Welcome back to the Catherine Cookson Experience! This week we get to Tilly Trotter, in which the lead actress can actually act, the lead actor can actually act, and they have chemistry, which automatically makes this better than most Cooksons. Unfortunately, the entire first half is “Some guy assaults Tilly,” which is tedious and gets to the point where it seems more absurd than anything. We’ll get there.
Tilly’s just thrilled about it.
Heroine: Tilly Trotter
Siblings that require looking-after: None, but she keeps inheriting families full of people who want to marry her.
Illegitimate (Self or sibling): Nope!
Asshole Father?: Nope, just the village rapist.
Romantic interest(s): Farmer Simon, Lord Mark. She gets about 800 other proposals from interested parties, though.
Bairnsketballs: Not one! Can you believe it?!
Assaults: Oh lord, the first HOUR is just nothing but poorly-planned assault attempts.
“I’ve told you before, if it’s down to you and the pig, I’ll take the pig!”
So, up there is our heroine Tilly, smacking down the man we might as well just call Wil E. Rapist. She doesn’t want to marry him. What we need to know is this: Tilly is poor as a church mouse, but she’s so beautiful and charming that every man she meets wants to marry her, and probably the women, and maybe some of the trees. Tilly’s a popular lady.
But Tilly doesn’t want anyone else, because her heart belongs to Simon the farmer.
You know he’s not a viable romantic lead because he’s already engaged. Also, because he has a face like a potato.
Wil E. Rapist is pretty pissed that Tilly is turning him down, so he and his friends get together and devise a series of plans designed to catch Tilly so he can rape her and then force her to marry him because she’ll be sullied. It’s to this episode’s benefit that we already know Tilly has too much pluck to marry someone for that reason, and it’s pretty clear from moment one that this guy will never succeed, which is good, because it takes the really squicky subject matter from totally disgusting to hilariously over-the-top.
Rape Plan #1: Wait for Tilly to walk home alone alongside the woods and drop a fishing net on her from a nearby copse of trees!
This one backfires because Farmer Simon (whose wedding she was walking home from) gets the tipoff from Rapist’s brother and comes to her aid. She’s also rescued by Lord Mark and the lady he’s cheating on his wife with!
(By the end of this series, everyone in this photo will have proposed to Tilly Trotter.)
After this first attempt, Rapist’s younger brother actually does propose to Tilly in an attempt to keep her safe. She declines, no doubt pacing herself for the long string of proposals ahead.
Rape Plan #2: Wait for Tilly to walk home alone through a field, throw a burlap sack over her head, haul her a mile to a barn, put her in the stocks, and throw fruit at her, and then rape her. (I…don’t know what to tell you.)
This one backfires because a lot of the neighboring miners and the parson’s wife all show up and kick some rapist ass. The parson’s wife kills a dude! (Then she proposes to Tilly.)
So, it’s back to the drawing board for Rapist!
Rape Plan #4: Burn down her house, kill her gran, and call her a witch, and then she’ll HAVE to marry you.
Shockingly, that one doesn’t work, either. In fact, it gets Wil E. Rapist arrested and shipped off to the West Indies so that we can get on with the plot already.
Homeless and alone, Tilly lands a job at Lord Mark’s house looking after his beastly bairns. Because she’s so plucky, she tames them and becomes a beloved member of the house!
Really, really beloved.
(Fun fact: usually these movies are so bad that you don’t know where things are going because it seems like even the actors don’t. However, in this one, Lord Mark of Cheatsbottom manages to be sympathetic, and he and Tilly have quite a bit of chemistry considering the material. What I’m saying here is: see you, Farmer Simon.)
However, Lady Mark finds out he’s Lord Mark of Cheatsbottom and marches out with the kids. I totally approve of this, even though it puts Tilly out of a job.
Tilly recovers, though; she has some friends in the village who are happy to have her stay with them!
(By the end of the movie, everyone at this table will have proposed to Tilly.)
Her time with the Drews is like that idyllic period in every Dickens novel: everyone’s cheerful, she works happily in a coal mine, Farmer Simon comes by to be jealous and belittling and Tilly’s like, “Say hi to your WIFE, dickweed!” and Sam the oldest son proposes to Tilly (they propose in birth order, I guess, and he’s up first). No dice, though.
Things change, however, when Lord Mark comes to inspect the mine. There’s a collapse! When the dust clears, Tilly and Lord Mark are trapped inside! He’s like, “Hey, you looked after my kids and were hot that one time! This is the best cave-in ever! Also, I can’t feel my legs.”
Tilly can be sickeningly cheerful. Luckily he’s got oxygen deprivation, so he just rolls with it.
Once they get hauled out of the mine and taken to hospital, Mark is like, “Oh shit, half my left leg is gone!” The doctor’s like, “Yeah, the right one’s a goner, too.”
The only cure for the mine-trap blues? Tilly Trotter.
She comes to stay as his fellow invalid, then as his housekeeper, though pretty soon he’s making moon eyes at her, and she’s thinking about how she’ll have to throw his engagement ring on top of the huge pile out back.
In the meantime, the first time she walks anywhere alone (unsafest county EVER), Wil E. Rapist shows up! He’s on shore leave, and figured he might as well stalk her for old time’s sake.
This is her shoving him off the cliff, conveniently located mere steps from Rapist Alley. Of course, in true Cookson style, he does not die by Tilly’s hand. He breaks his back in the fall, then his brother comes along and stabs him, then vultures peck his eyes out, and THEN he dies.
Everyone finds out about it. Nobody even cares. Thanks for that subplot, Cookson! It was a winner.
The real news is that Simon’s wife dies? Or she moves to Guam or something? I forget, and since wives in Catherine Cookson movies tend to disappear at an alarming rate, it’s hard to keep track of what happens to each one.
Tilly runs for the village like, “My love! I heard your wife mysteriously vanished! At last we can be togeth -“
” – DUDE, WHAT IS YOUR DEAL?”
(PS, That’s Lady McAdulterer who used to sleep with Lord Mark. Get it, girl.)
Tilly comes back to Lord Mark, who’s like, “Oh, you don’t want him any more because he’s a big philandering creep? That’s such a shame. And us here on the dark road with my car fresh out of gas! We’d better huddle together for warmth.”
Actually, he’s a sweetheart and plays piano all night, making the servants wait on him until they’re exhausted, so that no one will hear Tilly crying. It’s…a very complicated plan for not a lot of effort, let’s be real.
However, it sure works on Tilly, who spends two seconds looking in the mirror and then runs downstairs to assure Mark that even though she’s loved Farmer Simon her entire life, she’s totally changed her mind now and loves him instead. (And the Decent Guy Cookson ending gets another check mark!)
GET IT, GIRL.