A Woman of Substance (1984)

The first of six miniseries based on the works of Barbara Taylor Bradford (two sets of three movies), “A Woman of Substance” is actually a British production that was aired first in the US in syndication, an oddity for sure.  However, it’s understandable that the networks did not snatch this one up greedily as it’s not only the height of British twee, but it’s also decidedly unglamorous.  Sure, the legendary Deborah Kerr (our resident slummer) is the headliner, though she’s around only long enough to lead us into flashbacks, but this feels very much like a claustrophobic British miniseries.  In actually, it’s rather harmless.  Yes, it’s predictable, yes, it has a strong female heroine and yes, it has way too much allusion to great British literature, but it also has epic sweep and generational conflict aplenty to fit it in comfortably with what the networks were offering at the time.  What it lacks is star power.  The only notable American in the cast is Barry Bostwick, who doesn’t enter until very late in the action, and the British actors become tiresome pretty quickly with their calculated slow performances. 

Dowager Deborah Kerr, looking Margaret Thatcher’s twin sister, is thinking of slowing down and turning over her empire to her granddaughter Miranda Richardson, who is awfully nervous about the prospect.  “I know what you’re capable of.  I raised you.  Don’t you think I know what I created?” Granny Deborah asks?  There are other family members, male family members, but they “lack the killer instinct.”  Worse than that, the male family members are trying to oust her, noting, “she’s such a tough old warhorse, we may have to shoot her in the end,” on a conversation recorded by a loyal secretary. 

Luckily, the loyal secretary calls Deborah, who takes Miranda and heads for London, the seat of her empire (using Harrod’s department store as the set, and even using the same lettering to spell out “Harte” everywhere).  Before listening to the recordings, she is told it’s her own sons who are trying to boot her.  “I suppose a mother doesn’t want to think her own sons could betray her,” she cries.  As she listens to the tape, the camera comes close up and Deborah goes into what decades of acting has taught her to do best–go for an Emmy early! 

After meandering through the store, she’s ready to greet coughing John Mills, her “financial advisor and constant admirer.”  She tells him she needs some “ready cash,” but doesn’t tell him why she’s suddenly ready to sell “real estate, jewelry and part of my art collection,” though he’s clearly worried.  He tries, through his hacking, to talk her out of it, but she won’t back down.  “It’s an absolutely wonderful collection,” he says of the art, to which she sasses back, “then it should fetch a wonderful price.”  She the plows through a ton of work, going into the evening, when she tells her secretary to have the documents sent to her lawyers.  “The documents must be irreversible, irrevocable and water tight.  I must be absolutely sure they could not be contested in any court of law,” she says with steel and important music. 

Then Deborah takes Miranda to the country mansion in Yorkshire, where the latter finds out “the others” are coming, meaning her family.  Why?  “It’s my birthday tomorrow,” Deborah chirps, not fooling anyone.  As the hated family arrives, Deborah says she doesn’t want to be disturbed and finds out from John that she is a lot richer having sold everything.  He still wants to know why she needs it and she tells him she may want to go shopping.  “That’s ridiculous,” he barks, “no one spends nine million pounds shopping.”  “It depends what you’re buying,” she says with a raised eyebrow. 

The movie has been flirting with flashbacks like a teenager in heat so far, and it’s about time to get to them.  When Deborah breaks a tea cup thinking of her son’s betrayal, it takes her back to when she was a kitchen made and did the same thing.  Her younger self is played by Jenny Seagrove, a spunky girl who races through her chores (to the annoyance of head butler Barry Morse) so she can enjoy her one day off.  Well, “enjoy” is the wrong word, what with a consumptive mother and bickering father-brother duo.  She is a typical miniseries woman, determined and smart.  “It’s not money gets you what you want, it’s books,” she tells her younger brother as mother and father are “I love thee”ing upstairs and mother is about to depart this earth. 

