Masterpiece: The Making of a Lady
Starring Lydia Wilson, Linus Roache, Hasina Haque and James D’Arcy Sundays at 9 p.m. PBS
out of five And with that, a polite marriage of convenience is created, and the stage is set for yet another lavishly appointed English fish-out-of-water costume drama in which well-meaning but stuffy people from different sides of the class divide try to find a way to love one another. Except... well, here’s the creepy part. When Walderhurst is called back to regimental duty in India, he leaves Emily behind to tend to their huge country estate. And not long after he leaves, his nephew, Alec Osborn (James D’Arcy) shows up, Indian-born wife Hester (Hasina Haque) in tow, declaring that the absent husband has ordered them to look after his beloved wife while he’s gone. Of course, there’s chicanery afoot. Osborn, whose thin veneer of aristocratic gentility is unconvincing from the outset, is clearly a nasty character, and the motive for his visit to the estate quickly becomes clear: he’s next in the line of succession for the family fortune, and if some convenient bit of misfortune should prevent Emily (who has announced, after her husband’s departure, that she’s with child) from delivering a Walderhurst heir, the whole great big pile of privileged wealth will one day be his. And in no more time than it takes to snuff the only candle in a 19th-century English drawing room, The Making of a Lady transforms from gentle romantic drama to heavy-handed suspense thriller. Scheming abounds. Sinister misdeeds — perhaps even murder! — unfold in rapid succession as the Osborns and their over-the-top-evil Indian servant, Ameerah (Souad Faress), move to take control of the estate and slowly poison Emily with the intention of ending first her pregnancy and then, hopefully, her life. It becomes rather a macabre and predictable exercise, and there are also times when the caricatured portrayal of the south Asian characters — Ameerah in particular — feels more than a bit outdatedly racist. But thanks in large part to Wilson’s measured portrayal of Emily, The Making of a Lady’s bizarre second half never completely goes off the rails. There’ll be no spoiling here of whether the lady actually makes it, but it’s safe to say that the resolution of the story will leave viewers satisfied that there’s still a glimmer of hope left before the sun finally sets on old-fashioned British aristocracy.