England in the Movies

From Victoria…

In writing about the recent films The Young Victoria (see blogpost of April 28) and Bright Star (blog post of March 27), I thought about all the excellent older films about English history and literature I remember from years past.


Two of my favorites were just a couple of years ago.

The Duchess (2008) was based on Amanda Foreman’s biography of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, (1756-1806) starring Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes and many other outstanding actors. See a trailer here.

In my opinion, it was a well-done film, basically accurate, though the events of the screenplay seemed to condense the period of time covered. Ms. Foreman is on record as approving of the film.

Amazing Grace (2007) stars Ioan Gruffudd as William Wilberforce, MP, campaigning for the end of the international slave trade in the early 19th century. Also starring Romola Garai, Albert Finney, Michael Gambon, Rufus Sewell, Ciaran Hinds, Sylvestra Le Touzel and many other outstanding British actors. Most observers agreed it was an accurate portrayal of the period, the controversy and Wilberforce’s triumph.  See more information and a trailer here.

Who can resist the battles of Henry II and his Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, in The Lion in Winter (1968) starring Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn. The screenplay was adapted from his stageplay (1966) by James Goldman. Set in AD 1183, the story gives the stars some outstanding opportunities to spar with one another over the succession after Henry’s death. Here is a trailer

Henry II was played by Peter O’Toole a little earlier in the 1964 film Becket. Based on a play by Jean Anouih, the story of Becket’s martyrdom is brilliantly done. Richard Burton stars as Thomas Becket, one of his finer performances in a career that often served from the heights to the depths and back again. Becket garnered a raft of awards and nominations.


A Man for All Seasons came out 1966 starring Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More.  It originated with the play by Robert Bolt about the controversy over ending Henry VIII’s first marriage.  Orson Welles appear as Cardinal Wolsey and Leo McKern as Thomas Cromwell as they all argue over Henry’s determination to marry Anne Boleyn in the 16th century.

Both of the following links to trailers may require you to watch an ad before the REAL trailer. Here I  and/or here II.  I despise the ads on these trailers — and come to think of it, on some DVDs where you can’t duck them by any means.  Grrrrrrr.  So much for my ranting.

For my money, Robert Shaw plays a great Henry VIII, far better than Jonathan Rhys-Meyers in the currently running The Tudors on Showtime — who is pretty good, just not up to Shaw. Paul Scofield won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Sir Thomas;  Wendy Hiller portrayed his long-suffering wife.

And now for something entirely different…
Many of us have a long-lasting fascination with the members of the Bloomsbury Group — their Bohemian lifestyles, their experimentation in the arts and in their personal lives and sexual preferences. The story of Dora Carrington, rather a peripheral member of the group, is told in Carrington (1995). The film stars Emma Thompson as Dora Carrington, Jonathan Pryce as Lytton Strachey, part of the Bloomsbury group in the time of WWI. Many more favorites appear and I believe the film was shot at some of the Bloomsbury Group’s favorite haunts. A recent review includes link to the trailer.

I’ll stop for now, but whenever I make a list of favorite films, more come to mind — for another day. Please let us know what your favorite British films are, meaning those about Britain, not necessarily always made in Britain.

The Anniversary of a Short Marriage

On 2 May, 1816, Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld in Carlton House, the home of her father, the Prince Regent.

The occasion was full of joy for the British public for the masses loved the Princess and they knew her life had not been easy.
The only legitimate grandchild of George III, Princess Charlotte was second in line to become the monarch of Great Britain. Her mother and father separated shortly after their marriage and never lived together. The Prince Regent was envious of the public interest in Charlotte and he restricted her movements and even her contact with her mother, Caroline, Princess of Wales.
Her wedding dress can be seen in the Royal Collection in various exhibitions. Here is the description of the gown from a regency era periodical, La Belle Assemblee, Vol. 12, no. 84 (May 1816), “Her dress was silver lama on net, over a silver tissue slip, embroidered at the bottom with silver lama in shells and flowers. Body and sleeves to correspond, elegantly trimmed with point Brussels lace. The manteau was of silver tissue lined with white satin, with a border of embroidery to answer that on the dress, and fastened in front with a splendid diamond ornament.”

Prince Leopold and Princess Charlotte lived at Claremont, an estate in Surrey. There, just over a year after the wedding, Charlotte died after giving birth to a stillborn son. The people mourned their Princess on an unprecedented level.

Many kinds of memorials were sold throughout the country:


Charlotte was buried in the Royal Chapel at Windsor. A large memorial to her shows her descending into heaven, her infant son held by an angel.
Prince Leopold remained involved in the British Royal Family. He helped the Duke of Kent marry his sister, Victoire, who eventually became the parents of Princess Victoria. He advised his niece before and after her accession to the throne.
And he also facilitated the marriage of his nephew Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg- Gotha to Queen Victoria. In 1831, Leopold became King of the Belgians. He married again and had three children. His daughter was named Charlotte after his first wife.

