In 2002’s “The Abduction Club“, Patrick Malahide played Sir Myles, the de facto leader of a so-called Abduction Club made up of ne’er-do-well second sons of 18th Century Irish noblemen who must either abduct and marry wealthy heiresses or otherwise go into the priesthood or the army, because their luckier elder brothers have already inherited everything. The movie is based (loosely) on true historical events that were doubtless rather grim and nasty in real life, but according to IMDB, the writers instead chose to take a lighter, more romantic tack which works very well. Malahide’s Sir Myles didn’t get a huge amount of screen time (a lot less than I would have liked – he’s so much fun) but nonetheless, he’s a very intriguing, charming, and pivotal character.
The Best Dinner Party Ever
The story begins at a dinner party for various nobles, who are all discussing estates and marriages in a rather cold-blooded, detached way while the eligible young women in attendance listen uncomfortably to their fates being discussed. Meanwhile, a mysterious gang of masked men gears up, mounts horses, and literally crashes the party; one of them smashes through a rather expensive-looking window, shoots a pistol ball into the ceiling strictly for dramatic effect (he openly admits as much), and announces that they are the Abduction Club. He says they’re all gentlemen operating under a strict code of honour though they’re forced by circumstances to marry heiresses, and just to prove he’s a gentleman, he even makes sure to pay for the window. Another of their number unmasks before his chosen lady love, says he would “feign be [her] husband”, and before any of the dinner guests can stop him, carries her out over one shoulder to be met by an approving Sir Myles: “Oh, good man, very stylish.” The lady herself is giggling and not objecting in the slightest. This pretty much sets the tone for the entire movie, and it’s not at all a bad thing.
What the Well-Dressed Abductor is Wearing Today
Sir Myles himself is looking dashing and rather stylish in a tricorn hat, gloves, Inverness coat, and (of course) his highwayman’s mask, but some of his charges have yet to learn good manners. One snitches a silver snuff box from a table on his way out (tsk tsk tsk!), while another spears a cooked fowl on his sword for a snack on the go. He even politely offers a bite to Sir Myles: “Pigeon?” (which Sir Myles exasperatedly corrects to “Quail.”) before they all mount up and depart at speed. The household mounts a hot pursuit but Sir Myles emphasizes that he doesn’t want anyone to get hurt during the chase, so two of his gang (mostly) harmlessly foil their pursuers by pulling up a drawbridge while the rest escape to a safe house.
A Club with Strict Rules
Once there, the bridegroom- to-be pleads his case to his young lady while the rest of the gang celebrate a successful operation. We discover that Sir Myles is clearly the ringleader of the entire crew, whom we suspect might be in it for thrill-seeking as much as for eligible brides. The young lady accepts the marriage proposal in record time (an hour and a half!) and Sir Myles comments that the rest of them would be “well-advised to note that it’s all in the preparation” – he’s trying hard to teach them to be as charming as he is. He also makes sure to penalize James Strang (Matthew Rhys) for the smashed window and pistol ball in the ceiling (three guineas), and the rather less-bright “Poxy” Knox (Tom Murphy) for the stolen snuff box (return of the item, an apology, and a fine of ten guineas) which the eagle-eyed Sir Myles noticed, of course. His Club has rules, and he insists that its members act as gentlemen, not thieves; they’re skirting the law as it is, and Sir Myles wants them to continue to escape the notice of the authorities by behaving as “men of honour”. They then draw lots for the next lucky gentleman, and the winner is Strang’s best friend, Garrett Byrne (Daniel Lapaine), whose elder brother is about to cut off his allowance. It no doubt helps the matrimonial hopes of Sir Myles’ gang of second sons that they’re all rather good-looking, with the exception of the unfortunate Knox, who looks more Baldrick-like (although he’s considerably more malicious than that fellow).
The Stage is Set…
The club’s next appearance is at the County Waterford races, so that Byrne can size up his quarry, Miss Catherine Kennedy (Alice Evans), who’s in line to inherit the vast and lucrative estates of Glascrossen. Sir Myles provides Byrne with some helpful dating advice: do talk to her about music (she likes “modern music, that German fellow” – by which he means Bach) but don’t talk to her about dead mothers, since her own recently passed away. He also advises that Byrne should try to ingratiate himself with Miss Kennedy’s father for best effect, and that the father is also a gambler. Curiously enough, no one at the races seems to notice that Sir Myles seems to spend a lot of time hanging around with a perpetually broke gaggle of second sons. Strang ends up acting as Byrne’s wingman, masquerading as his manservant in order to lure Catherine’s younger sister Anne (Sophia Myles) out of the way while Byrne works his charms. Both meetings result in the sort of verbal sparring that means the attraction was instant, but there has to be a lot of complicated fencing back and forth before anything gets settled. The stage is set for Catherine to be snatched by the Abduction Club.
…But Things Go Awry
Unfortunately, rather than the smoothly organized, genteel event Sir Myles was planning on, Catherine’s abduction goes rather awry. Strang once again shoots another pistol ball into the ceiling (resulting in Sir Myles being obliged to discuss payment with the lady of the house) and a messy brawl breaks out when one of Sir Myles’ gang is recognized. Anne’s much older intended suitor, John Power (Liam Cunningham), tries to conceal her and her sister from the abductors, and during the pursuit, Strang shoots out what he thinks is a locked doorknob (Sir Myles hilariously reveals it to be open, and has to pay for damages to the door, too – you can just tell he’s eyerolling in exasperation behind that mask) in the resulting chase. Finally, the laundry room is wrecked when John Power, Strang, and Byrne get into a fight over the sisters, with Sir Myles again having to negotiate more compensation. They do manage to escape with their quarry, and even though he tries deploying his dimples on the lady of the house (normally very effective, I’m sure), Sir Myles’ wallet does experience some serious damage.
