My Lord Vulcan (A review on A Hazard of Hearts)

Many women started their romantic “foray” with one of Barbara Cartland’s many heroines, I was a Barbara Cartland virgin until I very recently watched TV movie “A Hazard of Hearts”. IT TOOK MY BREATH AWAY!

In a toss of the dice, young Serena Staverley’s hand in marriage is lost by her improvident, fanatic gambler father along with the family house and Serena’s inheritance to Lord Wrotham, a man she loathes more than anything else in the world. After Sir Staverley leaves the room, Justin Vulcan, a tall, dark, handsome, enigmatic young lord, who has been silently watching from another end of the room, coolly approaches the gambling table and challenges Lord Wrotham. With another round of dice tossing, the Staverley house, Serena’s hand in marriage and her inheritance are now turned into the hands of Lord Vulcan of Mandrake. At that moment, Sir Staverley shoots himself to death somewhere else in the club.

Serena’s cousin Nicholas rides to Serena with the news and warns her of Justin Vulcan as such “… He never loses at anything, never shows his emotions and he is heartless to women who love him…” and offers to marry Serena to foil Lord Vulcan. Serena, young but indomitable and being aware of her cousin’s love for Lady Isabella, is determined to honor her father’s debt “even if it means marrying to the devil himself.”

Such are the circumstances that precedes Miss Staverley’s first meeting with Lord Vulcan. The whole thing slips his mind until his friends goad him into going to Staverley Hall to pay it and the girl a visit ten days later. His friends speculate if the girl might be a bald with wooden legs. As they stand at bottom of a grand stair case waiting for Miss Staverley, an elderly woman descend with a mild limp to the landing, holding a candelabra in one hand and looking down to the group pensively. While this sight elicits mocking or gloating smiles from his friends, Lord Vulcan himself hardly shows any reaction.

Then his friends’ faces freeze into an expression of awe and we see a lovely young lady in white gown and long dark hair that falls onto her shoulders descend ethereally to the landing, holding in one hand the leach of a velvety black dog that surpasses her in height. Lady Isabella turns consciously at Lord Vulcan, whose face does not stir. What to read of his gaze at Miss Staverley is up to the viewer to decide. That constitutes the dramatic first meeting between Serena and Justin.

The emotional match between Serena and Justin evolves delicately as the story continues to develop with melodramatic turns and twists. Serena stating her being in love with no one draws this from Justin, “Serena, should I make you fall in love with me?” Serena is baffled. Apart from being addressed by first name for the first time, is that a sinister taunt or a declaration?  But if Serena cannot discern at this point, she probably does later when an intense outburst from Justin reveals something of jealousy.

Barbara Cartland was not queen of romance if she did not know how to stir sensations and inspire love. As the first or second of Barbara Cartland’s long list of historical romance novels, A Hazard of Hearts (1959) has a contrived plot but nonetheless sharp and utterly captivating. Yes, Barbara Cartland sensationalizes her story but not too much and it does not take attention away from the development of her characters’ inner world and plot or morals of the story. I infinitely prefer stories that allow the calm wit and inner strength of its characters to shine over those drown in surreal effect or senseless thrill. Indeed, intellectual stimulation does not come from high speed chase, or massive explosion, or zombie and slimy monster caliber disgust, or grotesque, self demeaning parody.

Appeal of romanticism to me is its call to reach ideals by transcending reality. In this day and age, when too many productions resort to gain viewership by dumbing down and over sexualizing, A Hazard of Heart, giving innocent courtship and true love the center stage, is a breath of refresh air. It too gets the psyche right.  After all, respectful restraint can only enhance romance.

The cast, including Helena Bonham Carter, Diana Rigg and Edward Fox, is outstanding but it is Lord Vulcan, portrayed by Marcus Gilbert, who holds me spellbound. Embittered by a family secret, Lord Vulcan is cynical but self possessed and soft spoken. Despite the cruel reputation, he is responsible and considerate. He appears detached, and sometimes sardonic, but his eyes sometimes betray him. He at first puts up with his mother’s gambling but when it gets out of hands, he does not spare her a cutting putdown and eventually deals her an ultimatum. To avenge Serena’s abduction, he duels Lord Wrotham. Like all Byronic heroes, he is not perfect. His flaws make him however vulnerable and loveable.

Marcus Gilbert’s Lord Vulcan now tops my list of romantic heroes, Laurence Oliver’s Mr. Darcy(Pride and Prejudice 1940), Timothy Dalton’s Mr. Rochester(Jane Eyre 1983), Marcus Gilbert’s Lord Vulcan(A Hazard of Hearts 1987), Robson Green’s Liam Marple(Me and Mrs. Jones 2002), Richard Armitage’s John Thornton(North and South 2004), Elliot Cowen’s Mr. Darcy (Lost in Austen 2008).

The earliest romance novels like Jane Austen’s were conceived in the Regency era. And Jane Austen’s work has certain passed the test of time, two hundred years later, they are still in print. A Hazard of Hearts and many of Barbara Cartland’s historical romance novels are set in the Regency time as well. Women of Regency era had far less freedom and rights than their counterparts of the twenty first century. Why was it the era that saw the birth of romance genre? Is it the Romanticism Movement? Why it is that Regency gentlemen’s garb has such a way of transforming a man into a gentleman of a romantic aura?

Literary merit or not. Formulaic or not. With more than seven hundred books and a billion copies of her books sold internationally, Barbara Cartland and her legacy are unmatched. I don’t need any excuse to say that I enjoy this movie tremendously and it is much, much more than guilty pleasure to me.


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