Dir: Stefan Schwartz. Ire-UK. 2001. 96mins.
Based on an amusing plot premise - "the 18th century's answer to Dateline" - The Abduction Club avoids the music-vid gimmickry of previous attempts to bring the costume romp to the youth market such as Jake Scott's Plunkett And Macleane. The gentle tone of this romantic comedy makes it unlikely that it will cut much ice with that audience, despite an overwhelmingly young male cast. However, it could still steal a few ducats from the date-night crowd in quest of alternatives to the summer heavyweights when it opens in the UK in mid-July. A modest purse should also await in foreign and ancillary markets.
The story, which claims to draw on real events, is set in Co Waterford in the south of Ireland in 1780. There, the younger sons of wealthy families have no inheritance rights and, in shades of Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, must resort to desperate measures to secure a wife, preferably both rich and beautiful. This involves joining a long-established network of "abduction clubs": groups of roving Lotharios, who storm society parties to kidnap heiresses for one of their members. The lucky man is allowed a single night to woo and win his prize, away from the influence of her family. If she resists, she's returned home, naturally with her virtue intact.
It's the turn of Byrne (Daniel Lapaine), an arrogant charmer, to find a mate and his eye falls on Catharine Kennedy (Alice Evans), the elder daughter of a local landowner. Meanwhile, Byrne's laddish best friend Strang (Matthew Rhys) finds himself falling for Catharine's feisty younger sister (Sophia Myles), although she is being aggressively wooed by a wealthy suitor (Liam Cunningham).
Despite its superficial differences from Stefan Schwartz's last film, the 1997 contemporary comedy Shooting Fish, this also celebrates a group of anarchic youngsters operating on the margins of the law. The assumption is that many of the girls were happy to escape the wrinkly husbands lined up for them by their parents - and that there was something rather sexy in being whisked away on a horse by a handsome young blood. Some female audience members may raise an eyebrow at this idea, but The Abduction Club doesn't take itself at all seriously. It also skates over the political overtones of Edward Woodward's villainous British government representative, the Attorney General, and the Redcoat army of occupation.
The course of true love is a mite predictable, down to the heroes' obligatory hair's breadth escape from the gallows. Still, Evans and Myles acquit themselves convincingly as the spirited sisters - both highly sceptical of the silver-tongued fortune hunters - and there's a nice chemistry between the central quartet. Liam Cunningham adds interesting shadings to his character, a self-made-man returning from the colonies.
In some ways the film's evident budgetary constraints work in its favour, allowing a no-frills approach unburdened by period clutter, while the lovely Irish landscapes, shading from late summer into autumn, provide an inexpensive visual asset. The local flavour is reduced by the absence of strong accents (the cast includes Australian, Welsh and English members), although this might also be an advantage in some English-language territories.
Prod co: Pathe
UK dist: Pathe
Int'l sales: Pathe
Exec prods: Francois Ivernel, Cameron McCracken
Prods: Neil Peplow, Yves Marmion, Richard Holmes, David Collins
Scr: Bill Britten, Richard Crawford
Cinematography: Howard Atherton
Prod des: Sarah Greenwood
Ed: Pamela Power
Music: Shaun Davey
Main cast: Daniel Lapaine, Matthew Rhys, Sophia Myles, Alice Evans, Liam Cunningham, Edward Woodward