Good guys meet bad in stylish Lorna Doone

Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle TV Critic

Old-fashioned swashbuckle is alive and well Sunday on A&E.

Lorna Doone, R.D. Blackmore's 1869 literary classic, hits the high road with this A&E/BBC trip back to the wild West, British-style, where the good guys fight the bad guys and a fair young maiden is the winner's prize.

As the opening sets the scene, it's 1675 "in a west country, many miles from London, where life is primitive, lawless ... to all intents and purposes, its own land."

That setting certainly looks the part, as filmed on location in a beautiful and remote valley in Wales. And a host of fine actors is there to bring Blackmore's colorful characters and the time and place to life.

Richard Coyle (Human Traffic, Topsy Turvy) is a handsome and appealing hero as the grown-up John Ridd, and Amelia Warner (she's just 18, the daughter of actress Anette Ekblom, and last seen in Don Quixote with Bob Hoskins) is a lovely Lorna Doone. To make their lives miserable, Aidan Gillen (of the British cast of Queer as Folk) is the essence of evil as Lorna's lustful, caddish cousin Carver.

For a small touch of comedy relief, Michael Kitchen dons the itchy wig of the Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys, dispensing the king's justice and lending John a helping hand when he needs one.

There's an old family feud in progress in these hills. The Doones are the baddies -- a once-noble clan now turned outlaws, thieves and marauders. The Ridds are the good ones, hard-working, upstanding farmers. Young John Ridd settles that score: "The Ridds have been honest for twice as long as the Doones have been rogues."

One bustling Ridd market day, the Doones come riding in, shooting up the town, stampeding the cattle and killing a few good men on their way out, including the father of l2-year-old John (Jack Baverstock).

John and his brave mother (Barbara Flynn) walk into enemy territory to demand that the aging lord of the Doones, Sir Ensor (Peter Vaughan), punish the murderer. But he won't do that because the killer is his favorite grandson, Carver, the worst Doone of all.

Some days later, young John tumbles into Doone-land by accident and meets a young girl. When -- in fast forward -- John grows up to be a handsome young man, he goes back to see her. Only then does he learn that she is Lorna Doone. "They call me their queen," she says sorrowfully. "I'm the heir to this little realm of violence."

John and Lorna fall in love and want to be married. But her grandfather has already promised her hand to the evil Carver, and Carver is not about to give her up. He's obsessed with Lorna himself.

The Doones have a deep, dark secret, and their future depends on Lorna's marrying Carver.

The plot moves on to the battlefields of royal rebellion, as the protestant Duke of Monmouth makes war against the Catholic king, James II. And there's many a lively twist and turn ahead for John and his lovely Lorna.

In the grand old BBC tradition of historical romance remakes, Lorna Doone pulls it off in style.