Lace (1984)

“Which one of you bitches is my mother?”

With the exception of Kunte Kinte naming of himself in “Roots,” and I think that’s a distant second, the above line is THE most famous and well-known piece of dialogue to come from an American miniseries. 

Ah, “Lace.”  “Lace” itself seems to have burrowed into the collective minds of people who watched long-play format television in the 1980s as the one they seem to remember the most.  Based on Shirley Conran’s novel, it is easily the cheesiest, easily the most ridiculous, easily the looniest and easily the most fun that can be had.  “Lace” is a romance miniseries of the highest degree, thought it veers off into creating its own sub-genre of out-and-out miniseries camp.  Phoebe Cates gives a Hall of Fame performance of a lifetime so unique that it basically made her unusable again so as not to dare tarnish it, as a world-famous personality on the most insane quest to find one’s self in miniseries history.  There is glitz, melodrama, tears, marabou and sublime overacting enough in “Lace” that it can make one forget Jaclyn Smith in her Sidney Sheldon roles, all of the Kennedys and, yes, even Polly Bergen’s drunken antics in the Herman Wouk productions.

“You’ve got to climb Mount Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls,” Anne Welles says in that movie, considered the ne plus ultra of camp cinema.  The same applies to “Lace.”  This is the pinnacle of miniseries glee.  It is the most preposterous of miniseries and that’s why it’s one of the favorites. 

The best way to start is just to start.  From the very beginning, the level of madness is so high, we can’t possibly lose. 

The melodrama is obvious from the credits.  A very expensive car drives through Alpine splendor with a full orchestra blaring with overzealous intent.  In the car, we see only pieces of a veiled woman smoking a cigarette.  The woman in the veil is Phoebe Cates.  The ruin she drives up to is a former school that has been closed, with scandal attached to the headmaster.  “And she was a student here?” she asks of her driver, who informs her that yes, it is thought her unknown mother was a student there.  “But we must get back to Paris.  The old woman has all the answers,” he says as Phoebe tosses her cigarette out the window. 

As she steps out of the car in Paris, in front of Notre Dame, no less, the gawking tourists all turn their focus to her.  We hear expected chatter like, “it’s Lili!  What’s she doing here” along less expected chatter like, “and with her clothes on!” 

If Phoebe Cates thinks she owns this movie, she has a serious problem immediately, because she faces Angela Lansbury, as Aunt Hortense, a veteran scene-stealer who could mop floors with dramatic actresses with one hand and hams with the other.  Angela adopts a ridiculously hysterical French accent and tries to fluff the conversation, but Phoebe is all business.  She wants to know where her mother is.  Where is Lucinda Lace?  Angela begins to unravel her maternal heritage for her.  “It happened at that school…”

The school is Gothic and parochial, run by stuffy Herbert Lom.  We meet our three leads, who have a difficult task at the onset: they are trying to sing a hymn to which none know the words (bubblegum watermelon isn’t working, trust me) and all are trying to look like teenagers.  Teenagers?  Bess Armstrong, Brooke Adams and Arielle Dombasle?  At least the other girls, including the requisite nasty fat girl, look more like girls.  Herbert is as irate as a 2-watt light bulb over violations in the rules (“I wish I were violated,” one of our heroines chirps) and our leads laughs.

Bess is an American, a would-be authoress who writes romance novels about Lucinda Lace, novels that sound exactly like the tripe we’re in for.  Just as Arielle comes in with a package of contraband goodies, the fat girl, named…what else…Piggy, is hot on the trail, hoping they are not breaking the rules.  “You three always stick together.”  “Though thick and thin,” Bess says, as their motto.  “Through sick and sin,” Arielle agrees, in her French accent.  “No, stupid,  you’re sin and she’s sick,” Brooke jokes looking first at Arielle and next at Piggy.

Okay, so in this one exchange, we’ve learned literally everything we need to know about the heroines.  Bess is strong but romantic, French Arielle dimly comic and British Brooke proudly bossy.  Arielle drags her friends to a hockey rink where she’s obsessed with a player she meet only clandestinely.  Another obsession of the girls is Simon Chandler, a banker’s son from snobbish Philadelphia.  The gals follow him to a restaurant where he seems to have eyes only for Kansas-born Bess.  Their lunch is interrupted by the arrival of a caravan of cars carrying Anthony Higgins, Prince Abdullah, who has Brooke interested.  “I love their bathrobes,” Bess notes, sounding less like a teenager than just and out-and-out moron.  “They call them bernoooooooze,” Arielle intones.  Prince Anthony comes in handy a scene later when he gallops on his white steer to stop a wayward carriage Bess and Arielle have accidentally started while Brooke was snapping photos.  Brooke is offended that he introduces himself as a prince, so she says she’s the “Queen of China.”  Yeah, that’ll teach him manners! 

