In 1895, the cliffside mansions of Newport, Rhode Island hosted the most elite members of high society for a summer of extravagant balls and parties. This rarefied world serves as the backdrop for Hallmark’s latest period mystery, Gilded Newport Mysteries: Murder at the Breakers. Adapted from Alyssa Maxwell’s novel Murder at the Breakers, the movie draws us into the privileged inner circles of the Vanderbilt family and their wealthy contemporaries. Things are not all champagne and roses behind the scenes, however, as scandals, forbidden affairs, and murderous intrigue churn beneath the surface.
We experience this cloistered world through the eyes of Emma Vanderbilt-Cross, a fledgling reporter covering Newport society for the local paper. Despite having a toehold in this world through distant family ties, Emma remains an outsider who longs for greater independence and more substantial writing assignments. Her season reporting on parties and gowns takes an abrupt turn, however, when a guest is murdered during a lavish ball at The Breakers mansion. With her estranged half-brother accused of the crime, Emma finds herself conducting her own maverick investigation into the killing.
A Night of Glamour and Murder
When Emma scores a coveted invitation to cover Gertrude Vanderbilt’s splashy coming-out ball for the newspaper, she expects an evening of carefree mingling, dancing, and celebrity spotting. The Breakers mansion is resplendent with flowers and champagne as Newport’s elite gather to celebrate. For Emma, the assignment also offers a rare chance to connect with the esteemed side of her family tree.
The festive mood turns grim, however, when a man plummets from a balcony to his death. The victim is none other than Alvin Goddard, a ruthless business associate of Emma’s uncle, tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt II. Making matters profoundly personal for Emma, the prime suspect arrested is her estranged half-brother, Brady. Emma finds Brady dazed at the crime scene with incriminating evidence.
Refusing to believe Brady capable of such violence, Emma takes it upon herself to solve the mystery and clear his name. Aiding her crusade is Jesse Whyte, the handsome local detective who reveals forensic clues about the peculiarly vicious attack on Goddard. Emma also gets muddy in Newport’s sharks-infested social waters, probing secrets and grudges surrounding the reviled victim.
The deeper Emma digs for answers, the clearer it becomes that she’s on the right track. Brady has plainly been framed by the real killer attempting to cover their tracks. As she compiles clues and possible motives, Emma must take care not to end up the next body flung from The Breakers, especially once the murderer realizes they have a most unwelcome detective on their trail.
Winning Cast Anchors the Mystery
While the backdrop of Gilded Age luxury and the central murder mystery propel much of the intrigue, the film ultimately succeeds or fails based on the appeal of its characters. On this count, Gilded Newport Mysteries delivers a standout lead performance that brings welcome spunk and determination to the persecuted heroine role.
As aspiring journalist Emma Vanderbilt-Cross, Ali Skovbye displays sharp intelligence and endearing awkwardness navigating the social shark tank of Newport. We believe both her awed delight at the wealth surrounding her and her quiet social alienation. As Emma sheds her initial wide-eyed wonder and plunges into the murder investigation, Skovbye also reveals the grit and courage to stand up to infinitely more powerful forces.
On the law enforcement side, Danny Griffin cuts a dashing figure as Detective Jesse Whyte, lending an authoritative hand in the case. Their collaboration introduces charming romantic tension, with Jesse admiring Emma’s defiant pursuit of justice. Among the array of suspects, Cesare Scarpone leaves a devious impression as the victim, Goddard. Even in death, his presence hovers balefully over Emma’s search for the truth.
Bolstering the main stars, the film also benefits from Gillian Barber’s warm, witty presence as Emma’s nanny and confidant. Their affectionate chemistry provides a homey port from Newport’s otherwise tumultuous society. With a strong combination of up-and-comers and veterans, the cast strikes an appealing balance to engage viewers.
A Layered Period Escapade
On the surface, Gilded Newport Mysteries delivers precisely the flavors mystery buffs crave – a puzzle to solve, secrets gradually unearthed, justice ultimately served. The film checks off the requisite twists and misdirections along the way, keeping armchair detectives on their toes right up until the dramatic reveal.
Beyond the formulaic whodunit structure, however, the story explores resonant themes of female empowerment and societal constraints. Through Emma’s eyes, we experience the multiplicity of women’s roles in the 1890s – dutiful daughter, career trailblazer, society darling, independent thinker. Her ambition to conduct serious journalism rubs against expectations to merely catalog gossip and dresses.
Incorporating real-life figures like suffragist Susan B. Anthony, the film situates Emma on the leading edge of change, yearning for greater purpose and voice. The murder investigation hands her an opportunity to demonstrate her intellect and abilities beyond planning dainty luncheons. We root for Emma as she navigates mansions built by male titans of industry, inserting herself boldly into rooms where few women tread.
