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on December 15, 2007
Quite simply, one of the best BBC Classic TV Miniseries ever produced. Filmed in 1978 and to be released in a four-disc DVD set, the miniseries stars the brilliant Francesca Annis (Tommy and Tuppence, etc.) as Lillie Langtry, one of the most famous and infamous courtesans/ladies of the Victorian age.

In an era when women were to be seen and not heard, the unforgettable Lillie broke every taboo without a backward glance. The series chronicles her long life, and in so doing presents one of the best portraits of Victorian England ever filmed.

We watch Lillie as a young tomboy, grow to an awkward adolescent, a stunning woman, and a beautiful old woman. Each stage of her life is portrayed perfectly by Annis, the makeup transforming her body while her awesome talent transforms her character development as Lillie.

Lillie is one-of-a-kind, a calculating woman of immense presence, grace and substance. Unfortunately, she becomes trapped in a loveless marriage, but she devises her own way to cope.

Taking full advantage of her beauty, Lillie deliberately attracts as many as a dozen lovers and admirers including the married Prince of Wales and notorious Oscar Wilde.

As her husband slowly drinks himself to death, she relies on her looks, wiles and self-assurance in the London Society of the 1870s to embark upon a sensational career as a marginally talented actress.

With guile, Lillie creates a truly unique life of the courtesan, eventually gaining prestige by going on the stage and touring America many times over.

Throughout her life she endures financial ruin and scandal, yet maintains her celebrated lifestyle. Because Lillie lives to be a very old woman, viewers are given an honest glimpse of the Victoria Era through the span of her life.

As with every BBC miniseries dealing with period stories, the acting, staging, filming and music is all well above top notch.
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HALL OF FAMEon January 25, 2008
"Masterpiece Theatre" was originally designed to show dramatized versions of great classics or of historical periods from England's past. "The First Churchills" led the way and many a great adaptation of a novel or a biography has followed. (Alas, a lot of junk was soon considered "masterpieces" and the glory of the series faded.) Among the best of them was the 13-part miniseries titled "Lillie," and it is now available in a boxed set of Acorn Media DVDs. Grab it!

Part of the plot of the 1940 film "The Westerner" is concerned with Judge Roy Bean's infatuation with an English actress named Lillie Langtry. That character shows up in "Lillie" just once but memorably, but the scene does raise the question of how just another pretty face could so become the rage of England and America without its owner having any other particular talents (they say her acting was amateurish at best)--except an iron will to get what she wants and a high degree of intelligence.

As played by Francesca Annis, whose own good looks make the story believable, Lillie suffers an early disillusionment when she marries Mr. Langtry (brilliantly played by Anton Rodgers) because he is a "gentleman" (= an utterly useless person) with a yacht. Then she quickly realizes he has far less fortune than she thought and even less understanding of how a wife should be treated (after their wedding night, he spends the rest of the day in town). In the years that follow, although she becomes the mistress of the Prince of Wales (Denis Lill) and of several other men, Langtry doggedly refuses a divorce--and his end is possibly just what he deserves or rather a bit more than he deserves. The very fact that I wonder about this shows how deeply I felt for these characters as I again watched this 672-minute miniseries, which was first shown on American public television in 1979.

Actually, my fondest memories of "Lillie" are of the unforgettable Oscar Wilde of Peter Egan. Having seen Robert Morley, Peter Finch and others play the role, I have to call Egan's Wilde the very best. If one views only those scenes in which he appears, the price of the set would still be worth it.

The cast list on the Internet Movie Database runs for seven pages, and I refer my readers to that website. I ran off a copy and kept it near my chair to identify familiar faces along the way, one of which was that of Jennie Linden who portrays Lillie's closest friend, Patsy Cornwallis-West.

I will be replaying this one over the years to come. Ten stars out of ten.
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Lillie is another fine British mini-series from the 1970s, which seems to have been the heyday of the genre. It depicts the story of Lillie Langtry, the Jersey Lily, most famous beauty of the age. Francesca Annis was born to play the part, with her flawless complexion and beautiful hair evoking Langtry at her magnificent peak. The series traces Lillie's life from girlhood on the island of Jersey, when she was already a beauty, through her unfortunate marriage to Edward Langtry, a weak man whose dissipations destroyed him, to her days as a Professional Beauty in London Society and mistress to the Prince of Wales. If the series stopped there it would be enjoyable enough, but the story gains additional depth by going on to depict Lillie as an actress in Britain and America, showing her to have been a sharp businesswoman. The final episodes show her in decline and end with her literal last few breaths. Throughout the series we see not only Lillie's career but those of many other important artists, politicians, and royals, ranging from King Edward VII through Oscar Wilde all the way to William Gladstone. Lillie is a lot of fun, with room for quite a bit of real history and drama, too.
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on November 13, 2009
I watched this on television when I was but a very small child. I remember waiting for it weekly to come on Masterpeice Theatre and that it was hard to get the television to myself to view this series. Francesca Annis left an impression on me that I have never forgotten. This item has been on my wish list for YEARS and I am overjoyed to see it available again! I just viewed it again for the first time, as I was able to purchase a previous version through an Amazon Marketplace seller. It holds up, despite the years since its' release, due in large part by the magnificent cast, lavish sets, and strength of Ms. Annis' stunning performance. I cannot recommend this highly enough! I rated it a four only because of the strange age makeup they used on Ms. Annis, which does not hold up to the rigors of HDTV and seems to change from frighteningly plastic, to ghost white, to almost normal. The serious lack of any real extra bonus features is also a minus. I could not stop watching this until I had viewed the entire series again. Anything that will hold your attention this long and this well is a wise investment. The life of Lillie Langtry was an amazing epic journey that any woman would have traded places with her for, and it is brilliantly executed in this series! You can even stay in the home that the king had built for her to this day and visit the original saloon named after her, in the town re named for her in Texas! Facinating Character Subject? A crass understatement. Buy it and live the life of a poverty to princedom real life story!
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on December 22, 2010
There are many parts in this series I enjoyed, e.g. acting, costumes and some historical facts. However, I could not help but feel extraordinary sadness about the life the "real Lillie" lived. The honest truth of the story is about a selfish woman who was willing to prostitute herself on so many different levels in order to achieve fame, fortune and wealth. At the end of the day she really lived a rather hollow life.
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VINE VOICEon December 23, 2014
I usually enjoy British historical dramas, and Lillie shares many of the positives of similar series -- excellent acting, beautiful and historically accurate costumes and sets, and generally top production values.