All three girls are virgins, though they live through Bess’ Lucinda Lace character, who is always about to have sex in the next chapter.  “I think you two have sex on the brain,” Bess says during a midnight smoking session.  Let’s be fair, losing virginity is important to this trio, all looking like they are about to hit 40.  It’s decided that Arielle cannot wait any longer, so the girls rent a hotel room in town and her hockey player shows up as Arielle has put on a negligee.  The hockey player is not allowed to have “anything to do with women” because of a big upcoming game, and Arielle picks that moment to tell him she’s a virgin.  “Don’t worry, I’ve been in this situation hundreds of times,” he says, though she quickly deflates that boast.  The “do not disturb” sign goes on the door as Piggy stands outside the room glaring. 

Arielle isn’t sure she did “it” right, though it was “wonderful” and he was “wonderful” but Arielle says, strangely, “I’m not so sure I love him anymore.”  Who the hell cares?  It was about deflowering!  At another meal, the girls crack wise a few more times and then note that the headmaster is supposedly having an affair with his chauffeur. 

It’s the big Valentine’s Day dance.  “How do we look?” they ask themselves in the mirror.  Utterly ridiculous as teenagers, I wish the mirror would respond.  To the sleepy strains of “A Summer Place,” Bess dances with Simon as the other two chatter and turn down any man who isn’t up to their standards.  Prince Anthony arrives, dressed for an audience with the Pope, rather than a winter formal.  Now “Mack the Knife” is playing and Prince Anthony sends a servant over to ask Brooke to dance.  “Tell him to get stuffed,” Brooke says as they tell the poor guy either the Prince asks himself or no dice!  Before Anthony’s dark make-up starts to melt from his face, he better truck it on over to Brooke.  “She won!” Bess says as the Prince does approach her, suddenly informal enough to crack sexually wise. 

In rush the hockey players, who have won their big game.  Arielle finally has her partner too, but the song ends in time for Brooke and Arielle to wonder where Bess has gone.  “I’m going to have to rewrite Chapter 3 in my book,” she says while Simon smokes a cigarette.  Apparently losing ones virginity is better than Lucinda Lace got it.  “It’s like a winding country lane.  I always knew it was there, but I never wanted to walk down it before,” she tells Simon.  Pause for a moment to consider that.  Are we speaking anatomically?  Is Bess the possessor of some freaking insides?  Are we speaking horticulturally?  Is not a blooming rose but perhaps ten different kinds of trees?  Or is she speaking metaphorically?  Ah, that must be it!  But that doesn’t help because I have no idea what the hell that metaphor could mean, but Simon seems to understand, so the dialogue moves to Bess saying she loves Simon and Simon saying, “I’m very fond of you.” Oh, crap.  That’s never good.

Brooke goes to Prince Anthony’s royal suite, with has a painting of the sky and constellations on the ceiling and enough faux-Arab bric-a-brac to fill a DeMille movie. 

Simon explains himself.  He does love Bess, but his family has a “master plan” and a fiancee already picked out for him and it’s all to start the following week.  “You might have told me this before,” Bess chides, but he’s as horny as she is.

Prince Anthony had a private tutor, “two hours a day, three times a week” to teach him the art of making love.  “What was on the blackboard?  Did you have much homework?” Brooke jokes, as nervous as he is confident.  He finally shuts her up with a kiss, but Brooke pulls away.  Prince Anthony is incensed and calls her names, but Brooke stands firm.  “I’ve had lessons too!  From teachers like Deborah Kerr…and Doris Day and Jane Austen and all the Bronte sisters and your Hakim could learn a hell of a lot from them about how a woman should be treated,” she rails before hightailing it out of the royal suite.  “Deborah Kerr?  Doris Day?” the Prince wonders, no doubt wishing to send servants to find these teachers.

Let’s pause again.  What the hell was so bad about the way the Prince seduced Brooke?  Arielle got a quick tumble between hockey practice sessions, Bess just the same with a man who is engaged to be married, but yet Brooke had a Prince, in white gloves, take her to a fabulous suite, give her a rose and kiss her passionate.  That’s the stuff of bloody fairy tales!  How did the score become Fairy Tales-0, Lace-2?  Because of Deborah Kerr?  She got pounded…by waves…in from “Here to Eternity” and was clearly no virgin.  Better rethink your role models, Brooke, or you are going to fall far behind your pals.