On her way back to the mansion where she works in a thick fog that is merely a cheap camera trick, Jenny meets chimney sweep Liam Neeson, also on his way to the great hall.  Liam is Irish, playing a character called, what else, Blackie, who dazzles Jenny with stories of the great city of Leeds.  “Mary, mother of Jesus,” he says, awed by his first sight of the manse, “that’s the ugliest house I’ve ever seen.”  Barry slaps Jenny for dropping shoe polish and Liam jumps up, ready to beat him.  The men of the house assemble for breakfast, most notably ashen son Peter Chelsom.  Mother is absent because she is confined to her room, always searching for hidden booze.  Peter informs his father that he doesn’t want to be part of the family business, but would rather be a lawyer and his brother, Christopher Guard, is a cocky lad who sucks up to his father and wants the business. 

When Jenny isn’t tending to the drunk, serving the men or mopping up, she’s running across the moors to check on her mother or listening to more tales of Leeds from Liam.  “Can a girl like me make a fortune in Leeds?” she asks him.  In fact, the plucky lass has a plan, which she intends to show to her mistress’ sister Gayle Hunnicutt, now running the house.  It’s an efficiency plan she’s worked out to get her chores done faster.  Gayle warmly approves, and leaves her room happily, only to run into the miniseries adage that when things are going well, they have to get worse, meaning grabby Christopher. 

She’s actually spared Christopher in favor of the much nicer Peter, whom she meets while resting on the moors.  They have an awkward heart-to-heart where he wants her not to call him master and worries about his mother.  Heck, they even laugh about Barry.  Back at the house, the brothers argue about a wounded dog and mom stays sober long enough to yell at Christopher on Peter’s behalf.  “You know what they do with murderers?” she asks her crabby son, “they hang them by their neck until they are dead.”  Wow, talk about your parenting skills! 

Jenny is such a good servant that she is able to pull her mistress together long enough to host a dinner party, though the master is angry that not only she, but also her sister, seem to be flirting with the guests.  The latter is more of a concern, because the master and his sister-in-law seem to be having an affair.  They are stupid enough to conduct it with doors cracked open so Jenny can see and hear everything. 

Our heroine’s desire to make a life for herself is made even stronger when Liam returns to the house, flush with success, going to night school and proving that their class can make something of themselves.  Naturally, all of the excitement is blunted with the news that Jenny’s mother is dying.  For real, this time.  The actual death scene is way overdone, drowning in sappiness, but I suppose that was to be expected.  “If there was a God, he wouldn’t have let me mum suffer all these years and he wouldn’t have let her die!” Jenny exclaims when her father says, “it’s God’s will.”  She does get a quick note of sympathy from her newest pal Peter.  In quick succession, Jenny finds out her boss may have been in love with her own mother and her older brother joins the Royal Navy and because of it, her younger brother has to work in her master’s Dickensian factory, though his real desire is to be a journalist. 

“Can we have a picnic on your first day off?” Peter asks Jenny, giving her a piece of rosemary and quoting Shakespeare.  When he has a break from school, they do indeed have the picnic, though don’t ask me where she gets the hot-cha-cha dress she wears (it’s neck to ankles, but for her, it’s spiffy).  They find sort of cave, which has apparently been the trysting site of previous lovers.  You only get one guess to figure out which pair of lovers.  As always happens in these sorts of gooey scenes (which you saw coming light years ago), the sunny skies simply give way to the longest and most brutal storm of the century.  They have to dash for the cave, where Peter coughs a lot and decides they have to “get out of these wet clothes” or risk catching pneumonia.  He mentions the “wet things” coming off a few times.  He even strips completely.  “I’m certainly not going to catch my death because of false modesty,” he chirps, taking off his underthings while wrapped in a towel.  He gives her a tablecloth from the picnic basket, telling Jenny, “you will look like an Indian Maharani” if she puts it on, assuring her “I would never hurt you.  You are my best friend.” 

A dying fire, a bottle of Elderberry wine and very little clothing lead to a huddle for warmth (I’m taking half the amount of time to describe this as it’s taking them to get to the friggin’ climax).  “You’re so beautiful,” he tells her after copping a feel, then going in for a kiss with an “I love you” for good measure.  “I couldn’t harm the person I want most in the world,” he says, making sure she swoons and the two kiss in the most chaste of British fashions before Peter shows a risque bit of buttocks and sex starts (with the reminders of previous lovers scratched on the cave walls). 

