Lady Caroline Lamb (1972) — a biopic about the Regency novelist and mistress of Lord Byron — was one of the highest grossing films in Britain that year, and nominated for three BAFTAs. So why hasn’t it stood the test of time? Probably because it’s slow and fuzzy in that late 1960s/early 1970s way, where most scenes look like they have Vaseline on the lens?
The real Lady Caroline Lamb — née Ponsonby and niece of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire — lived from 1785 to 1828. She married the Hon. William Lamb in 1805, had two children, then in 1812 famously had a chaotic affair with the poet Lord Byron. She later wrote a Gothic novel, Glenarvon (1816). I admit to only learning about Lamb when I recently watched the biopic Byron (2003) — what can I say, I’m not one for the Romantics or the Gothics. She was such an over-the-top character that I was intrigued to learn that there was a biopic about her, and you know I loves me my biopics!
In the end, the movie isn’t BAD, but it’s slow and definitely a product of its era. You know, very “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke”/Godspell (but with less singing). Lamb is played by Sarah Miles (Hope and Glory, White Mischief), who was apparently quite the darling of the 1960s, and it shows. With the help of an overzealous makeup artist, she looks like she stepped out of a Margaret Keane “big eyes” painting, and there’s a lot of trembling and shrieking.
The movie omits Lamb’s writing, which is kind of bullshit, reducing her to Byron’s mistress. Byron is of course played by Richard Chamberlain, and guys, I’ve never gotten Chamberlain. I always thought he was cheesy AF, and was planning to do a Man Ick Monday on him but was surprised by Sarah’s Man Candy Monday. But now I get it! I think my problem is I only ever knew 1980s Chamberlain. I didn’t much like Byron as a character, but Chamberlain was pretty and played him well.
I’ve gotta say, the main crux of the film — and sure, the most dramatic part of Lamb’s life — is her meltdown when she meets/falls in love with/gets dumped by Byron. And it honestly made me sick to my stomach. You know how you meet that great person, the one who suddenly makes you feel like YOU are all sparkly and fabulous because you think THEY are sparkly and fabulous, and you’re thinking “Wow, finally someone amazing understands my genius!” And then they dump you, and you are crushed, and start thinking “Oh god, maybe I am a loser.” And you could beg them to take you back, because of how sparkly and fabulous they made you feel, but if nothing else, you have your pride, and goddammit you walk away with your head held high? Yeah, Caroline Lamb (at least according to this characterization) was not that. She was more of the “PLEASE TAKE ME BACK IF NOT I WILL KILL MYSELF PUBLICLY” type, which I just have a REALLY hard time with. Because, you know, you were and are sparkly and fabulous all along, even if some chump can’t see it, and even if it takes you a while to recover.
The costumes were designed by David Walker (The Charge of the Light Brigade, Eagle in a Cage, The Great Waltz, Will Shakespeare, The Corn Is Green), and they’re decent if not spectacular. Sometimes they’re a bit too pared down to be 1810s, but there’s some good hats and touches of the Renaissance revival elements that were fashionable in the era (and obviously suit such literary characters).
The makeup, on both Lamb and Byron (and everyone else), was VERY 1960s and helped to create that “big eyes” look:
They also made Lamb unflatteringly pale in a way that just Looked Like Bad Makeup:
Supporting characters went heavy on the eyes too:
And even Byron got in on the action:
The hair. Okay, so yes, Lamb sported a crop, as seen in the portrait of her above. But what they came up with felt VERY 1960s Twiggy-esque.
Oh and there was an EXCELLENT example of shitty historical art:
Have you seen Lady Caroline Lamb? What’s your take?