Fairy tale romance and psychological suspense combine for a genteel costume drama turned nail-biter when the ITV made-for-TV movie, The Making of a Lady, premieres on PBS.
Frances Hodgson Burnett is probably best known for her children’s books, including The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy, but she also wrote works for adults as well. And it is two of her popular romantic fiction novels — The Making of a Marchioness and its sequel, The Methods of Lady Walderhurst — that were adapted for the small screen under the title The Making of a Lady.
The story follows Emily Fox Seton (Lydia Wilson, South Riding) as she moves from boarding house to the manor house, and from a serene life in the country to malevolent goings-on.
When we meet her, the educated, attractive, and cash-strapped Emily is helping Lady Maria Byrne (Joanna Lumley, Absolutely Fabulous), plan a dinner party for Lord James Walderhurst (Linus Roache, Law & Order). He, a widower who has just returned from his military post in India, is Lady Maria’s nephew, and the event is her way of introducing him to proper upper crust young women as possible prospects for marriage. Whether he wants to or not, he must remarry and sire an heir, lest his cousin, Captain Alec Osborn (James D’Arcy, Hitchcock), inherit his estate.
Trouble is, Lord Walderhurst isn’t keen on the ladies his aunt has selected. He does, though, take a shine to — and proposes to — Emily. Romantic as it might sound, this is not a case of love at first sight, but more a situation of “Let’s be practical.” He needs a wife and she needs security, especially since her employment with Lady Maria has been terminated.
Soon after their wedding, Lord Waldenhurst returns to his regiment in India for the sake of duty and honor, leaving Emily at the secluded mansion alone with only the servants for company. Her sadness turns to delight when Alec and his wife, Hester (Hasina Haque, Casualty), appear unexpectedly, ostensibly having accepted Waldenhurst’s request that they look after her while he’s away.
But it doesn’t take long for their surprise visit to take a turn toward the sinister. Emily might be naive to the ways of the aristocracy, but she is no dummy, and she soon realizes that neither the Osborns nor Hester’s ayah (maid) are as kind and caring as she initially thought. And now that she is pregnant, she must keep herself and her unborn child safe from harm. But how?
Find out when The Making of a Lady debuts at 10 PM ET tomorrow, the 9th of February, immediately following Downton Abbey on PBS. (Check your local listings.)