But I have to say that, while I struggled through to the end, I found Lillie to be less than engaging. The problem, I think, is with the character of Lillie. While she is clearly the protagonist of the piece, she is not a very likeable person. And neither she nor her story is inherently interesting enough to make her a credible antihero.

Lille marries for money and a ticket off the island where she was born. Hoping for an exciting life of society in London with a weatlhy husband, she quickly finds herself bored with her life in Southampton and her rather dull husband -- abd basically blackmails him into taking her to London. After a few months of boredom in London, Lillie is suddenly 'discovered' by a couple of artists, and soon finds herself (or her picture) the talk of the town. For the next few years, Lillie's husband becomes nothing more than a meal ticket, as Lillie is painted and worshipped by everyone in society, nearly raped by a few -- and then willingly bedded by several of the top ranks (princes, millionaires...) who also shower her with gifts ranging from houses to diamonds. When she finds she needs more money to support her lavish lifestyle and turns to acting, she again quickly begins to neglect her work in favor of spending time with her latest conquest.

To be honest, I found myself feeling sorry for Ned (her husband) who had done nothing wrong, (his worst sins seemed to be talking a bit too much about his former wife) but turns to alcohol to numb his pain as he is ignored by his wife and her new friends and lovers.
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on June 23, 2015
Whilst Ms Annis portrays Lillie Langtry with aplomb, let us not forget Peter Egan's exquisite Oscar Wilde! Mr Egan captures the essence of Wilde as the self-conscious aesthete, worshiper of Beauty, and man of words brilliantly. He encounters Ms Langtry as a relative newcomer to London and helps blaze the trail for her in society and in the American entertainment world. Their tempestuous relationship reflects their parallel evolutions and unfolding as theatre practitioners and human beings --- the one serving as a foil to the other. Mr Egan's portrayal shows us Oscar Wilde at his most vain-glorious and most heart-wrenchingly humbled. Not to be missed.
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on June 1, 2011
just finished watching Lillie for the second time. I found the series to be very entertaining. Francesca Annis plays a great Lillie and does what she must do in the only ways available to her in this late victorian story to improve her life and live in the way she wishes. She is not without her faults and has her share of disappointments and tradgedy, but manages to come through it all in fairly good shape. A very strong and brilliant woman.

Oscar Wilde was her very good friend and I loved his character. Most of the laughs were because of his extremely witty dialogue. He is played as a kind person with amazing talent. I have always thought he was badly mistreated and punished by a society that refused to accept anyone who was different.

Lillie's husband was typical of "gentlemen" of that era. Born to wealth and when he lost it unable to cope, using his wife's talents to sustain a lifestyle he was used to. A very sad ending for a decent, but shallow man who simply couldn't support himself.

The sets, costumes and outside shots were great. The entire cast was outstanding. I would recommend this great series to anyone who likes period pieces. One of the best in my opinion.
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on July 8, 2015
Hooked, hooked, hooked.
We can't get enough of all the good BBC series.
Lillie is particularly interesting because she also made her mark here in the USA.
Even have a movie about her starring Gary Cooper in conflict with Judge Roy Bean who idolized her.
Lillie is one of the better offerings, What an interesting life.
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on July 28, 2013
I watched this program on PBS years ago when it first came out and was so impressed with Fancesca Annis and her performance of Lilie. Then I started observing the wonderful performances of excellent actors they had chosen for other parts. I was very young when I watched the original showing, and I am afraid I fell in love with Peter Egan who played Oscar Wild! He was so gifted in that part. It made me reflect upon the lives and period of that time and I began studying the era.

I don't believe Lilie considered herself a "prostitute" as a previous review has stated. She was a woman of that era who needed to survive and do what she could to survive. And, definitely she did not feel unhappy or deprived! She loved her life, with a love that most of us never know. Indeed, she died after a life that none of us will ever achieve or know! She was famous, loved and well known. If you will ask anyone in the UK about Lilie, they will say to you that she was a most endearing element in Great Britain, as well as Oscar Wild! That is why they made such a memorable series....for her and for England!
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