Gosford Park – soundtrack & film/trilha sonora e filme


You can listen to samples from each track of the Gosford Park CD here

Set in the 1930’s the story takes place in an old fashioned English country house where a family has invited many of their friends up for a weekend shooting party. The story centers around the McCordle family, particularly the man of the house, William McCordle. Getting on in years William has become benefactor to many of his relatives and friends. As the weekend goes on and secrets are revealed, it seems everyone, above stairs and below, wants a piece of William and his money, but how far will they go to get it?


A weekend shooting party at an English stately home in 1932.  Is this a) The Remains Of The Next Day, b) another BBC series with plummy vowelled actors, c) an American director’s folly? Answer: none of these. It is a clever piece of ensemble filmmaking that succeeds beyond all reasonable hope.

Robert Altman is famous for big movies with rambling plots (M.A.S.H, Nashville, The Player, Short Cuts), incidental humour and star performers in small roles. For every Vincent & Theo and Cookie’s Fortune, there is always a Popeye or a Pret-a-Porter. He is not invincible. Also, he’s 76-years-old. Why come to England for the first time and embroil yourself in the complexities of outdated snobbery and the nuances of an archaic class structure? Why make things more complicated by turning it into a murder mystery?

The reasons are less important than the result. Altman’s technique of using two cameras in every scene, encouraging actors to improvise, creating a mood for experimentation within the discipline of well-defined storylines and allowing choreography to dictate the pace depends on a high risk factor, as well as true faith in organic growth. He is working here with an astonishing cast, every one of whom is memorable. Only Stephen Fry feels as if he has wandered in from the Whitehall Theatre, playing a self-important police inspector in a drawing room farce.

They call it comedy. With Maggie Smith in full flow – “There’s so little to talk about after the first flush of recognition” – and lines such as, “Will you stop snivelling; everyone will think you’re Italian”, dripping from the lips of a titled guest, this is less than surprising and yet thinly disguised beneath the porcelain chit-chat human tragedy eats through the facade, while elsewhere devious plots are afoot.

Below stairs, the hierarchy is maintained to the letter. Visiting valets and lady’s maids know their place and take on the names of their employers. Relationships are touched in passing, a friendship here, a dalliance there, but with so much work to do they become observations en route to somewhere else. Upstairs, the host, Sir William (Michael Gambon), must be indulged. Practically everyone is dependent upon, or wants a slice of, his money. Lady Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas) puts up with his peccadilloes, although there is no love lost, for the sake of her position.

Marriages appear cracked and brittle. Wives are in tears, husbands stiff and angry. An American movie producer (Bob Balaban) asks Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam) how he can stand these people. Novello throws him a jaded glance. “I earn my living by impersonating them,” he says, returning to the piano to play a medley of tunes.

The upper-class country weekend has always been a form of theatre, with the guests as players and the staff as crew. Sir William’s party must perform and, of course, they know this, but underneath, where anguish and loneliness coexist, something is burning.

Altman’s great triumph is in galvanising the energies of exceptional actors into a living, breathing entity. You have to use metaphors from the ballet to explain the brilliance of the choreography, how so many stories and so many characters intertwine without causing a traffic jam in the collective imagination.

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Assassinato em Gosford Park / Gosford Park

  • De: Robert Altman, EUA-Inglaterra-Itália, 2001


Nota: ★★★★

Anotação em 2010: Há dezenas e dezenas e dezenas de filmes retratando o forte classismo da sociedade inglesa, uma chaga que mudou muito pouco ao longo dos últimos séculos. Vários deles são ótimos. Este filme do americano Robert Altman de 2001 é um dos melhores – e talvez o mais virulento.

Filme bom é uma coisa extraordinária, das melhores que há na vida. Peço perdão pelo truísmo, mas é a sensação que tive ao ver mais uma vez Assassinato em Gosford Park para fazer esta anotação. Tinha visto já duas vezes, uma em 2002, outra em 2004; deu vontade de ver de novo. E o prazer não diminui – muito ao contrário.

Tinha revisto Short Cuts algumas semanas atrás, e, ao anotar sobre ele, repeti a obviedade de que os mosaicos, os filmes que focalizam um número muito grande de personagens, é a especialidade desse grande cineasta, dos mais importantes da história. Muita gente faz isso, os mosaicos, as tais estruturas multiplots – mas Altman é o especialista. Fez isso em Nashville, de 1975, Cerimônia de Casamento/A Wedding, de 1978, O Jogador/The Player, de 1992, Prêt-à-Porter, de 1994, Kansas City, de 1995, A Fortuna de Cookie/Cookie’s Fortune, de 1999, Dr. T e as Mulheres/Dr. T and the Women, de 2000, A Última Noite/A Prairie Home Companion, de 2006. Todos eles são filmes que retratam diversos personagens, uma dezena, às vezes mais. Aqui são, sei lá, umas duas dezenas.

A idéia da trama, segundo informam os créditos iniciais, é do próprio Altman e de Bob Balaban, um sujeito que dirige, produz, escreve e atua; trabalha como ator em Gosford Park. A idéia é um brilho, o roteiro de Julian Fellowes desenvolveu com imenso talento a trama básica, uma penca de grandes atores foi reunida sob a direção magistral de Altman – não tinha como dar errado.

Deu tudo certo demais.

