Let England Entertain Us, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:18am

What is it about British story-telling that we so love? From high art to satinated (let’s pretend this means the patina of drawing room satins) soap operas, nothing entertains like dear old England. Especially the fancy – or posh, in the vernacular.

To fully appreciate the top floor (and perhaps the original) American literary fascination with the UK, I have enlisted the help of Professor C. This will require some preparation. At some point in the next 2 weeks I will post his piece on the 1997 film adaptation of Henry James’ “Wings Of A Dove.” So perhaps this weekend, or through the upcoming week, you might watch the movie. On Netflix streaming, or here on Amazon. For extra credit, but not required by any means, you might read the book.

A little project, to be cheered if achieved and indulged if not.

In the meantime, Jeanne of Collage of Life has this for us, in which she recommends “The Gathering Storm,” the story of Winston and Clementine Churchill. She includes her own notable photos of Churchill’s house and gardens at Chartwell. So green, and, well, British.

Finally, on the bottom landing of art’s staircase, but poised above the basement of full commercial codswallop, (what good are period dramas if one cannot appropriate the idiom?) I’ve been watching the 2002 version of “The Forsyte Saga.” Oh the plummy tones, the paneled rooms, the expressive if stiff upper lips. Worth a spate of social class cliches, and a somewhat hackneyed story, if only to enjoy Irene’s dresses in the final episodes.

Have a wonderful weekend. Astride or sidesaddle, satin or homespun, your choice. If you have figured out the spell of British period dramas, please, explicate for the benefit of us all.

Corrected: The date of the film IS 1997. Thanks.


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  • I believe it is because that was a time of correctness. Everybody knew how they were expected to behave and there was respect for everyone. People dressed, spoke and behaved in an orderly manner. Clothing and interiors are beautiful, even the working class are portrayed in clean and comfortable surroundings. Yes I appreciate that people worked very hard and that life was not a bed of roses for everyone, but family life and the hierarchy within the family and society as a whole were understood. There was pride in who they were.
    People need boundaries and we seem to have lost that in today’s world.

    11:13 am
    Cynthia said...

    Maybe — but remember, history is always written by the victors (and the literate). I bet there are a substantial number of us (especially those with the time to read and post blogs) who would tell a story of largely orderly, well-boundaried lives today, even during the so-called decay of society.

  • I think that all things British are somehow in the “collective unconscious” of a lot of Americans, as we were once part of the British Commonwealth. There is a fascination and also a distant, but distinct familiarity I believe, that is different from the same periods of French, or any other cultural history for most of us.
    We embrace in entertainment and curiosity, many of the things we fought against, including our unendingly fascination with the British Monarchy.

  • Your reference to Wings of the Dove did send me back to check if there was a more recent version released without my knowledge. I remember seeing the 1997 version during its theatrical release and was among the few that really liked it. Helena Bonham Carter was superb as was Linus Roche. I did binge on The Forsyte Saga one snowy weekend last winter and had more than a few quibbles regarding cast, character development, etc. but I often find it useful to see those things occasionally mishandled to remind one of how important and difficult it can be to get it right.
    This might be the first time in my life I’m excited about being assigned homework. I look forward to Professor C’s insights and will bring a shiny red apple for his daughter.

    10:05 am
    Lisa said...

    You were right. It was 1997. I was confused. But I love apples:).

  • Have read, have even seen, but oh how we DO love a nostalgic assignment. Netflix queued, awaiting further instructions. Please thank Papa, and rest assured we are reflecting your new profile expression right back atcha’.

  • Interesting what Kathy says above. I suspect our Canadian perspective is different, although the fascination is certainly there as well. Much as I love the Brits for entertainment, having a father who came from a working-class, council-house family in north Yorkshire, I’ve always taking the representations with a big grain of salt. . . And my French-Canadian grandmother, whose mistrust of Anglo superiority, probably contributed something to my skepticism.
    Do you remember at all The Forsythe Saga TV mini-series of the late ’60s, perhaps early 70s before it showed up in N. America? I was so mesmerized that I later bought book-of-the-month copies of the trilogy. . . still on a shelf upstairs!

  • Regrettably this is not a *new* phenomenon. The Romans borrowed from the Etruscans, Greeks, Egyptians and Carthaginians. The British borrowed from all of these as well as the French, Sub-Continental Indians and Chinese. The American culture is merely another woven tapestry.

    10:06 am
    Lisa said...

    I’m interested. Why “regrettably?”