An Unauthorized Abduction and Rebellion
However, upon arrival at the safe house, it’s discovered that Strang used the fracas as an unauthorized opportunity to abduct Anne as well. It’s strictly against club rules, the more so because Anne is underage at 17 (she claims to be 21, but her sister rats her out right away). Sir Myles immediately insists that Strang return Anne, but he refuses: “Your rules, Sir Myles. Not mine.” An appeal to Byrne results in a second refusal to return both girls; both Strang and Byrne are already well smitten by this point and not ready to give up. Sir Myles then declares Strang expelled from the club, and states that anyone staying at the safe house after he (Sir Myles) leaves will also be expelled – a serious threat, since it inhibits their future opportunities to marry heiresses. Strang and Byrne decide to stay and take their chances at wooing their lady loves in defiance of Sir Myles, and the club splits between Sir Myles supporters and Strang/Byrne supporters. Rebellion in the ranks does not please Sir Myles at all and he goes home to complain to his wife (an uncredited Stephanie Beacham), noting that there’s “no respect for the way things are done” anymore. The women are “supposed to be delighted” – after all, Sir Myles’ wife was delighted to be abducted by him (and who wouldn’t be!) when they were in the same situation years before – but Catherine was most emphatically not delighted to be abducted by Byrne (Sir Myles blames his lack of preparation). His whole system has been bollixed up by Strang and Byrne!
Pleading for Leniency
Much cross-country chasing ensues (the Irish scenery is quite gorgeous) as attempts are made to retrieve Catherine and Anne, and we don’t see Sir Myles again until (spoiler alert!) Strang and Byrne are apprehended after unsuccessfully attempting to leave the country with the girls. They’re charged with abduction and facing death by hanging. Despite their falling out, Sir Myles goes to plead for leniency with Lord Femoy (Edward Woodward), who will be hearing their case. Coincidentally enough, Femoy and Sir Myles have tangled before; it turns out that Femoy was the intended fiancé of Sir Myles’ wife before she was abducted by, and subsequently married to, Sir Myles (who had nothing going for him at the time but “charm”, as Lord Femoy bitterly notes – but really, we can hardly blame Sir Myles’ wife; we knew those dimples were deadly!). Oops. Could Lord Femoy possibly still be feeling resentful towards abductors in general and Sir Myles in particular? Sir Myles appeals to Femoy’s better nature (making the assumption he has one), saying that he hopes their previous history won’t colour his judgment, and Femoy appears to be magnanimous in return, reassuring Sir Myles that Strang and Byrne “will not remain long behind bars”. That sounds good… doesn’t it? It’s not like it could have a double meaning or anything… At any rate, Sir Myles is relieved, and departs Femoy’s office thinking he’s received assurance of Strang and Byrne’s freedom. Oh, Sir Myles…
The day of the trial arrives and to the surprise of no one except Sir Myles (who really ought to have known better), Lord Femoy finds Strang and Byrne guilty of abduction and sentences them to death by hanging – so he really wasn’t lying when he told Sir Myles they wouldn’t be long behind bars. Femoy favours Sir Myles with a triumphant, smug smile – and in one of the best moments of the movie, Sir Myles gives him one of the most effective Malahide Glares of Death ever. He should burst into flames from it. However, we already suspect Sir Myles isn’t planning on taking this lying down and Lord Femoy’s comeuppance is in the works.
Engineering a Daring Rescue
A crowd gathers to see the spectacle on the day of execution. Strang and Byrne are hauled up onto the gallows and actually do hang, for an agonizing minute or two – until they’re unexpectedly supported from beneath by a plank held by several of Sir Myles’ gang of ne’er-do-wells, who have infiltrated the guard party. Sir Myles himself is stationed on a nearby rooftop, firing a few distraction shots (and looking very dashing while doing so – actually, everything he does in this movie is dashing), having obviously reunited the club and engineered the whole thing. The gang manages to get Strang and Byrne free of their nooses and up onto the roof, where Sir Myles tells them to get to a waiting carriage. While watching Strang and Byrne escape across the rooftops, Sir Myles notices the thwarted and angry Lord Femoy noticing him, and tips him an insouciant little nod in return. Clearly, Femoy had no idea who he was dealing with and didn’t learn a thing from the abduction of his fiancée years earlier. I’ll leave it up to the reader to discover whether Strang and Byrne are ultimately successful with their escape and their lady loves – but c’mon, really… what would you expect? 😉
A Really Fun Movie
This was an incredibly fun movie, with a lot of light romance and humourous touches. As I said, I was really glad they decided not to adopt a more gritty and realistic approach. The paired-up romantic couples were interesting, but for me, it was entirely Patrick Malahide’s Sir Myles who stole the show. He was heroic, dashing (yes, I know I’m over-using that word, but it’s so appropriate), charming, witty, and incredibly funny – a completely appealing character. I loved his air of forbearance with his not-so-mannered charges; the bit where Strang shoots the door, only to have Sir Myles open it easily (with exasperated eyerolling) because it was never locked was just hilarious, and followed up by his running tally of costs with the lady of the house it was simply hysterical, but it was all made perfect by Malahide’s comedic timing. I also loved his chemistry with Stephanie Beacham in their all-too-brief scene together (I would’ve liked to have seen a lot more of their relationship and its history) and his interactions with Edward Woodward as Femoy. And he looked simply smashing in his 18th Century fashions, especially his highwayman’s mask! Highly recommended. 🙂
You can obtain “The Abduction Club” on DVD from Amazon.com (Region 2 import, but should be playable on multi-region or region-free players), or scroll down for a gallery.