Jungle
A Woman of Substance Trilogy

A Woman Of Substance is a mixture of Harlequin Romance novels and soap opera drama which see’s it’s release on DVD in trilogy form. Included in the set is the title film, its sequel Hold The Dream, and finally To Be The Best. All three installments together in one collection equal out to six hundred and sixty six minutes of, depending on who you are, either boisterous amounts of romance, intrigue, drama, and scandal or hours of cringe worthy moments. I myself felt it was a bit of both worlds, with the latter being the more dominate quality of the series.

The story begins with Emma Harte (Deborah Kerr; The Innocents), now an old but wise woman, who finds out that there is a coup happening to overthrow her and take over her empire. From here we fade back into her past where the story truly begins. A young Emma (Jenny Seagrove; Judge John Deed) is a servant working Fairley Hall. It’s here we learn that her mother is sickly and also how Emma’s family and the Fairley’s are intertwined. There’s a brief romance between Emma and one of the Fairley brothers, a bit of betrayal, and a long running grudge that sets up the entirety of the series. We also meet Blackie O’Neil (Liam Neeson; Taken), a character that will pop up through the entirety of the series as well.

This first movie, though cringe worthy with all it’s obvious dramatic moments that may have very well been a bit of surprise to viewers back in 84 when the series first began, will find it a bit clichéd now, but it’s not terrible. The real reward is waiting for the story of the young Emma Harte to be over so we can see how she handles the coup that’s going on in her company. That was worth sitting through the soap opera-like mush that makes up most of the story. Also, the kissing scenes in this series are God awful. I didn’t know if one of the characters fell asleep and the other was trying to gnaw off their lips or what. It was pretty horrific stuff.

Hold The Dream is a moving on of sorts with Emma Harte training up her children and grandchildren to handle her company, seeing as she knows she doesn’t have much time left. Enter Paula Amory, Emma’s Grand Daughter (who has switched from being played by Miranda Richardson of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire fame to Jenny Seagrove, yes, the actress that played the young Emma Hart in the previous film), who has been given control of the Harte Stores faction of Emma’s empire. From the start, with the corny Kenny G horned theme (no Kenny G did not really perform on the films soundtrack) to the shoulder pad clad woman’s business suits, it’s all pretty tacky. The story basically shows how Paula is the spitting image of her fiery hearted Grandmother who overcame diversity and never gave up. It also shows how Paula is making all the same mistakes and gambles as her Grandmother to “Hold The Dream” despite dissension from her extended family who want control of the power themselves.

This one had me pretty confused. The family is so intertwined with offspring from the Fairley family to the O’Neill Family to even relationship intertwining between Harte’s own offspring. This was about as Harlequin as you can get with characters changing lovers like you or I change socks, heavy handed dramatic tackiness that had me shaking my head, and a story that proved to be a bit tired most of the time.

Finally the series finale ends with To Be The Best. Paula is once again replaced by another actress, this time Lindsay Wagner, who pretty much has no part in this film that merit’s a return from Paula. The whole film hinges of the performance of Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs era) who is the head of security for Harte’s Stores and who is on the case trying to uncover how three armed assailants entered one of the Harte stores, killed one woman and injured another, and stole a bag full of money. His investigation leads to something far larger, though how he came about uncovering it I can’t tell you. This installment of the series wants to be part action/adventure story with some passion and betrayal. It had potential but all together ended up being just another clichéd and tacky film that provided, possibly, an end to the forward spiral of the series story quality. Maybe it’s just the age of the series but I found it to be a bit repulsive at best with only that first film being anywhere near good.

Bonus features include Interview with A Woman Of Substance producer and star Diane Baker and with Author Barbra Taylor Bradford, also a Bradford biography and booklist. The interview with Bradford on the final film was actually pretty good. After watching it I had high hopes for To Be The Best. Lots of information about the location of the film shoot and a pretty interesting story about how Anthony Hopkins came to be cast in the film. Well worth having a look at if you must won this trilogy.
 

AJ Garcia
Review by AJ Garcia
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