Brooke needs a ride back to school since it’s the middle of the night and the only car to come to her rescue is the dastardly chauffeur.  He invites Brooke in and since it’s cold, she doesn’t have much choice.  He forces her to have a drink, or else he won’t take her back, and instantly something is wrong.  The chauffeur, offended by her gay jokes, is saying, “maybe you’re wrong about me” as she passes out from the spiked drink.  When she wakes up, he shows her pictures of himself with various girls from the school, as well as the headmaster.  “You’re very photogenic,” she snaps before he rips her dress.  But, she makes a dash for it and was able to run back to the Prince.  Ah, so his white gloves are goldfish aren’t so bad, are they?  He doesn’t even ask about the ripped dress before taking her in his arms.

All three have had sex just once and one is pregnant.  Sitting on an Alp, they need to decide what to do because “it’s too soon for motherhood.”  Here we get a bit of social commentary, the only “Lace” can manage.  An abortion is suggested and Brooke says it’s illegal.  Ah, but feisty Bess tells us that “soon, in another 10 years, abortions are going to be performed like appendectomies in proper hospitals.”  You tell ’em, Bess!  Of course, the part about 10 years speaks to the American Supreme Court ruling and these girls are in France, but let’s not mention that.  Let’s be proud that we have strong brave woman in 1960something (with a 1980something mindset).  The social commentary continues for a few more sentences before they vote on what to do.  They veto the abortion.  Bess things as three “intelligent women,” they should be able to figure it out.  Hold on!  Intelligent?  In “Lace?”

The trio trundles over to an Obstetrician, observed once again by Piggy!  “Lucinda Lace” shows up to see Dr. Anthony Quayle.  All three are Lucinda Lace, but they don’t intend to tell the confused doctor which one is pregnant.  They do actually tell him, but unfortunately, we get stuck seeing Piggy and her friend outside while it’s revealed. 

Here’s the decision on what to do: they want to give the baby up for adoption, but only until one is ready to handle a child, just a temporary adoption.  That makes perfect sense…to absolutely no one, let alone a doctor!  Do you see why this is so lovable? 

Herbert Lom hauls the girls into his office and demands to know who is pregnant.  Arielle says, “maybe it’s all of us,” and she’s asked to stay behind because Piggy has told Herbert about seeing her at the hotel.  So, unless Auntie gives money to the school, she’ll be labeled as a tramp and banished.  But, Bess and Brooke have a plan.  While Arielle distracts the chauffeur, they go inside his house and steal his dirty blackmail pictures. 

In turn, they use the blackmail pictures against the principal, so Herbert has no choice but to let them graduate.  With straights As.  And excused from gym class because of their “condition.”  The doctor drives them by the house where the baby will be deposited, which will take money, and Anthony Quayle has a fee too.  Where will they get that money?

Aunt Hortense.  Thank goodness, not a moment too soon does Angie Lansbury return.  She has the money and the snappy Chanel-ish suits.  She gives them a sterling argument in favor of never having children and then lowers the boom: she’s not rich.  “Which one of my favorite husbands and we, um, put the bite on?” she suggests, just when we think all is lost in terms of money and plot continuation. 

The doctor gets to know who is pregnant, though we don’t, because she goes cloaked by midnight and in shadows inside.  “Of the three of you, you are the one I least suspected,” he tells the mother.

Back in the present, drunken Aunt Hortense is still telling her story to Phoebe, but there’s a problem.  Angela tells Phoebe that’s the end of the story because the baby was killed, but Phoebe seems to be standing there.  It’s hard to tell, actually, because she’s wearing so many feathers on her costume it may be an ostrich dunked in motor oil.

“They made their schoolgirl pact and sent me to hell.  I show them what I learned there,” Phoebe rails at Angie before tearing out.  Unfortunately, this is all too much for the grande dame, and she has a heart attack, while still talking, knocking over her last glass of wine before expiring.  She milks the death scene for full value, as well she should.  It’s a hell of a scene! 

Phoebe shows up at the funeral, unnoticed.  Arielle is there, now a Countess with a 17-year old son.  Bess comes too, unmarried, a publisher of “Lace” magazine.  Brooke has fared the worst.  She’s Lady Swann, the wife of a cancer researcher, and currently an alcoholic.  The three do not speak now. 

