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)