“Servants and gentry don’t mix.  It’s not right…you’re steppin’ out of your class, my girl,” the friendly cook tells her when Jenny and Peter come in from the storm, with fake excuses as to why they were together.  From there, it’s secret notes, poetry readings no the moors and blooming love.  Hell, she’s even been visiting the library to memorize Shakespeare speeches to impress him.  “One day, I need to be a lady,” she tells Peter.  “You’re a lady now,” he reminds her and presents her with a rock onto which he’s carved their initials.  Things are so ducky that even when her brother returns from the navy for a week’s leave, he and his father reconcile.

“It’s the Missus.  Fell down the stairs and broke her neck,” Barry tells Jenny when she sees the doctor leaving on her way into work.  The poor dear had taken to drinking again when her horrible son Christopher treated her horribly and brought the affair of her husband and sister to her attention again. 

And then Jenny lowers the boom we’ve been expecting since Jenny and Peter first saw each other: “I’m going to have a baby.”  Peter is not happy and snaps, “what are you going to do?”  “Don’t you mean we?” she asks.  Peter suggests an abortion.  “Yes, we could find some quack who would butcher me,” she cracks, as he says, “this is a catastrophe.”  He won’t marry her and she reacts angrily, realizing she has to leave the area.  “You look like a gentleman, but you’re nothing.  You’re less than the dirt on my feet. I won’t be seeing you again…never, as long as I live,” she tells him and departs, thus ending the first installment.

Jenny goes off to Leeds, the city where Liam had told her was filled with glory.  Long ago, he had mentioned she only needed to stop in a specific pub and give a message to the proprietress and she would locate him.  “He’s gone to Ireland,” Jenny is told.  She goes to rent a room, and almost doesn’t get it, until she lies and says her husband is in the navy and she can “pay in advance.”  “You do know how to do housework?” the woman who owns the house asks.  “I’m sure I can learn,” Jenny notes, apparently looking wealthier and higher class than she really is.  Finding a job is not as easy.  Doors are slammed all over town. 

The first plot point that is not paint-by-numbers arrives when Jenny protects Jewish merchant Henry Landis from a gaggle of kids throwing rocks and anti-Semitic slurs.  “You don’t know what a Jew is, do you?” he asks Jenny.  There’s a brief lesson in tolerance, very brief, and them some Judaism.  Jenny is convinced to stay for Sabbath dinner with Henry, his wife and two sons.  Actually, it’s a pleasure and a rarity to have a nice Jewish family in a miniseries that isn’t about World War II.  Henry has a job for Jenny and the family welcomes her so sweetly. 

The wool factory that Peter’s father owns catches fire and Peter tries to get in, warned by Jenny’s father not to.  Poor dad is horribly burnt in the fire saving Peter.  Just as it seems the whole place is about to go up in smoke, another of those bizarre storms comes and saves the place.  Owner Peter Egan is told that it was probably arson, caused by angry workers who resent the way his son Christopher has run things while his father has been abroad. 

Jenny turns out to be a natural in Henry’s garment factory, where his hunky son Joris Stuyck teachers her the trade.  Then Liam shows up and Jenny lies to him that the upcoming baby’s father is in the navy.  Liam wants to “thrash” the man, but Jenny reminds him she wants to see the Leeds he always talked about, though the writers can’t resist making her the mouthpiece of all things social circa 1907, such as when she talks about how advances in the garment industry will make it so “ordinary folk” can afford finery.  “You were right about Leeds, I’m going to do well here,” she tells him as they take their seats at the theater.  He volunteers to marry Jenny, “so you and the baby will be safe and secure.”  She thanks him, but turns him down because she doesn’t want to ruin his plans for success. 