“Now it’s time to make them suffer,” Phoebe tells her driver as the funeral scene comes to a dramatic conclusion.  Actually, every scene comes to a dramatic conclusion in “Lace.”

Bess is invited aboard a yacht by Phoebe, through her Greek intermediary friend who Ari Onassis in everything but name.  Finally, Bess gets to meet Phoebe, who is decked out in a ruffled outfit and a terrifying outfit.  Bess is trying to save her magazine and since Phoebe is the biggest star in the world (star of what, we’re not quite sure), so Bess wants to do an exclusive interview.  In this extremely weird scene, Bess acts the business-like dame and Phoebe, once again, is so explosive she threatens to sink the yacht.  Phoebe teases Bess with her affairs with movies stars and senators, and then hits her over the head with the fact that it will save the magazine.  Bess, looking and trying (but failing) to sound like Julie Andrews, is game to start the interview right there.  “You tell it, I’ll print it,” Bess says.

“I was pregnant when I was 16.  Were you pregnant when you were 16?” Phoebe starts, before ripping off on a torrent about her life, delivered at such a fever pitch, one wonders how she will sustain it for the rest of the movie (let alone the sequel).  Before she became the world-famous…whatever the hell she is…Phoebe was indeed a pregnant teen with not enough money “to have a tooth pulled,” the woman who recommends an abortionist tells her.  But, she doesn’t have enough money to pay for the full procedure.

But, there is a way to make that money.  Gross old photographer Pierre Olaf, a long way from his days as a Broadway juvenile.  He gets the tiger out of Phoebe, who tosses her top and snares enough cash for the abortion, though of the worst kind, the kind her mothers worried about years earlier, and she gets sick from the procedure.  Sick and booted from her rat trap.  She has just enough energy to return to Pierre’s and collapse. 

Phoebe stops there, though Bess is drooling for more.  Next up on Phoebe’s list is Arielle, who likes to have the rich and famous at her chateau.  “You are rich and I am famous,” she tells her Greek pal.  You can’t buy dialogue like that, though one wonders how Aunt Hortense raised a niece to accept this sort of rich trash into her house. 

Coincidentally, at the chateau that weekends is the Prince!  Just as the discussion gets juicy about Brooke’s tragic life, Arielle announces dinner.  Arielle’s table seating leaves something to be desired, because her son is infatuated with Phoebe, who feeds him.  “She likes to feed strays,” her Greek unhelpfully notes.  While flirting with Arielle’s son, she also baits the Prince about contributing to Brooke’s charity.  Arielle’s son wants to know what Phoebe’s new film is about.  “I never know what my new films are about.”  “That’s why her performances are so believable,” roars the Greek.  And we’ve hit another screeching halt!  What in the world is that supposed to mean?  And why be proud of it?  Sorry, we can un-pause now.

“How did you become a great great actress?” Prince Anthony asks.  “Luck,” just like the kind that made the Prince a royal.  Anthony and Arielle’s son Simon are both intrigued, so dinner conversation turns to her history, in the umpteenth flashback of the ever-confusing saga here.  “It was 1979,” she starts.  “Ah, a good year for Beaujolais,” the Greek interrupts.  “And a good year for Lili,” she says before diving in.  Nude photography leads to pornography for Pierre.  Her costar in the scene wants to know how motivation,  Pierre points to Phoebe.  “Try to look like you are enjoying every minute of it,” Pierre commands and that’s how Phoebe became a star.  The Prince is not as delighted, Arielle is uncomfortable, but Simon all but drills a hole in the table with his boner. 

Dinner over, the men go out to talk about oil tankers and Arielle can’t find her son.  Three guesses, friends.  No, he’s not behind the arras in the hallway.  Not in the fountain outside.  Yes, in Phoebe’s room, although nothing has happened.  We hope.  I mean, they could be half brother and sister.  “Why?  Why did you?” Arielle asks.  “Why not?” Phoebe chirps before the two roll around on the bed in a cat fight that was a must in all 80s trash.  Phoebe spits on Arielle, who has the class to wipe it off on a piece of Phoebe’s clothing.

Naturally, Phoebe is tossed out of the house.  “You threw her out like a common tramp,” Simon says, and Arielle agrees with that.  “I didn’t know she was so common,” Arielle says, thinking she’s done away with Phoebe.  What she has forgotten is that in “Lace,” every man is incredibly stupid.  Her son therefore announces he’s madly in love with Phoebe and is leaving to chase her. 

