Saturday, January 8, 2011
There Will Always Be An England
Yours truly is looking forward mightily, and maybe you are too, to the premiere tomorrow night of Downton Abbey, a new series from Masterpiece Classics on PBS. Set in the post-Edwardian period of 1912-1914 in one of England's great estates, it will tell the story of the aristocratic Crawley family and the staff that serves it. Written by Julian Fellows and starring a delicious cast including Maggie Smith (above center), I'm hoping that it will be a wonderful entertainment.
I love English programs, movies and books like this that take me back to a more elegant and graceful time. For Christmas I received two English delights, the autobiography of Deborah Mitford, the Duchess of Devonshire, called Wait for Me!, and the dvd of another wonderful Masterpiece Classic series, Return to Cranford.
I am really enjoying the book. I'm reading it slowly, so it doesn't end.
Deborah Mitford, now 90, was the youngest of the famed and beautiful Mitford sisters. When the baby of the family wed Andrew Cavendish, she married into one of the richest and most influential aristocratic families in England. After Andrew's brother was killed in World War ll, he became the Duke of Devonshire, and his family moved into Chatsworth, the renowned country estate.
When Andrew, the 11th Duke, died in 2004, the title passed to Deborah's son and she moved out of Chatsworth into a vicarage nearby; since her son's wife is now the Duchess, she is presently called the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire.
All of this is to say that though her life has been very grand, her autobiography is charming and funny so that you feel like you are intimate pals. She has a good, dry sense of humor and a wonderful eye for the telling detail. Her personal stories feature many prominent figures of the twentieth century including John Kennedy, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (she didn't like the Duchess), Pamela Harriman ("fat and fast"), Aly Khan and Evelyn Waugh. My favorite story so far involves Deborah's lunch with Dame Edith Sitwell, the great English eccentric and poet. Edith Sitwell recalls that the two chief things her mother used to say were, "We must remember to order enough quails for the dance," and "If only I could get your father put into a lunatic asylum."
You may know that Deborah is the grandmother of the model Stella Tennant, pictured below left at Tom Ford's recent fashion show.
Pictured on the right at Tom Ford's show is Daphne Guinness, the great fashion icon. She is an heiress of the Irish Guinness family, and was married to Spyros Niachros, son of the Greek shipping billionaire Stavros Niachros. And Daphne is also a Mitford; her father Jonathan Byron Guinness is the son of Deborah Mitford's sister Diana. So these two gorgeous creatures are second cousins. And that's how it goes with the Mitfords.
The subject of the 2008 movie The Duchess was a previous Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Cavendish who married the 5th Duke and also lived at Chatsworth. The movie starred the beautiful Keira Knightley in the title role.
Parts of this movie were filmed on location at Chatsworth. The film portrayed the lack of rights women had at the time, and I wasn't so crazy about it. Also starring Keira Knightley, and also partly filmed at Chatsworth, was one of my very favorite English movies though, Pride & Prejudice from 2005.
Here is her character Elizabeth Bennett with her father played by Donald Sutherland in his library. I just love the style of this movie.
Pride & Prejudice was directed by Joe Wright so we went to see his next movie Atonement, also starring Keira Knightley, but I thought that story was totally depressing.
An English story that I do love is Gosford Park directed by Robert Altman. Like Downton Abbey, it features Maggie Smith (below) and was written by Julian Fellowes.
Another favorite movie is Vanity Fair from 2004, starring Reese Witherspoon (below right) in the central role as Becky Sharp. This movie was made by the Indian director Mira Nair who brought fantastic colors and style to the story.
Pictured on the left (above) is the great Eileen Atkins as the rich spinster Aunt Matilda. Eileen Atkins also stars in Cranford, the PBS series about life in an English village between 1849 and 1858. The dvd that I received for Christmas was Return to Cranford, the two-part sequel to Cranford (below).
It's a wonderful trip to a time and place far away. In these English entertainments, the language, the manners, the ways of speaking, the ways that words are put together, the round sounds of the words all conspire together with the clothes, the gardens, the settings and candlelight to portray a world more gracious and harmonious than our own. It's a pleasure to visit there. Do you have any favorite English books or movies?
Blog bonus: here is a clip about Downton Abbey: