Disclaimers at the beginning and end of “Passion & Prejudice” remind viewers that while it’s based on real events, this original movie from USA Networks is purely fictional.
Indeed. From the opening montages of waves crashing against the rocks to its teary and melodramatic end, “Passion and Prejudice” is a confounding blend of soap opera that begins as a lusty version of “Pygmalion” and degenerates into a poor man’s “Fatal Attraction.”
Lonely, uptight, virginal professor Dr. Gwen Barry (Francis Fisher) seeks cheap labor through the prison system and finds hunky Dalton Roy (Derwin Jordan) to work on her fabulous cliffside home. Roy is a serious young man, incarcerated for aggravated assault, who’s soon to be released for good behavior. It’s not long before their business partnership through the work-release program turns into the sexual tension release program.
As Dalton labors shirtless in the yard, Gwen leers at him through the window as she sips tea. She draws him baths, offers to rub his sore muscles. She pours wine and lights fires. She even sniffs his clothes.
But it’s not purely passion Gwen’s after. She’s interested in Dalton’s mind as well. The condescending Gwen teaches Dalton to read and introduces him to books and art as well as her long sequestered passions.
Finally released from prison, Dalton is anxious to start a new life, but quickly learns Gwen is unwilling to alter their benefactor/stud relationship. When Dalton spurns Gwen for a student at the local junior college, the sex-obsessed professor sets out to destroy “Dal’s” newly earned reputation. Gwen is fully aware that when tested, the word of a black ex-con won’t stand a chance against that of a distinguished white professor, even if she has taken to wearing black leather stiletto boots.
Director Karen Arthur appears to indulge in Kathleen Orillion’s melodramatic script, playing up laughable sexual innuendoes such as, “I have an extensive library waiting for you to peruse at any time.”
The film is an inexplicable choice for Fisher, but the actress sinks to the occasion with raving antics and embarrassing temptress scenes.
Her transformation from the bookish prof to the spurned sex kitten is physically ghoulish. Jordan is equally unimpressive as Dalton, forced to perform similarly humiliating scenes. A small measure of believability comes far too late from Kandyse McClure as Tamara, the young college student who falls for Dalton.
Lensing by Tom Neuwirth elegantly captures the scenic Nova Scotia coastline, but heavy handed editing and music makes for blatant commercial fadeouts. Otherwise, tech credits are standard.