Right, Princess Charlotte of Wales 1796-1817.                             

Happy Birthday to Our Queen

Happy Birthday, Queen Elizabeth II,
age 84 today.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Victoria here. As long as I can remember, I’ve looked at pictures of the Queen and her sister Princess Margaret, probably in Life magazines. I was convinced that they were my cousins, though they were much better dressed than the cousins I played with in Illinois and Wisconsin. Funny how I must have been spirited away from my REAL family in the Palace and dropped into the American Midwest.

Well, a writer needs a vivid imagination and I certainly have one! Nevertheless, this perceived connection between Elizabeth R and me has never been driven out of my system. I am sure we are related somehow.
 

The only time I saw the Queen up close and in person was in Toronto in 2002 while she was on her Golden Jubilee tour. There was a small crowd around her hotel when she came out to begin her royal duties for the day. She was wearing a lovely purple (aubergine!) suit with matching hat and shoes. She is TINY.
 
 


The Queen has ruled since 1952, so for most of us, her reign covers our entire lives or darn close to it. She has had more than her share of family problems, hasn’t she? Every time I go to London, I find she has many reasonable excuses for not having her cousins over to tea.

I was almost afraid to see the film The Queen with Helen Mirren a couple of years ago. Luckily. I enjoyed it, because I thought it treated my royal pseudo-relative with dignity and sympathy. In our family, we are not afraid to re-evaluate and change our minds when the situation requires. Or perhaps is it just that I also might be related to Oscar-award winner Helen Mirren?

The official British celebration of the Queen’s birthday will be on Saturday, June 12, 2010, at Trooping the Colour, a traditional pageant at Horse Guards.

Above photos from 2009 Trooping the Colour
The Queen used to review the troops on horseback. Below, a view of her as Princess at Trooping the Colour, an old postcard
         So many happy returns of the day, dear lady. God save the Queen.
The official site of the British Monarchy here.

Serendipity, Horace Walpole, and Me

By Victoria Hinshaw

I love the word – and the concept of – Serendipity. The word was invented by one of the 18th century’s most interesting characters, Horace Walpole (1717-97), whose life neatly spanned the century and, to my mind, rather defined the times.

Serendipity means discovering connections between thoughts or objects by happy accident. I first learned the word when I had a most pleasant meal on E. 60th Street in New York City at a charming restaurant named Serendipity. It was a serendipitous event! The discovery of a new concept while in the act of enjoying a new place (this was a very long time ago).

Recently, while working on a piece for this blog (see posts of March 29 and 31) on William Petty-FitzMaurice, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne (1737 – 1805), who was The Earl of Shelburne and Prime Minister 1782-1783, I learned that Walpole, himself an opinionated and eccentric character, did not like Shelburne, also famously opinionated and eccentric. How serendipitous, I thought, for I was also planning to do a piece on Walpole and the upcoming exhibitions of his treasures at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Which reminded me of the restaurant in New York; when I Googled it, I happily found it still prospering. Then I read that Walpole had coined the word Serendipity.

Amazing.

All of which is a long and involved introduction to my little essay on Horace Walpole, architect, author, collector, raconteur, bon vivant, and writer of 48 printed volumes of correspondence.

Horace was a younger son of Sir Robert Walpole, first Earl of Orford, and England’s first Prime Minister during the reign of the first two Georges. Horace received an ideal gentleman’s education at Eton and Cambridge followed by a Grand Tour. He had wide ranging interests and made many friends, devoting himself to arts and culture. Though he served as a member of the House of Commons, he had an independent income which enabled him to pursue his eclectic interests by collecting and carefully developing his tastes. Widely considered a superb connoisseur, he and his friends spent years converting his villa in Twickenham into a neo-Gothic structure.

Strawberry Hill
 
My immediate interest is in the exhibition which, according to reports, recreates the ambience of the actual house: Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill. Kristine has already seen the entire show when it was at the Yale Center for British Art, in New Haven, Connecticut. Her report: “I loved it. Many dark gothic-looking pieces he’d collected.” I can’t wait to see it in June in London.
In her review of the V and A Exhibition, Amanda Vickery quotes Michael Snodin, curator of the exhibition. He writes: Walpole “as a lively and incisive commentator shaped the way we see 18th-century politics and society. As the most important collector of his time he created a form of thematised historical display which prefigured modern museums. And Strawberry Hill was the most influential building of the early Gothic revival.” Her full review here.
The house itself, along with its collections, was developed over a period of years, adding or redoing a room from time to time, between 1747 and 1790. Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill is published by Yale University Press in association with the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University; the Yale Center for British Art; and the V and A. The catalogue is edited by the exhibition curators, Michael Snodin of the V and A and Cynthia Roman of the Lewis Walpole Library.
It was at Strawberry Hill that Horace Walpole wrote The Castle of Otranto, published in 1764, the prototype for the Gothick novel boom that consumed popular literature for several succeeding decades.