With Jenny growing bigger, the pressures of stairs, work and distance are taking their toll, so Liam takes her to his friend Diane Baker in a smaller village.  Jenny is enchanted by the town and by Diane.  She even gets a job in a factory, though at seven months pregnant, she probably should stop working.  “I have to save for the future,” she tells Diane, which is a cue for her to go into labor at the factory.  “It’s time to go into labor,” she calmly tells the foreman.  “Couldn’t you hold off ’til six?” he asks. 

Atheist Jenny wants to have the baby christened, but she know the “the vicar will want to see a birth certificate,” so Liam decides he can do it himself, always a help, though he reminds her that she has to “register the baby…a name, such as it is, is better than ‘father unknown,'” and insists she use his name.  Jenny has to leave the baby with a cousin so she can go back to work. 

Unexpectedly, Jenny pays a visit to her family and since no one knew where she went, her brothers have been unable to tell her that their father has died.  She’s shocked, though I’m not sure how the timing works out so neatly when brother Dominic Guard tells her it happened, “just a few days after you left.”  She’s also exceedingly shocked to hear that he died saving Peter, actually incensed because she knows no one at the manor would “lift a finger to save another man’s life.”  “I’ll make it up to both of you, I promise,” Jenny says at the graves of her parents, damning the whole manor family and hoping that they “rot in hell.”  Jenny volunteers to send her other brother books so he can one day get that journalism job and tells Dominic to send money, even if it means sopping up less suds at the pub. 

Having saved up money by working like a fiend and creating a reputation as a terrific seamstress, Jenny sees a shop “to let” from John Duttine, a young man who doesn’t want to rent to a young woman, on a Sunday no less.  Her constant working starts to annoy Joris, who is clearly in love with her, and kisses her to prove it (his “frum” mother is not happy about it).  He’s thrilled to hear she’s rented a store and she sets to business with a dry good establishment, though Joris still wants her to work less.  Liam opines that she works so hard out of “hatred,” but Diane and Joris don’t understand, so he covers and says, “hatred of poverty, that’s what drives her now.”  In no time, she has two shops. 

Following in the pattern, John falls in love with her too, but a local crone has it out for Jenny and her success.  “We all know what’s going on between the two of you, your fancy woman and yourself,” the crone snaps.  The crone has the store between Jenny’s two and finally, in full lather, agrees to quit the property so Jenny can have three.  Diane asks Jenny how it feels.  “Safe.  I’m beginning to feel safe,” she says. 

Liam starts the lie that Jenny’s husband died, “but I don’t think she’ll go into mourning.”  When Joris finds out, he rushes to her store, where she’s become an ace at selling to people who didn’t even know they wanted her products.  “He’s been away so long, I was starting to feel he didn’t exist at all,” she notes without a trace of irony and David kisses her.  He proposes marriage, but she declines because she’s afraid of angering his mother.  “You think these things won’t matter, but one day, your parents, your children, would pull us apart,” she says wisely. 

Out of her life, for now, and into it returns vile Christopher of the manor, who knows that Jenny has had “my brother’s bastard.”  He confronts her in her store after David has left, when she’s alone.  He tells her Peter is to be married and “we can’t afford a scandal,” so he wants to know where the baby is.  He goes after her physically and tries to rape her, until she can grab a knife and hold it to his throat.  One more reason for her to hate his family.  His threatens to return.  “We’ll have to watch out for her, you little tiger,” he says and she cuts his arm before he finally leaves. 

John confesses his love for her and proposes also.  “I could protect you,” he says, and she realizes that’s something she needs, so she agrees.  Liam proposes to Diane, so everyone is happy.  In short order, Jenny gives birth to a son.  She loves her kids, but work always seems to come first.  She’s well on the way to building an empire, buying factories and shops and therefore controlling the whole chain of production.  “Isn’t there anything you really care about other than money?” her frustrated husband asks as she grows and grows.  Of course she does, listing all the people in her life, with his name at the end, almost as an afterthought. 

Brother Mick Ford gets a book published.  He comes to see her for the grand opening of her megastore in Leeds, but he has to return to London because talk of war is big news for all journalists.  Also around for the opening is Peter, looking almost ill as he wanders through the shop and then sees Jenny.  He shies away from seeing her and dashes from the store.  World War I is declared and Mick is sent as a correspondent.  Back at the manse, Peter Egan is now married to his dead woman’s sister Gayle. 