Back to Bess.  She doesn’t trust everything Phoebe has said and she’s worried about libel.  “Print it,” she finally says and “Lace” magazine is hopefully back on track.

Brooke’s husband Nickolas Grace is super duper excited because Prince Anthony, now King Anthony, has agreed to donate to the charity cancer and Nickolas is too busy, so Brooke has to go.  That’ll be uncomfortable since their affair of years ago, but Brooke has taken to the bottle and isn’t exactly looking her best.  Plus, no alcohol in a Muslim country, so she’ll be drying out while having to sparkle for business and worry about the past.  This will be fraught.  FRAUGHT, I TELL YOU!

The Kingdom of…whatever it’s called to avoid having any Arab potentate get angry at the United States, is an oil-rich gargantuan palace and not much else.  As the King and the former Queen of China get reunited, Phoebe turns up.  She’s also a guest at the palace, though neither Brooke nor the King’s head wife takes much of a liking to her.

Being with the King has made Brooke feel so much better that she doesn’t even take a swig from her hidden stash of liquor.  There’s a big dinner where Brooke confidently discusses her research.  “Cancer is being attacked on all sorts of fronts,” she says (a statement that goes unexplained for all its wackiness).  Phoebe and Brooke argue about whether there is enough being done for cancer in the King’s country.  “Different people suffer from different things in different ways,” Phoebe offers, and just when it looks like Brooke has lost all hope of getting any oil money, the head wife says it’s okay to make a donation.  “A small one, a token,” she notes.  Brooke is not happy, and once again Phoebe has bewitched another dimwitted man, though this runs an entire country. 

When the royal family takes off from the palace, Brooke has it out with Phoebe.  She wants to know why the hell Phoebe torpedoed her mission.  Phoebe’s explanation?  Being abandoned by her mother, and another flashback.  As Phoebe narrates the downfall of her self-respect (frankly, her self-respect seems very healthy, the strongest thing about her).  As confused as as anyone watching, Brooke asks, “what does any of this have to do with last night?”  Phoebe is honest: she wanted to see old lovers in action, because she intends to be the King’s new lover.  Brooke battles back a bit, by reminding her that “first loves die hard” and then Phoebe orders her out of the palace.  That sends Brooke back to the bottle, poor thing.

Phoebe returns returns to her latest set, where she plays a wench who ends up in a hay stack, which is mind-boggling.  Simon is there, but she will not let him go to New York with her.  Why not?  “I have to play a scene.  It is the biggest scene I have ever had to play,” she says dramatically.  Her maid sends telegrams to the mothers.  The one to Bess says the printed article is false, which would ruin the magazine.  “Some broad, some animal,” her co-publisher says.  Brooke and Arielle are ordered to New York, one regarding the charity, the other regarding a son, and both fall for the bait.

Naturally, being an international sensation, Phoebe turns it into a press opportunity.  “She has graced us with her presence and her silence,” a lady reporter says to the camera when Phoebe stomps through the press gathered at her insistence.  Even her agent has no idea what is about to happen.  At 4:30, all three possible mothers are due in her suite.  She better get out of those horrible white leather pants before they get there.  No respectable mother wants to see her kid tarted up like that.

It’s time.  Arielle arrives first.  Then Brooke, who checks her hair in a mirror, as if she’s about to meet her lover.  The two former friends are not excited to see each other, Arielle tart enough to suggest perhaps Brooke doesn’t need a drink.  Phoebe’s maid is no help, not offering any explanations, so Arielle and Brooke kill time wondering and speaking very slowly until Bess shows up.  “Somebody wants to make a big entrance,” Bess mutters as they wait below a staircase for Phoebe to emerge in a ravishing white gown, as pure as snow driven through a sewer. 

The tension is high, especially since the lines are repeated over and over again, just in different varieties, as if to kill time before the next commercial break.  Okay, okay, it’s supposed to be a tense scene, but a well-written one would be more helpful.  Phoebe reminds them, and any dozing viewers, what each woman is doing there, and how she can help them out of the predicaments into which she’s driven them.  Will she help them?  Hmmm.  Oh, but…

“Incidentally, which one of you bitches is my mother?”

Thus ends Part 1 of this glorious camp-fest.  If you are like me, you’ve hooted and howled yourself into speechless awe and can’t imagine how Part 2 will live up to what we’ve just seen, but there’s more to come.  Much more.  We’ve simply hit the greatest climax in miniseries history, now we just have to pick up the piece (though heaven above, it’s a long ride down that hill).