Here is another aside: Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is a parody of Gothick novels that always featured an innocent young lady at peril in an old castle or ruined religious structure, fearing at every moment the mysterious rattle of chains, the gloomy wailing of the winds and the sinister dark males that threaten A Fate Worse Than Death. Rather reminds me of the current crazes for vampires, werewolves and zombies.

Walpole, or his housekeeper for the less exalted tourists, often gave tours to visitors. He created and printed a guidebook to the house and its collections. After he died in 1797, the house was left to his friend and relative Lady Anne Seymour Damer, a renowned scupltor in her own right. She died without issue and their mutual relatives, the Waldegraves, took over. In 1842, the contents of the house were auctioned. The exhibition brings together for the first time since then almost 300 items from Walpole’s collections and furnishings. The Strawberry Hill house is being renovated and will reopen soon.
One of the highlights is a suit of gilded parade armour. Walpole
believed it belonged to King Francis I of France but the V and A curators date it about 1600.
Horace Walpole’s intimate personal life has fascinated fellow dilettantes as well as scholars and literary analysts. He never married and was known for effeminate behavior. He numbered many man and also many women among his closest and most intimate friends. But no one has proven anything; perhaps the best answer is that he was asexual, turning his energies to his collections and other artistic interests. 
Among Horace Walpole’s greatest achievements are the many insights his letters and other writings give into the society politics and culture of 18th Century Britain.
He was witty, erudite and voluble. Just reading a few letters makes one long for just an hour of his time to enjoy the conversation in person rather than on the page. Some have called him pretentious, effete, arrogant and peculiar. Perhaps those qualities only added to his charm.
Right,  Strawberry Hill interior
To conclude, where did Horace Walpole come up with that word SERENDIPITY? He found it in a Persian story, once the name for Sri Lanka. Here is a quotation from a letter he wrote in 1754 to Horace Mann, an English friend who lived in Florence:
“It was once when I read a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a camel blind of the right eye had traveled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right—now do you understand serendipity? One of the most remarkable instances of this accidental sagacity (for you must observe that no discovery of a thing you are looking for, comes under this description) was of my Lord Shaftsbury, who happening to dine at Lord Chancellor Clarendon’s, found out the marriage of the Duke of York and Mrs. Hyde, by the respect with which her mother treated her at table.”
If you are fortunate enough to be in London in the next few months (6 March-4 July, 2010), I hope you will join the V and A and me in celebrating the fascinating, serendipitous Horace Walpole.

Beautiful Belvoir, Home of the Dukes of Rutland

by Victoria Hinshaw

His Grace the 11th Duke of Rutland and his lovely Duchess have celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Manners family at Belvoir Castle (pronounced Bee-ver). In 1509, Sir Robert Manners married Eleanor de Ros, heiress of the property, and from that time forward, it has been passed down through the Manners family. Another heiress, Dorothy Vernon, also married into the Manners family and brought her inheritance of Haddon Hall along with her. See my previous post on Haddon Hall on this blog April 8, 2010.

The property was already ancient when the Manners arrived. The first castle, almost a thousand years ago, was built overlooking the Vale of Belvoir after the Norman Conquest by Robert de Todeni, standard bearer for William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The present castle, remodeled and rebuilt beginning in 1799, is the fourth to stand here. Designed in the popular Regency-era style of Gothick Revival, Belvoir has turrets, towers and battlements that serve no purpose beyond decoration.

I visited a few years ago with Kristine Hughes, and several good friends who love the Regency era. Upon our approach, we were accosted by a pair of highwaymen who abducted Kristine’s daughter, Brooke, and writer Diane Gaston, captured in the pictures.

Highwaymen abducting Brooke Hughes at Belvoir Castle

Ready to carry off Diane Gaston

How we pleaded and offered our treasures to the miscreants before they relented and posed for pictures with all of us. If you want to be treated to such an interlude, the castle can make the arrangements.

Upon entry, one is confronted with the gateroom, a vast collection of spears, swords, muskets, hatchets, shields, and armor. Very impressive.

Many thanks to Photographer Richard A. Higgins for permission to use his excellent picture
of the Guard Room.  See more of his work here.

In one of the hallways, there is a long row of leather buckets, for use in putting out fires. The Bucket Brigade.

The castle houses priceless collections of artwork and decorative objects. Among my favorites are the magnificent family portraits by Gainsborough, Reynolds and Lawrence.

Many of the rooms are splendid beyond belief, the very height of Regency elegance. In fact, scenes in The Young Victoria were filmed here, as a stand-in for Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle.

I suspect this still of Emily Blunt as The Young Victoria was shot at Belvoir.

Take a virtual tour of Belvoir here.

Since my words cannot adequately describe the castle, here are a few more lovely pictures for you. To me, this is eye candy indeed.

Let’s all wish the Manners family another 500 years at Belvoir Castle.