R.D. Blackmore's epic novel "Lorna Doone" is a tale of romance, treachery, and revenge amongst other things. Checking in at a page count that averages around 650-700 depending on the edition you pick up, one would expect a proper adaptation might be better served by a multi-part miniseries. Well, in 1990 director Andrew Grieve assembled a duo of still young actors by the names of Sean Bean and Clive Owen to play the villainous Carver Doone and soft-spoken, assumed to be dead John Ridd respectively. You might be thinking, an epic period tale with two considerably talented English actors, how could you go wrong? Well, for starters Grieve throws all caution to the wind and shoves the epic tale into a snug 85-minute runtime. Add in a healthy dose of not much happening over the course of those 85-minutes and a shockingly dull lead performance from Owen and you have a recipe for a bad pun, as this version of "Lorna Doone" arrives not quite Well Doone.
The most shocking aspect of this adaptation is it manages to take a rich source material and draw vague plot points, sprinkling three to four storylines over the course of the first third of the feature. We get our back-story of a somewhat younger looking Carver murdering Ridd's father while the child sized Ridd runs for his life. Fast-forward 12-years later and we get Clive Owen playing what appears to be a man in his early 20s and not convincingly. Owen's portrayal of Ridd is flat and uninspired with Owen exhibiting not an ounce of his trademark confidence of charisma, save for a throwaway smug sneer at his own grave. Owen has a terrible habit throughout the film of channeling what could only be described as a level of vacant shock viewers often-associate Nicolas Cage or Mark Wahlberg of pulling off. While no one character is particularly well-written, Owen has the benefit of having the most to work with and here he merely stumbles from scene to scene.
Thrown into the mix is a cousin, Tom Faggus (I pity any school teacher who thinks of ever handling this story in-class) a supposed deserter and outlaw. Ridd is torn between family and government, who offer to solve Ridd's other problem, the Doone clan who not only were responsible for killing his father but also hold one of their own, the titular Lorna (Polly Walker in a serviceable performance), the love of Ridd's life. Never mind that the two apparently fall in love within minutes of meeting each other. The remainder of the film teases various resolutions to these story developments and there's a healthy dose of mild action, tepid romance, and Sean Bean going over-the-top, winding up as the film's only saving grace.
Carver Doone is one-step away from being the period drama version of Snidely Whiplash, wholly out of place in the very dull affair that this film is, but Bean is a sight to behold. If he's not causing mayhem on the countryside, he's punching Ridd in the gut as two goons hold him at bay, threatening Lorna, or firing his blunderbuss into a crowd of Ridd's supporters, he's most assuredly yelling and making generic threats with the type of dedication you've come to expect from Sean Bean. I find it interesting that as bad as "Lorna Doone" is, Bean's talent still shines through and it wasn't long after this that he got his breakout role as Sharpe in the titular series. Owen on the other hand shows nothing to distinguish him from the countless one-and-done television actors and his nearly decade long quest to finally become a star isn't shocking.
At the end of the day, "Lorna Doone" isn't horrible in any specific category, save for sound design, which is incredibly low-budget and mishandled to the point you can hear the echo of the Foley studio in certain scenes. It's by no means as solid an adaptation of the much lengthier 2000 adaptation, but with what it sets up, it ties things up reasonably well. A few minor plot threads feel like they are swept under the rug and the final conclusion well actually get you on the edge of your seat. My biggest issue with "Lorna Doone" is that because it's so dry and mediocre, I fear some viewers will unfairly associate the problems with the source material, especially with two well-respected actors headlining the thing. As always, they shouldn't and like with any adaptation take it for what it is, a merely "eh" movie.
The 1.33:1 original aspect ratio transfer looks a lot older than 20 years, featuring a lightly faded color palette, a healthy dose of digital noise and very mild detail. This is likely a transfer from tape and nothing about the transfer helps the pedestrian cinematography one iota. Serviceable at best.
The English Dolby Digital stereo audio track is not in any better shape. The most noticeable defect is the occasional echo (a result of poor Foley work in some sections, but no obvious excuse in others), effects are quite muffled compared to dialogue and the score that is so forgettable it often fades into the background mid-scene. There's no distortion, thankfully, but the soundscape is firmly front loaded, with no range whatsoever. English subtitles for the hearing impaired are included.
A text-based biography of source material author R.D. Blackmore is included as well as filmographies for principal players.
"Lorna Doone" is watchable from start to finish, but also uninspired from start to finish. As a proper adaptation of the source material it's laughable, but taken as it's own period drama, it's still a few notches amongst lesser dreck. The A/V quality of this 20-year old production is a far cry from expected standards, so I can only marginally recommend a rental to genre fans or those wanting to see Sean Bean ham it up. For hardcore Clive Owen fans, stay away, you don't want this sad point in his career sullying your view of the man. Rent It.