The answer to the question above?

Oh, not yet!

We return to “Lace” with a flashback to the girls graduating with full honors, with the help of Aunt Hortense’s money.  Bess’ parents are boring, we know Aunt Hortense is crazy fun but the biggest surprise comes from Brooke’s mum, jaw clenched in the best British fashion, because she’s got a lesbian in tow.  Whether mum knows it or not, Brooke does, because the dame hits on her.  The girls trundle off to the remotest part of the Alps where the baby can be delivered in private.  Eleven months go by so pregnancy weight disappears from whoever is the mother, and it’s time for the women to start their careers in the hopes of getting baby Elizabeth back in their six idiotic arms. 

Bess goes to work for a newspaper as a fashion editor, ignored by the men at the paper who handle the real news.  This infuriates the always socially-conscious Bess, rebuffs the attempts of a man at the paper because she just wants to get ahead.  She bores him on their first date with her idea for a feminist magazine.  “Do you know how many women can do the same things as men?” she asks, though the man is more interested in a park mime.  I can’t say I disagree.  Bess’ speeches get longer and more tiresome as the movie progresses.

Perky Arielle, in Pepto-pink suit wants to remodel mansions and hits a home run when she discovers a huge wreck and the handsome man who goes with it.  Arielle, pretending not to notice the man, holds her pencil in the air and does some quick figuring.  I’m not sure it all has to do with the house either.  Since Arielle is the worst actress of the three we’re forced to follow, all of her scenes without the others are awfully trying.

Brooke’s mum and doting friend have turned their ancestral home into a fat farm.  The lesbian has banished her to the gardener’s cottage, and Brooke knows just why.  “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” she says, to the confusion of her mother and the ire of her lesbian, who is now her legal partner.  “Either she goes or I do,” Brooke says.  “But I couldn’t run this place without Selma.  I couldn’t begin to,” mum says barely opening that clenched jaw and the lesbian smiles in triumph.  Mum tells her daughter to call her uncle and visit for Ascot, while the lesbian chides, “have you done the dinner menu?” 

Has anyone wondered what happened to the baby the mother had?  No, neither have I, but unfortunately, we don’t have a choice in finding out.  She’s become a delightful little lass brought up by two caring parents.  Moving on…

Brooke actually does go to Ascot, where she bumps into the Prince!  He has a “rather nice filly” in the race named…wait for it…the Queen of China.  His love for Brooke has never dimmed.  The horse wins, but so does Brooke, back in the arms of her beloved dashing Prince.  They go to leave a dance and Brooke insists on walking, which the Prince’s men don’t think is safe.  “An evening stroll is romantic.  Being driven to a man’s hotel is not,” Brooke insists and decides she’ll walk alone if the Prince wants the car.  She knows full well he’ll follow her.  As they kiss, there are sparks.  Actual sparks because the Prince’s car blows up.  Yup, a big kaboom and the Prince’s minions rush the Prince to safety, leaving Brooke alone on the street, burning car and all. 

Arielle is a bit luckier.  She gets to finally land her man down in the champagne mansion she’s redoing.  There’s a wacky non-sequiter when they come upon a statue of the man who started it all.  “I’ve never seen a statue that looks happy,” the vintner says.  He says something about the quality of the champagne at “our table” and Arielle gives in, up against the rows of wine.  How very French of her.  What’s more romantic than a drafty wine cellar?

The kid is in pigtails now.

Arielle is married and pregnant, and reunited with Bess and Brooke for the grand re-opening of the mansion (there is a comedy scene for Angie Lansbury that helps pick things up…temporarily).  It seems as if Arielle is the one who will get the child back because she’s the first one to have really made it.  She’s married and settled, though she doesn’t want the child because she thinks her husband will react poorly.  The girls agree to wait one more year, just one more year.  A musical montage carries us beyond that year as the women follow other dreams. 

It wouldn’t be a miniseries without a hint of war, so Bess is sent to Vietnam as a reporter.  She’s sassy and snide with the men in charge.  “I’m calling you a lousy bigot,” she says to one soldier who doesn’t want her to go to the front and “I’ll give you a Purple Heart the hard way,” she says to another in the trench who has grabbed her fanny.  “Why don’t you go home and have a couple of kids?” one asks just before being blown to bits.  The entire company is killed, but Bess manages to survive when their dead bodies fall on her. 

