A favorite period romance: “Firelight”

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Louisa (Dominique Belcourt) talks with her governess Elisabeth Laurier (Sophie Marceau).

Stephen Dillane and Sophie Marceau are the stars of the period drama "Firelight."

I happened across this movie one weekend on TV a few years ago and fell in love with it. Made in 1997, it is not a particularly well-known film, but it is one I believe deserves a broader audience. If you love a well-acted period drama that is moving and achingly romantic at times, Firelight just might be the movie for you.

The film opens in 1838. A young Swiss governess, Elisabeth, who is trying to help her father out of his mounting debts, agrees to bear a child for an anonymous member of the English gentry. A tragic accident has prevented his wife from being capable of bearing him a child.

The two meet for three nights at an island hotel. It is meant to be a business transaction, a sort of surrogate motherhood with no attachment developing between the partners. The Englishman will pay off her father’s debts. Any child conceived will be surrendered to the father at birth.

However, things do not go as planned. Elisabeth and the Engishman are surprised to find themselves drawn to one another as they make love by firelight, developing a deep attachment as they converse at the hotel and during walks on the beach. Afterwards, they return to their normal lives.

Nine months later, Elisabeth gives birth to a daughter, and while she gives the baby away as promised to the Englishman, she never forgets her. Elisabeth begans keeping a journal filled with watercolor paintings of flowers and plants, making a new page for each holiday and birthday they are apart.

When the little girl turns seven, Elisabeth, heartsick for her child, decides she must see her daughter and manages to track her down. She is hired as the child’s governess by the Englishman’s sister-in-law. Constance. Her daughter has a loving relationship with her father, Charles, but is a willful, arrogant, spoiled child who has never been disciplined properly–and it shows.

In spite of neither Charles or the little girl wanting her there, Constance insists the governess be given one month at her post to give her time to look for another situation . . .

There is a story that Elisabeth shares with Louisa which becomes integral to the plot:

It’s a kind of magic. Firelight makes time stand still. When you put out the lamps and sit in the firelight’s glow there aren’t any rules any more. You can do what you want, say what you want, be what you want, and when the lamps are lit again, time starts again, and everything you said or did is forgotten. More than forgotten it never happened.

For those who have not seen the film, I do not want to say much more about the plot.

The love of a mother for a child who does not know their true relationship, the attraction between two people who are forbidden to share their feelings and the determination to tame a willful heart for its own good are all part of this engrossing story.

Sophie Marceau is incandescent as Elisabeth, her beautiful and expressive face sometimes speaking volumes without saying a word; Stephen Dillane is equally impressive as Charles, a country gentleman struggling to maintain his property in the face of a profligate father while at the same time dealing with a catatonic wife.

I purchased Firelight on DVD through Amazon’s Marketplace and I consider it a welcome addition to my period drama/romance collection. (The film is rated R for some brief nudity and sexual content).

(art by Google Images)

About fedoralady

I'm an LA native--Lower Alabama, that is. My husband of more than 30 years and I live here on a portion of my family's former farm with two gorgeous calicos and a handsome GSD mix. My background is art education, and over the years I've been a teacher, department store photographer, sales associate and a journalist. My husband, his business partner and I have Pecan Ridge Productions, a video production company, for which I shoot & edit video and stills and manage marketing. I also still write part-time for the local paper. I love movies, music, art, photography and books, and my tastes in all of them are eclectic.

17 responses »

  1. This film sounds really intriguing. I haven’t heard of it before, so thanks for bringing it to my attention! I love Sophie Marceau in “Chouans” (don’t know the English title), it’s a period drama set in the years of the French Revolution. It’s an adventure-romance with a love triangle at the centre of the events (Sophie plus 2 guys, one pro- and one against the revolution. One of the guys was played by StΓ©phane Freiss, a blue-eyed, dark haired French actor, whom I had a crush on. Geez I had so many crushes!).

    • I really liked it, and it just doesn’t seem to be very well known. The French Revolution is one of the periods of history that most fascinates me. It has intrigue, lofty ideals, political machinations, romance, heroism, backstabbing, lots of blood and gore–what more could a girl want? πŸ˜‰

          • Of course! However, I wonder if Sophie Marceau is young enough to be considered for the role of Anne Neville in Richard III. That’s the kind of vulnerability and strength needed for the role. Thanks for recommending “Firelight”; I haven’t seen it. Did you see Sophie Marceau and Sean Bean in “Anna Karenina’? I think it’s the best version I’ve seen.

  2. I have never heard of this either. I’m always on the lookout for good period dramas, so thanks heaps for this recommendation, Angie. I’ll see if I can add it to my Quickflix queue, if not, it looks like another dvd purchase coming up! πŸ˜‰

    • If I find a book or film that isn’t well known and I feel deserves a bigger audience, I try to pass the info along. It doesn’t hurt that the male lead is also a part I could see RA doing well (although Stephen is excellent in the role, don’t get me wrong). You know, I think my DVD ended up coming from the Netherlands but it was in English with subtitles. But I know i got it through Amazon.

  3. I discovered this intriguing story on YT last year. I enjoyed very much all these themes together: passion, drama, denied motherhood.

    Sophie has a special touch for period dramas and for sad stories as well.
    Even in comedies, she always shows a side of sadness and regret.
    I don’t know if it is only my impression, but she is the perfect lady of pouting!

  4. I saw this movie several years ago, and really enjoyed it! It was a very moving drama. I would recommend it highly!

    • Thanks for adding your endorsement, Laurie. Since there is only so much RA to go around in terms of period drama, I figure we need to promote other worthy productions. πŸ˜€

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