LADY CAROLINE LAMB Writer/Director: Robert Bolt. Stars: Sarah Miles, Jon Finch, Richard Chamberlain, John Mills, Margaret Leighton, Ralph Richardson, Laurence Olivier. Music: Richard Rodney Bennett, played by the New Philharmonia Orchestra. UK Distributors: Anglo-EMI. Cert. ‘A’.
‘Lady Caroline Lamb’ is an eccentric, sensitive, vivacious, extreme young woman who dazzled and shocked the prim, extremely hypocritical London society in the 19th century, with her flaunting of every ridiculous convention in her exuberance and concentration of her energies into extremes, whether they were horse riding or her passionate love for Lord Byron. Her husband, William Lamb, although a Whig, is conservative and unimaginative and loves Lady Caroline deeply. In as much as he can show it, he is shocked and saddened by her scandal-making affair with Byron, and not only for the sake of propriety either. The film is basically about the collision course of natural romanticism and natural unrestrained living, with the hard conventions of society.
It differs from most other historical films I have seen in that the characters like Wellington (Laurence Olivier), and other legendary historical figures appear as real people with feelings and failings, rather then the cardboard moving pictures of other historical films: it is in fact a series of fascinating character studies. Sarah Miles’ performance as Lady Caroline Lamb is the best performance by any actress I have seen this year. She manages completely to become the person she is playing and to transfer this person’s intense feelings to the audience.
London society is shown as colourful, lavish, sad, and there is a good deal of subtle, delicate send-up as well as accurate historical detail. Who better to talk about the genius of the film than Robert Bolt the writer/director, who says: “I find out all I can about my characters and their background … I look at the pictures and read the literature of the period and try to pick up the flavour of their thinking. The glamour of the past, of high living, gives me the freedom to explore a style of speech, an elegance. We make a mistake in judging the aristocracy of the early 19th century by the standards of today. I hope first and foremost that the audience will leave the cinema feeling they have had their money’s worth in mere entertainment. I have a faint hope, as a sort of bonus, that they will leave feeling a little encouraged about life in general and their own lives in particular.”
Bolt certainly succeeds in his aims. Basically because he unpretentiously produces the almost perfect film which has universal appeal. It is romantic, instructive, and entertaining. Recommended.