The kid is tormented in school by having no real mother or father.

Brooke goes to live in the Kingdom of…not a real Arab country.  Comedy tries to ensue when Brooke can race and beat the Prince riding horses but can’t manage a camel.  Ha ha ha!  Or not.  It gets worse.  The Prince brings her into an opulent tent.  “Aren’t you impressed?”  “You’ve seen one oasis, you’ve seen ’em all.”  Or, how about this one: “Sensitive to be a loser?”  “How about a SORE loser” as she rubs her aching back.  Ha ha ha! Or not.  The puns keep flying as sarcastic Brooke lobs them back and forth with the Prince in their three-hour tryst in the tent (“It’s like something out of a silent movie,” she says, which is the last time this dopey take-me-to-heaven Sheik fantasy was exciting). 

The kid wants to know who her real mother is.

The year has passed and no one has claimed the baby.  Brooke has her desert romance, Bess is writing her book and Arielle is keeping her husband’s business afloat. 

The kid waits by the road, hoping every passing car will be her mother coming to pick her up.

At a palace social function, the King summons Brooke to his side and to make sure she has not “misinterpreted any gestures of hospitality.”  In his way, he’s just told her there is no way she’s marrying into his family.  She treats him with the same contempt she treats everyone, which would probably have her boiled in oil if this were a true story.  “Don’t they make a charming couple?” he asks about his son and the lovely pair of eyes sitting next to him.  That’s all we see of her.  Brooke has the actual nerve to remind the King that in England a king gave up his throne for a woman, but that meets with a sneer.

The kid has lines.  Yup, she speaks.  Her foster father has a brother in some sort of trouble in some resistance movement in some Eastern European country and is coming to live with them.

Bess’ book “Rape in a Foxhole” is a big success.  Thing they’ll turn that one into a movie?  With a title like that, how can they resist?  She tells her lover that she needs a bigger apartment for a special guest, but doesn’t say any more.  Well, at least she’s given some thought to the girl.

Not a moment too soon, because the foster family is in serious trouble.  The go get the brother in his dank Eastern European country where it’s rainy and cold (remember, “Lace” was made in 1984, when bashing Commies was all the rage).  As they go back into a sunny Western European country, they are about to be stopped by a guard at the border and have to run for their lives.  The kid might as well be wearing a target on her head, sporting a red knit cap.  Off they go through the woods, quietly on their way to safety, trying to avoid the soldiers patrolling the area.  “We shouldn’t have brought the child,” the foster mother says.  You think?  Lady, you get no more foster kids! 

Unfortunately, the soldiers find them and foster mom, foster dad and foster uncle are mowed down.  A dozen or so soldiers with dogs surround her.  What will become of the child?

It remains a mystery, because when Aunt Hortense goes to make her monthly payment, she finds out that the last one has come back unopened.  Should the banker check up on them?  “By all means!  This is most peculiar,” Angela chimes, praying she doesn’t have to use this funky accent much longer. 

Bad news in the Kingdom of…not a real Arab country.  The King dies and her prince is now King.  He won’t see her, and his minions won’t let her near him either.  He has responsibilities now.  He can’t just kick around an affair with an Englishwoman now.  I guess they haven’t seen the 1986 miniseries “Harem,” which clearly allows Western women in the harem.  Brooke returns to Mum and the fat farm.  Mum sends for Arielle, who shows up to be told by the old woman, “She drinks.  She drinks ever since she returned from the Middle East.”  Arielle tells Brooke the good news!  She was going to call for the kid in a month, but since Brooke has nothing else to do, she’ll have the kid sent to Brooke.  Good idea.  Give the kid to an alcoholic. 

Enough with the child (two seconds is more than any of these women ever care to think about her anymore) because Arielle and Brooke have to dash to New York to celebrate the opening of Bess’ magazine.  The party takes place in a big room where the worst singer in television history ruins “Georgia On My Mind.”  “Through thick/sick and thin/sin,” they yell when coming down the stairs to find Bess.  Brooke is introduced to Nickolas, and her first line to him is, “I haven’t got a drink.  Maxine (Arielle) says if you share some one’s drink, you share their dreams.”  “Share my drink?” Nickolas asks?  That’s courtship for ya!