Jenny wants to buy a mill at auction and bids against her enemies, father Peter Egan and son Christopher.  She takes Joris with her, who advises against it, but spends an outrageous amount of money to outbid Christopher.  Neither of them have the money for it, but she wins.  “Good, it’ll ruin her,” Christopher spits.  To make the money, Jenny decides to make all who owe her money from the store pay up and if they don’t pay, she will start charging interest.  Lawyer Christopher Gable doesn’t think it’s a good idea, but she insists. John doesn’t like Christopher Gable.  “He’s too aware of his own bloody fatal charms, if you ask me,” he howls, but she is way too focused on her work to even notice. 

Jenny and Joris decide to merge their companies, but they have to get Henry’s approval first.  He’s slowing down, so he’s happy to take an easier role as a director of the parent company.  When she tells John, he gets snotty, telling her she only tells him anything after it’s been done.  Jenny has promised her daughter they will trim the Christmas tree together, but she only wants John’s help and her attitude toward her mother is rather harsh.  Diane assures Jenny, “it’s just a stage, she’ll grow out of it” and Jenny notes that “sometimes she shuts herself up in a world of her own and I can’t reach her.  It frightens me.”  She’s never paid any attention to her daughter, so what is causing her sudden concern? 

As the war churns on, Britain declares that “every man between 19 and 40” must enlist unless exempted.  That means John and Liam have to go (Peter has already joined).  Diane begs John to “watch over” Liam, especially since she’s pregnant (after suffering one miscarriage).  As they leave, Jenny admits her fault in their crumbling marriage.  “There’ll be plenty of time to talk when I get back,” he tells her, which doesn’t bode well for him.  Long parting speeches usually mean someone has played his last scene. 

When the inevitable telegram comes, Jenny’s daughter grabs and reads it.  Jenny and her two sons are distraught.  This news brings the second installment to a much sadder close than the first. 

John’s will leaves all of the property to Jenny, but his money to his son.  Luckily, her brother Mick survives his corresponding duties with only a broken arm, but he’s assigned to do a story on her long-ago lover Peter, who has been cited for bravery.  Not as lucky is poor Diane, who has given birth to a boy, but with terrible difficulties.  Jenny promises to look after Diane as Diane did her when she first gave birth and has just enough time to croak the baby’s name, that she wants it to be raised Catholic and reared by Jenny before dying.  “Please don’t cry.  There’s nothing to cry about,” Diane whispers, but the priest is already there to give last rites.  Diane is in the middle of telling Jenny where her Christmas present is when her head rolls to the side and we’ve lost another. 

Mick suggests his sister get married again, but she doesn’t want a “man getting involved in the business.”  He explodes at her avarice, but she’s already spotted soldier Barry Bostwick across the restaurant.  With his usual cockiness, he stares her down.  His father, George Baker,  is an old business associate of the hated manor family (and we find out when Barry and his father talk that Gayle has died).  Peter Egan hasn’t fared well with his second wife’s death, incapacitated by a stroke. 

“Do all Australians have bad manners or are you special?” Jenny asks Barry when they finally meet, although his accent is so lousy, all of Australia should be up in arms.  Paging Bryan Brown!  We know a miniseries rule tells us that when a man and a woman meet hate-at-first-sight, it will be love.  They arrange to meet, but she breaks the appointment.  He hunts her down at the train station, bellowing “coward” at her.  “Who are you afraid of?  Me?  Or yourself?” he asks.  Great, leave it to the American actor in the cast to have the worst part and the worst lines.  Time, lots of flowers and jewelry wear down her resistance.  “You have to love me, want me, as much as I love you,” he tells her when he could easily have taken her right there with the jewels.  She does want him.  He plants a kiss on her the likes of which she’s never had.  There’s a problem: he’s already married.  At first, she’s irate, but she loves him and their torrid affair continues. 

