(Serena Gordon, Alun Armstrong, et al / 3-Disc DVD / NR / (1999) 2006 / Acorn Media)
Overview: With characters, drama, and romance vivid enough for a masterwork of fiction, this story is all the more fascinating because it is true. Based on Stella Tillyard’s acclaimed biography that "made history sexy again" (London Sunday Times), it paints an intimate portrait of 18th-century upper-class life in England and Ireland through the eyes of four beautiful high-born sisters. Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox were great-granddaughters of a king, daughters of a cabinet minister, and wives of politicians and peers. Well-educated, strong-minded, and distinctly individual, they take charge of their own lives, tempting scandal with their unconventional ideas about love, marriage, education, and fidelity.
DVD Verdict: As seen on Masterpiece Theatre, 'Aristocrats' is quite simply put decades of history unfolding in a dazzling saga of privileged lives and sisterly devotion. "I remained convinced that our prestigious family with its significant connections could still hold sway over history." Thus spake Emily, Duchess of Leinster, in 1798, shortly before her son, the notorious and dashing Irish revolutionary, Edward Fitzgerald, was executed for the murder of a British soldier. The world they knew was rapidly changing, and, indeed, there was little, if anything, the Duchess or her aristocratic family held sway over anymore, except each other. But a few short years before, she and her sisters were among the most admired and privileged women on earth. The five sisters, Caroline, Emily, Louisa, Sarah and Cecilia, were the great-granddaughters of Charles II with his mistress, Louise de Keroualle, the Duchess of Portsmouth. Their grandfather, the king's illegitimate son, was Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond. His son, also Charles, became the 2nd Duke of Richmond. The 2nd Duke married an Irish woman, of whose backround, both were deeply ashamed of and desperately tried to conceal. When their eldest daughter Caroline, an intelligent woman with a thirst for sophisticated pleasures, eloped with Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland, the Duke and Duchess were mortified at her insubordination - marrying a politician against the wishes of her father brought swift judgement upon Caroline, and she was banished from her family. Caroline missed her family greatly and grieved over their estrangement, but from her home, Holland House (the same one on the Holland House liquor labels), she kept discreet correspondence with her sisters. When second eldest daughter, Emily, begged her parents to allow her to marry James Fitzgerald, 20th Earl of Kildare, an Irish statesman, the parents were aghast at the possibility of Irish blood (re-)entering their bloodline, but fearing another estrangement, they agreed to the marriage, partially because it was evident that the Earl deeply loved Emily, and partially because the Earl was extraordinarily wealthy. She had a son, Edward Fitzgerald, a celebrated United Irishman, whose dedication to Irish freedom would have been incomprehensible to his grandparents. Louisa, the third sister, married Thomas Conolly, a kind and loving man, had a brood of children and lived happily ever after. Fourth sister, Sarah, married badly, had an affair, a baby, a divorce, and complete social ostracism all in short order. Fifth sister, Cecilia, died in her teens. There was also a brother who became 3rd Duke of Richmond.
Meticulously adapted from Stella Tillyard's masterpiece by the same name, 'Aristocrats' is a story of magnificent scope and grandeur, but told without the usual gassy adoration of the British upper class. Its basis is not embellished reports and embroidered tales, but the massive archives of correspondence and household and historical records left behind by these women. It is as much a story of the sisters' love for each other and their families, as it is a historical drama, but the viewer never forgets that it is through the eyes of these women that we see the epic unfold. As with many epics, it makes short work of some of history's more momentous occasions, but that serves to keep the story focused on the sisters. The production values are top notch. With an excellent screenplay by Harriet O'Carroll, superb direction, and outstanding craftsmanship throughout, 'Aristocrats' is as splendid a production as it is a story. This is a Widescreen Presentation (16:9) and comes with the Special Features of a 30 minute featurette "The Making of Aristocrats," a Stella Tillyard bio, and Cast Filmographies