The film balances its commentary with a generally breezy, cozy tone. The body count stays low, the violence more suggested than graphic. Between clues, Emma enjoys charming flirtations and gown montages befitting a historical escapade. For all its high society allure, Gilded Newport Mysteries remains an accessible, playful inversion of typical power dynamics. With a plucky heroine at its center, the film reads as a parable of feminine perseverance wrapped in a velvet-gloved mystery.
Transporting Viewers Back in Time
However middling some of its mystery elements may be, Gilded Newport Mysteries thoroughly succeeds at immersing viewers within its rarified late 19th century habitats. Shooting on location at the actual Newport estates that once housed the Vanderbilts and their contemporaries, the film captures both the grandeur and intimacy of these properties.
We gape, as doubtless the original party guests did, at the marble rotundas, gilded moldings, pipe organ and priceless art collections housed in The Breakers mansion. Vast lawns and cliffside vistas surround the Italian Renaissance palace, conveying the extreme privilege in which Emma circulates. Even Emma’s more modest family home brims with ornate furnishings and floral wallpapers true to the period décor.
The camera lingers lovingly over landscape vistas of crashing ocean waves and yacht-dotted harbors. Towering mansions float like elegant wedding cakes above immaculate gardens and lawns. Beyond mere backdrops, Newport’s Golden Age aesthetics permeate the visual textures of the film.
The costume and hair design further whisk us back in time, with lavish bustled gowns and gloves for the ladies and tweed suits and bowler hats for the gentlemen. Evaluated purely on its cinematography and production design merits, Gilded Newport Mysteries offers a convincing portal to walk alongside Emma through Newport’s posh party circles of the 1890s. Whatever the film’s flaws, its rendering of the era proves largely faultless.
Room to Grow
For all its visual splendor and game cast, Gilded Newport Mysteries falls short of a complete success on several fronts. Most glaringly, the film makes little effort toward rigorous historical accuracy, with modern phrases and sensibilities awkwardly occupying the elegantly rendered setting. Beyond these periodic anachronisms, the writers seem more focused on hittings generic beats of the mystery formula than crafting characters of psychological depth or complex moral shadings.
As our investigator-heroine, Emma borders on the blandly plucky rather than flawed and nuanced. Her dashed-off romances and neatly summarized suspect interrogations feel more like plot devices than honest human connections. Similarly, the eventual unmasking of the true killer fails to surprise, despite coy misdirections. Like an elaborate but hollow façade, the film struggles to populate its gorgeous exterior with resonance and substance.
In highlighting the Vanderbilt empire during the twilight of their influence, there’s a missed opportunity to examine the family’s complex legacy. Instead they remain little more than posh scenery for Emma’s adventure. For a story set amidst cultural titans at a pivotal transitional era, the lack of thematic ambition disappoints.
Future installments would do well to better integrate the sociological insights into power and feminism within fully developed characters. Emma’s independence could be an even more cogent through-line if we knew her more profoundly. Still at this early stage, Gilded Newport Mysteries remains a visually alluring first draft awaiting deeper layers.
A Promising Beginning
Despite an only intermittently suspenseful mystery and lack of period authenticity, Gilded Newport Mysteries succeeds as a visually resplendent escape vehicle. Carried by Ali Skovbye’s spirited turn as Emma and the postcard coastal beauty of Rhode Island, the film casts an alluring spell. The finale neatly launches Emma on further sleuthing adventures, extending an invitation to spend more leisurely hours in her glamorous world.
As the opener to a prospective franchise, Gilded Newport Mysteries focuses primarily on introducing its heroine and establishing the opulent atmospherics. The film suggests ample additional mysteries to unravel in this playground of the privileged class. Future episodes would benefit from sharpening the intrigue and dramatic stakes while layering relationships.
Yet whatever its room for improvement, the film’s flaws seem unlikely to deter fans of period pieces and charmingly retro mysteries. While no stylistic triumph, Gilded Newport Mysteries supplies easy-watching, beautifully filmed comfort food for aficionados of mannered escapism. We may never feel steeped in 1895, but the golden sunsets over Newport offer pleasant scenery as Emma takes dainty steps toward independence.
Gilded Newport Mysteries: Murder at the Breakers
Despite some occasionally clunky dialogue and a less-than-shocking conclusion, Gilded Newport Mysteries succeeds as a diverting period diversion. Carried by lead Ali Skovbye’s appeal and the picture-postcard Back Bay splendor of Newport, the film casts an alluring, if superficial, spell. As the breezy kick-off to a prospective franchise, it focuses primarily on establishing atmosphere and charming characters rather than crafting an ingenious mystery. For period piece fans in search of cozy escapism, it mostly hits the spot.
- Beautiful cinematography and costume design
- Strong lead performance by Ali Skovbye
- Creates an escapist portal to the lavish Gilded Age
- Sets up an engaging heroine and franchise potential
- Mystery plot is fairly predictable
- Lacks nuance and historical accuracy
- Supporting characters could be more developed