The Abduction Club

on August 01, 2008 by Wade Major
   To say "they don't make 'em like this anymore" is an understatement when talking about "The Abduction Club." One of the most charming and original romantic comedies to emerge in decades, this rollicking, frolicking Irish period swashbuckler pushes all the right buttons to generate both commercial appeal and critical acclaim. It's precisely the kind of picture that many had thought to be as extinct as the spirited "Golden Age" actors capable of pulling it off.

   Set in 1780, "The Abduction Club" is loosely based on factual incidents related to Irish law of the period, which mandated that only the eldest son of any family could inherit the father's estate. This left younger sons the unenviable choice of becoming priests or marrying an heiress, the latter really no option at all since most such heiresses were already actively courted by aristocrats with their own handsome bank accounts. To members of Abduction Club, however, the choice was clear. A naughty alliance of disenfranchised younger sons skilled in the fine art of bypassing courtship through kidnapping, the Abduction Club admittedly operates "on the knife edge of the law," yet survives because its intentions are honorable and its members defiantly chivalrous.

   Lots are drawn to determine which of the members will next get to attempt wooing a bride, after which the members don masks and abduct the would-be bride (usually from a dinner party), carrying her off to a safe house where the young man is allowed just one night to woo his intended, armed with nothing more than sincerity, charm and the wealth of preparative research the club has already fed him.

   For decades, the Abduction Club has functioned thusly, succeeding often enough to have earned the scorn of the aristocracy. No reason to believe, then, that things won't go as planned for young Byrne (Daniel Lapaine) when he sets out with comrade-in-arms Strang (Matthew Rhys) and the rest of the boys to nab the fetching Catherine Kennedy (Alice Evans), whose young sister Anne (Sophia Myles), as it happens, has already captured the attention and heart of Strang. As always seems to be the case with Byrne and Strang, however, things don't go smoothly at all. Opposition to the usually smooth abduction operation is orchestrated by the aptly named Mr. Power (Liam Cunningham), the scheming, cold-hearted landowner already intent on marrying Catherine, resulting in the wounding of a British soldier before Byrne and Strang are finally able to make off with not only Catherine but Anne as well.

   Suddenly wanted by the law, Byrne and Strang now face the added challenge of having to try and win the hearts of two ferociously feisty women not merely to secure their financial futures, but to also save themselves from the gallows. With twists and turns that are often exhilaratingly unexpected, "The Abduction Club" is no less than a sheer delight--that rarest of crowd-pleasers that never condescends to the lowest common denominator.

   To simply praise "The Abduction Club" for being charming, romantic, witty, exciting and an all-around spectacular blast of fun is to overlook the fact that not one of the principle collaborators has any kind of notable American credentials. Director Stefan Schwartz, writers Bill Britten and Richard Crawford and the four intoxicatingly adorable lead actors are all relative, if not complete unknowns to Hollywood. Yet the film itself so far outpaces any comparable American effort, that one cannot help but see them all soaring to the ranks of the A-list purely on the strength of this one sensational picture. Other contributions of note include Howard Atherton's rich, ebullient photography and Shaun Davey's soaring, swooning orchestral score.    Starring Daniel Lapaine, Alice Evans, Matthew Rhys, Sophia Myles and Liam Cunningham. Directed by Stefan Schwartz. Written by Bill Britten and Richard Crawford. Produced by Neil Peplow, Yves Marmion, Richard Holmes and David Collins. A Gruber/UGC YM/Samson production. No distributor set. Period romantic comedy. Running time: 96 min.

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