  • Oh, good, Professor C. will be back, and now I have an excuse to watch that film again.

  • How I loved watching The Forsyte Saga back when it aired! It played into many a daydream I had as a teen of a life in which everything is effortlessly elegant.

    I have shockingly not been drawn into Downton Abbey these days despite numerous reassurances from friends that it’s exactly the sort of show I would love. I no longer like the idea of regularly following a show (it seems like too much of a commitment). Perhaps, also, I have grown out of idolizing all things English.

    But those dresses, I love.

  • Hi Lisa..many thanks for the mention, so glad the timing was right. We were thinking along the same lines. September seems to have been a month for me of ‘all things British’. I kicked it off with all the Jane Austen movies and then moved onto my favourite British classics. We lived in Surrey for several years before moving to Vietnam a year ago…It is my way of reconnecting. The Gathering Storm is well done and Chartwell is simply charming. The best part about living in England was the access to The National Trust and English Heritage properties. If you travel to England, get both Apps for your phone, they will help you identify properties close to you, no matter where you are in the UK. A wonderful surprise was always around the corner..

  • These genres of entertainment are my fascination. I love them all maybe it is some subliminal desire to have lived in another era. Another series of Downton Abbey starts here tonight. I can’t wait.

  • OK. Here is a reason I watch British drama good and bad: they are shown in the US on Sunday nights, my best TV viewing night. The weeknights have always been a bit chaotic and are so now with a high schooler still about the house. Sundays afford that rare moment of calm as she scrambles to do homework and we all look toward the coming week. At that point, I can get sucked in to almost anything…except that dreadful show Selfridge.

    10:06 am
    Lisa said...

    Ha! Love that. Convenience trumps all.

  • So pleased to hear someone enjoys our entertainment,except for a few well produced British dramas the rest is RUBBISH….that includes the soap Downton Abbey.Sorry if I have upset DA fans.

    Looking forward to the post ‘Wings of the Dove’ which I enjoyed.

  • “The Wings of a Dove” is a great novel, one of the best I’ve ever read. I rarely watch film adaptions anymore of books I’ve loved simply because they’re usually disappointing. I can’t find anything about a 2009 movie version. There was a movie that came out in 1997 with Helena Bonaham Carter as Kate Croy, which I think I’ve seen. I can’t remember a thing about it, which isn’t necessarily a negative. However, I plugged the title into IMBd and got nothing for 2009. The link to Amazon is for the 1997 film. I’m confused.

    10:06 am
    Lisa said...

    You’re right. 1997.

  • Wings of the Dove is a beautiful film, with sumptuous clothing (Charlotte Rampling’s in particular). I copyedited an edition of the book some years ago, which was a delight, and show the film regularly when we study James and Wharton–it’s a perfect example of the innocent American abroad. . .

  • Ah Autumn, the season when great TV shows come out to play. I’ve got the luxury of some Downton Abbey on catch up TV to watch.

    I also highly recommend Parade’s End (starring Benedict Cumberbatch – swoon!) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parade%27s_End_%28TV_series%29 It’s a bit grimmer and slightly deeper but otherwise in a similar vein to DA and Mr Selfridge etc.

    10:07 am
    Lisa said...

    Yes, I loved Parade’s End. And Mr. Cumberbatch is going to play Alan Turing next. Should be fascinating.

  • Catullus, busted!

  • I watched Wings of the Dove in 2001, when I thought I was dying. Probably not the best choice at the time, but now I’d like to see it again. I think one of the best British film adaptation of a classic novel is Merchant & Ivory’s A Room with a View, with Judi Dench, Helena Bonham-Carter, Julian Sands, Maggie Smith, and Daniel Day Lewis. There was a remake a few years ago, which was pointless. How could anyone top the cast of the original movie?

    10:08 am
    Lisa said...

    Well I am so glad you are better!

  • Have you ever seen Benny Hill?

    10:09 am
    Lisa said...

    Yes. And I don’t get his comedy at all. They say that comedy is the hardest cultural cross-over.

  • The few times in my life I have gotten drawn into British shows, it’s been almost entirely the accent that kept me there!

    8:59 am
    Lisa said...


  • Dear Lisa,
    After you’ve read all of the serious and semi-serious works of English literature take a vacation for a lifetime in the wonderful world of English mysteries…from Agatha Christie, Marjorie Allingham, Beaton, Marsh, etc. Once you’ve read them all start at the beginning and read them again!

    9:00 am
    Lisa said...

    And Dorothy Sawyers!