Television Reviews : ‘A Hazard of Hearts’

If your guilty pleasure is romance novels, dim the lights, get out the candles, lounge on a silk divan--and turn on the TV. The CBS Sunday movie offering at 9 p.m. is for you: a frothy romp in an early 19th-Century setting, called “A Hazard of Hearts.”

Others may want to take a look just for the fun of it.

Tongue-in-cheek (the villains die with bons mots on their lips), this teleplay by Terence Feely, based on Barbara Cartland’s novel, is not to be taken seriously, despite a heavyweight cast.

For starters, there’s Diana Rigg as the haughty Marchioness of Vulcan. She has a gambling habit, runs a smuggling ring from caves beneath Mandrake Castle and will stop at nothing to keep her son from marrying. Dressing down the servants (“Why in God’s name am I surrounded by idiots?”), skewering a recalcitrant smuggler (“You’ve never seen a boar speared before?”), swirling brandy in a snifter or plotting dire mischief, Rigg, in dark ringlets and satin gowns, is a villain to relish.


In small guest roles, Christopher Plummer and Stewart Granger add mightily to the melodrama: Granger as Old Vulcan, retired from worldly concerns; Plummer as Sir Giles Staverly, who, with one throw of the dice, loses his estate and daughter Serena to nasty Lord Wrotham (Edward Fox).

Enter Marcus Gilbert, tall, dark and handsome, as young Lord Vulcan, who picks up the debt and finds himself betrothed to Serena (Helena Bonham Carter), whom he’s never seen.

Altogether noble and manly, Lord Vulcan says such things to Serena as “Let us remain as we are, two strangers brought together by a game of chance,” and “Such a little hand to hold the honor of Mandrake in its palm.”

Carter matches him perfectly. Tiny and delicate, with velvet brown eyes, the baby-faced actress makes an entrance descending a staircase, dressed in virginal white, her cloud of dark hair floating about her, one hand resting lightly on the head of a huge black hound.


Not just an exquisite face, she’s properly spirited, too, the better to intrigue the hero.

And then there’s pretty Isobel (Fiona Fullerton), in love with Lord Vulcan because he’s a real man, while Serena’s handsome but shy cousin Nicholas (Neil Dickson) is in love with Isobel. . . .

The heated plot, enjoyable cast, director John Hough’s shrewd touch and the visual splendor of laces, satins, gewgaws and furbelows galore, liveried footman, coaches, castles, highwaymen and contraband make “A Hazard of Hearts” a treat.