

by Mike Duffy

"Lorna Doone" whips up the antithesis of stuffy Anglophile storytelling. This lavish new adaptation of R.D. Blackmore's 1869 romance, set against the turbulent historical backdrop of 17th century England, is a ripping good yarn. It's filled with love, adventure, cool green English scenery, passion, vengeance and a jaunty sense of humor. 
Now that's entertainment. 

With fetching 18-year-old newcomer Amelia Warner ("Quills") in the title role and handsome Richard Coyle ("Topsy-Turvy") as her rugged pastoral Romeo, "Lorna Doone" sweeps into view as a three-hour movie event Sunday on A&E. It's the latest quality co-production of the American cable network and the BBC.  The story takes place in England's lawless West Country during the 1680s, a chaotic time when a Protestant rebellion threatened the reign of King Charles II, a Catholic. But the nation's political torment is background historical punctuation to the real dramatic deal -- the star-crossed romance of Lorna Doone and John Ridd, a couple of cosmic soul mates caught between love and bloodshed. 

Lorna's a member of the Doone family, a clan of aristocratic outlaws who terrorize their neighbors. And John's the hunky young head of the Ridd family, a farming commoner whom Lorna loves truly, madly, deeply.  But that sublime love is fraught with anguished complications.  John still carries the emotional wounds of childhood trauma, having seen his father brutally killed by a Doone. And Lorna realizes the hazards of their secretly intertwined hearts. "They call me their queen," says Lorna of her family, which cruelly rules from its picturesque turf in the Doone Valley. "I'm the heir to their little realm of violence." 

And there's none more violent than evil Carver Doone (Aidan Gillen), the demented cousin to whom Lorna was originally betrothed. When family patriarch Sir Ensor Doone dies, crazy Carver is left in charge. And he's sworn that nothing will stop his plan to marry Lorna. 
The ironclad British class system also seems to be an enemy of the romance between Lorna and John. "You can't be some common farmer's wife ... It's the way of the world; high don't mix with low," Lorna is cautioned by a lady servant. Oh, pshaw to all that. Besides, Lorna Doone is one tough cookie. You can't tell her what man she can or can't love ... or marry. 

Directed in rousing fashion by Mike Barker ("Best Laid Plans"), this "Lorna Doone" has nothing remotely effete or cerebral about it. Oh, sure, at times there's the hint of a bodice-ripping romance novel. And the sturdy and attractive country folk who populate the Ridd family often seem to be outfitted in spotless peasant wear by Ralph Lauren. But those are minor quibbles. The film's notable blessings include Gillen, who's been a standout as the cool, seductive Stuart in the British version of "Queer as Folk." He creates a terrific villain who's fun to boo and hiss. And Amelia Warner is a Doone to swoon over, with Richard Coyle a charming romantic prince of a common man. 

Down-to-earth and with a twinkle in its literary eye, "Lorna Doone" is an engaging prime-time delight.