In the middle of the party, with the singer at full tilt, Aunt Hortense calls, full of hysterics and hysterical acting, to inform the women that the kid is dead.  “We killed her, all of us,” Arielle wails.  “I need a drink,” Brooke adds.  Bess is the voice of reason.  She reminds them that they have let six years pass without really lifting a finger to help the kid.  “Let’s be honest.  A six year old girl was killed and none of us really knew her,” Brooke notes.  “None of us really wanted to,” adds Bess.  The women decide they have nothing more to say to each other and Arielle and Brooke leave the party…with the crooner doing “George On My Mind” again!  Does he only know three songs?  Only I noticed this?  Okay, bad news has hit them, but Bess has a magazine, Arielle a wonderful life and Brooke even met a man that night!

Back in the present, Phoebe returns.  It’s been a long time since we’ve seen her harpy act.  Phoebe says the kid wasn’t dead, but lived in a camp for 10 years.  “You know what I expected?  Or hoped?  Stupid me.  I hoped one of you would hold out your arms to me and call me Elizabeth,” expecting a reaction from them.  Brooke stands up grandly, walks over to Phoebe…and keeps on walking over to the bar.  The three don’t believe Phoebe’s story, especially since she’s been so evil to them.  “I wanted to make each of you suffer,” Phoebe snarls at them  “Still no open arms?  Still so afraid?”  Geez, this dame doesn’t know when to quit.  More bees with honey?  Not our Phoebe!  She has to drive the nails in further.  “Who wants a porno queen for a daughter?” she yells, but the three are unmoved because they still think the story may be false and she’s after her own publicity.  She tries another tactic…why not pit them against each other?  “It would be so easy for two of you to save your fancy skins and point your fingers at the other,” she offers, but the three just look down at the carpet.  After railing and begging, she then throws them all out, deciding, “none of you is good enough to be my mother.”  Oh, and the cancer fund is saved, the magazine article is true and Simon can return to his mother.  As they trot out, Phoebe glides up her stairs recounting the details of her birth, the doctor, the foster family, all the details.

Now why didn’t she say that earlier?  Couldn’t we have lopped at least an hour of this scene alone?  No guarantees mom would have raised her hand, but it would have saved an awful lot of cheap dialogue for “Lace II.” 

The three possible mothers congregate in the hotel bar where a female singer is just as bad as the male singer we heard a few scenes ago.  “Through th…”  Yeah, we get it, as they clink glasses.  They start to laugh, thinking of the gossip that would swirl around them if this got out, but it’s not really funny.  “I guess we’re too ashamed to cry,” Arielle offers.  “Well, at least it brought us together again,” they note.  But, what are they going to do about Phoebe.  Should they take a vote, like old times?  “I think this time Elizabeth’s real mother is all on her own,” Bess says, and the others agree.  Christmas music rings out in the bar, with no two drunk people singing the same words to the song. 

Phoebe is lounging in her bed when the phone rings.  It’s the hotel manager.  One of his employees has let her mother up.  Phoebe rises from the bed in a full marabou gown, does a few bird flaps (for no reason) and waits for mom to arrive.  Back to the flaps.  Why?  It’s insane!  It’s truly the definition of this movie.  Does she flap when nervous?

Feet ascend the stairs to Phoebe’s room.  In her marabou, Phoebe answers the door to find…should I tell you?  I mean, wouldn’t it ruin the surprise? 

Don’t worry.  There is still “Lace II” to bring it all home for us.

Actually, you should worry, because “Lace II” is unbearably bad, where “Lace” is gleefully charming in its lunacy.  It thrives on it.  If it didn’t, someone would have stopped Phoebe Cates from working as hard as she does to fly so far over the top.  “Lace” is one of the best pieces of trash the US miniseries movement ever produced, the kind that was exported all over the world so everyone could chant, “which one of you bitches is my mother,” no matter what his or her mother tongue is.  It’s the Coca-Cola of miniseries.  Everyone knows it.  Everyone has seen it.  No one wants to admit it, but it’s a guilty pleasure in which to revel.

So, everyone, grab your marabou and flap away!  We’ll get to “Lace II” soon enough.

For Nancy.

Categories: Romance Miniseries

3 Comments to “Lace (1984)”

  1. nancyash 31 January 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    Thank you for this! I had forgotten a lot and now have to watch again.

  2. jennifersenn 23 May 2017 at 7:52 pm #

    Love this funny re-cap! This is my favorite mini-series! Great memories of watching it with my mom when it first came on T.V. 🙂

    • Bj Kirschner 24 May 2017 at 8:28 pm #

      One of my favorites as well. So much fun and cheese. My entry on “Lace” here is the most read of all the posts. 🙂