Barry is called back to the war, but assures Jenny that “nothing is going to happen to me.  My time isn’t up yet.”  He sends her poetry from the front, and we know how much of a sucker she is for poetry.  But, too much goodness means badness is right around the corner…again!  Brother Dominic loses a leg in the fighting, and the doctor does not think he will be able to wear a prosthetic.  “My brother will wear an artificial leg if I damn well have to design one myself,” the increasingly bellicose Jenny tells the doctor.  He gets the leg and then has to figure out how to use it.  “You learned to walk as a nipper, you can do it again,” Jenny cheers him on, just as the announcement comes that the war is over!

Though the war is done, she and Barry cannot be reunited as he is “still under military orders” and is being sent back to Australia.  Unfortunately, time goes by without any word for him.  He promises to come back to her as soon as he can.  Her old enemy Christopher needs a loan and Jenny arranges for one with some very strict terms.  Naturally, Christopher can’t pay back the money and will lose his mills.  He seeks legal advice from his brother Peter, who tells them to let it all go and concentrate on the one mill he has left, and “cut personal expenditures.”  This leads to an argument between the brothers and Christopher tells his brother he tried to have sex with Jenny.  That doesn’t go over well.

Out of the blue, Jenny’s daughter asks for her birth certificate. 

Also back from the war is Joris, who wants to get a divorce and marry her.  “There is no you and me,” she tells him, though he doesn’t know about Barry until this conversation.  “I haven’t heard from him for some time, but I don’t think he’ll come back,” she says.  Mick as much as confirms that, having heard that Barry and his wife have been seen on holiday, so the marriage is not ending. 

Liam has prospered, finally building the mansion he always dreamed of, raising his son with love.  At a party at his house, Liam and her brothers are alarmed at Jenny’s new interest in Christopher Gable, not to mention her plans for opening a store in London.  “How will she afford all of this?” Liam wants to know.  Dominic is furious when the marriage is announced.  “He’s useful at dinner parties,” she tells Dominic when he asks why Christopher Gable?  “So is a butler,” he snaps.  “A woman in my position needs a husband just as she needs a butler,” she replies, with no mention of love.  “I’m fond of him,” is as far as she will go. 

As soon as she goes on her honeymoon, Barry returns.  She and Liam go on a business trip to enemy territory, her first time back at the mansion since she left pregnant.  “You wouldn’t have found this in my day,” she tells him after finding dust on the fireplace.  She’s there to claim her property, revealing that she is behind the company to which he has sold the house.  “Please vacate the house by the end of the week,” she says with hatred.  She now owns everything of his.  He claims she out to ruin him all along.  “That was my plan, but you did it yourself.  I just helped along the way,” she spits at him.  She orders the house “torn down, brick by brick by brick…I want it wiped off the face of the earth as if it never existed.”  She’s not all hatred, as she intends to turn the property “into a park for the local people.  A beautiful park, in memory of my mother.”  Her mother?  Has anyone thought about her in decades?

The marriage between Jenny and Christopher Gable is a sham.  She has three-year-old twins with him and “he doesn’t get in my way,” so she won’t divorce him yet.  And that’s when she sees Barry again.  He explains that his wife is an alcoholic and had to be committed to an asylum.  He says he sent letter and cables and produces all of his to her and hers to him.  “They were stolen by my secretary,” he says, saying the poor cluck was in love with him.  Then his father died and he had to run the company.  He did come back for her, but found out she was married.  But, now that he has news that her marriage is lousy too, he’s returned.  Since neither of them can get divorced (his wife is Catholic and she simply refuses), she brushes him off.

Her eldest daughter eventually does get a look at her birth certificate and finds out what she thinks is the truth, that Liam is her father.  Jenny says that it’s what a man does as the child grows up that makes him a father and John therefore was her father in spirit.  “I don’t want to see you again,” the pissy brat says after demanding to be sent to finishing school in Switzerland. 

“I can’t go on just standing by and seeing you so unhappy,” Barry announces before giving Jenny one of those passionate kisses that actually melt her.  He’s just met her husband and was not impressed.  “I’ve always loved you,” she coos as they are disrobing at his place.  “I’m not going to leave you, every again,” he counters.  “We’ll be together for good.”  “I know.”  “We’re going to make up for all of those lost year.” 

Jenny, sporting an outfit she’s worn before (and it’s not the first time she’s done that–which is a sure sign of this not being made in America) and calmly tells her husband she’s pregnant.  “Ah, the second immaculate conception,” he jokes.  He wants a divorce, but she will only do it on her terms.  Basically, she’s blackmailing him with not only drink and women, but also “young men” and Christopher Gable’s wealthy father will not look kindly on that fact.  “The twins will come with me.  You can keep the house.  I’ll be in touch after the baby comes,” she declares.

The baby is born and Jenny wants this child to be legitimate.  He’s still married. 

The child turns 11 year old, but her half-siblings are not so happy, feeling they never got so much of mother’s attention.  “It’s going to be years and years of just us,” Barry tells her, though one of her sons overhears and is despondent.  Yet again, things are too happy to last, and Barry has to return to Australia to force his wive to finally give him a divorce.  Furious that she still refuses, he drives recklessly and is in a car accident.  “The surgeon says I’m lucky to be alive,” Barry tells his lawyer from a wheelchair and with his face horribly disfigured.  He hasn’t told her about the extent of his injuries because war is inevitable and he doesn’t her traveling to Australia.  Also, his kidneys are failing and “the prognosis is bad.” 

Brother Mick finds out about Barry’s death from a news wire, but before he can tell her, she hears it on the radio.  “He was my life.  I loved him.  There’s nothing left,” she cries, apparently forgetting her brood of kids.  A touching letter, ready in voice over with Barry’s horrendous accent, is both sad and comforting to her. 

It’s goodbye Jenny as Deborah Kerr awakens from her sleep full of memories.  Deborah wants to talk to Miranda about her paramour, who happens to be the grandson of her one-time love Peter.  It’s not incest, because Miranda is her granddaughter through Barry’s child with her.  She announces “it’s time I stop playing God too” and tells Miranda to invite the man to dinner, bestowing her approval on their union.  Liam is still alive and also comes to the country house where the family members are gathered. 

Miranda’s boyfriend actually works on Deborah’s newspaper, and she’s so giddy, she promotes him.  In return, he gives her the rock on which Peter had carved their initials.  “He told me the whole story,” he tells Deborah, and also informs him that the child her mother had with the big boss died.  “So much bitterness.  Well, that’s all in the past,” she says, wiping away decades with such ease.

At dinner, the whole family stands in toast at Deborah’s birthday.  “Reversing the usual procedure, I’d like to give some birthday presents” and reads her new will.  The grandchildren get two million pounds each, the houses, except the country house and all the art, except for a Van Gogh that Liam gets.  Her daughter with Barry gets the country house and jewels her father lavished on her many years ago.  She gives 52% of the company to other grandchildren.  As for the department store chain, the nugget of the empire, she gives it completely to Miranda, who is as surprised as everyone else.  Deborah’s remaining four children are incensed and she attacks them back with the proof of what they were trying to do to her.  She gives them one million pounds each.  “These are not gifts, by the way.  I’m buying you,” informing them that if they accept the money, they will receive nothing else and cannot contest the will.  Her daughters agree and take the cash and then the sons cave. 

“I wish it hadn’t been necessary,” Deborah tells Liam, “perhaps it was my fault.”  He disagrees and then they catalogue all of the people she’s outlived.  She’s actually excited to have great-grandchildren from the hated family to “bounce off my knee.”  He has one last gift for her, a sapphire brooch that replaces the ribbon he had given her so many years earlier when he could only promise gems.  “Here’s to the next generation and may they find the secret of life,” she says.  “Which is?”  “To endure!”

The “Dynasty”-esque quality to the final scenes here is delicious, giving “A Woman of Substance” the spunk it needs after six hours of mopey behavior and overwhelming gloom.  A lot more bite is needed to give this saga any heft, and the movie’s efficiency and speed are its ultimate downfall, since no characters except the lead is given any time to develop. 

Categories: Romance Miniseries

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