Tudo muito inglês – classismo, mordomos, governantas, assassinato

A trama básica: em 1932, ou seja, no meio do período espremido entre as duas guerras mundiais que devastaram a Europa, um milionário inglês, Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon, um ator com o perfeito physique du rôle para interpretar personagens desprezíveis) reúne, em sua propriedade no campo (foto acima), uma dúzia de convidados, para alguns dias de lautos jantares e caçadas. Cada convidado chega à propriedade, o Gosford Park do título, com um criado ou uma criada.

Acompanharemos, então, os relacionamentos das pessoas dessas duas classes sociais – pequenos ódios, pequenas intrigas, pequenas traições, pequenas trapaças, pequenas desconfianças, pequenos golpes. Tudo pequeno, tudo fútil, tudo vão – tudo marcado por uma divisão estanque de classes sociais que mais parecem as castas indianas.

Eventualmente, haverá um assassinato – como costuma acontecer nas novelas policiais, uma das muitas especialidades dos ingleses, assim como o classismo, os mordomos e as governantas, o chapéu coco, a comida insossa, a grande literatura, o grande teatro, o grande cinema.

Os marqueteiros criaram uma tagline – a frase para atrair espectadores, colocada nos cartazes do filme no mundo todo – genial: “Chá às quatro. Jantar às oito. Crime à meia-noite.” Agatha Christie seguramente teria adorado, a velha doida, diabólica.

Entre os ricos, há subdivisões

Nos créditos finais, na tradicional relação dos nomes de atores e personagens, o cast of characters, Altman foi fiel à sociedade que retrata e o dividiu em “acima das escadas” – os ricos – e “abaixo das escadas” – os criados. Há ainda, entre as duas grandes categorias, a dos “visitantes” – o inspetor e o policial.

As categorias não são monolíticas. Dentro de cada uma delas, há subdivisões. (Na foto posada, feita para a publicidade, que não é uma cena do filme, os personagens ricos.) No andar de cima, os personagens se dividem de acordo com o título de nobreza e a quantidade de dinheiro acumulada por cada um – e, como se sabe, nem sempre as duas coisas andam juntas. O dono de Gosford Park, já se disse, é Sir, cavaleiro do Reino – muito menos que o título de condessa, ostentado por Constance, a condessa de Trentham (Maggie Smith). Só que Constance está hoje empobrecida, e depende, para viver, de uma pensão paga por Sir William, que é o mais rico dos ingleses ali reunidos. Constance tentará barganhar com ele a respeito de dinheiro – assim como farão outros dos convidados, todos de bons nomes e boas famílias mas desprovidos de meios suficientes para manter o estilo de vida inerente à sua condição social.

Entre os convidados de bons nomes e diferentes contas bancárias, há dois que não são bem daquele meio: Ivor Nortello (Jeremy Northam), primo distante de Sir Michael, ator de cinema, admirado por todos os criados e esnobado pelos demais do andar de cinema, exatamente por trabalhar, e trabalhar nessa coisa menor (para eles) que é o cinema, diversão popular, barata; e Morris Weissman, convidado por Ivor Nortello, um produtor de cinema de Hollywood. Weissman é interpretado por Bob Balaban, o co-autor, com Altman, da idéia da trama de Gosford Park.

Weissman é assim um filme dentro do filme: pretende produzir uma aventura do detetive Charlie Chan numa propriedade rural inglesa, e conseguiu através do amigo Ivor Nortello a oportunidade de conhecer in loco como é aquela vida que pretende retratar no novo filme. Funciona também, o personagem, para dar algumas estocadas nos costumes americanos (afinal, Altman não desperdiçaria munição estocando apenas os costumes ingleses) e, mais especificamente, nos costumes de Hollywood, como já havia feito antes em O Jogador/The Player, o filme que trouxe o diretor de volta ao sucesso comercial depois de alguns anos de ostracismo, na década de 80.

Os criados dos visitantes não têm nome – são espelhos do patrão

Assim como no andar de cima há subdivisões de categoria social, também as há no andar de baixo. E como.

Entre a criadagem  (reunida para a foto promocional – não é uma cena do filme), há a tradicional pirâmide: no topo, o mordomo, Jennings (um dos últimos papéis de Alan Bates, ator importante), com aquela empáfia, aquele formalismo que, no seu caso, esconde um sério problema. Abaixo dele, vem a governanta, Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren, extraordinária num elenco extraordinário), e, abaixo dela, a chefe de cozinha, Mrs. Croft (Eileen Atkins, outra grande e veterana atriz inglesa). Em posição um pouquinho abaixo de Mrs. Croft, há os diversos criados e a criada mais experiente, Elsie (a fantástica e bela Emily Watson).

Já os criados dos visitantes não têm nomes, enquanto permanecerem ali em Gosford Park: serão conhecidos pelos nomes dos patrões a que servem, e sua importância será equivalente à dos patrões. Assim, o segundo lugar mais importante na ampla mesa de jantar da área da criadagem será ocupada pela criada da condessa – a cabeceira pertence ao mordomo. Robert Parks (interpretado por um absolutamente jovemClive Owen, muito antes de virar grande astro), por exemplo, não será tratado como Robert, ou Parks, e sim como Mr. Stockbridge, já que é criado de Raymond Stockbridge (Charles Dance), que por sua vez é casado com Louisa (Geraldine Somerville), irmã da dona da casa, Sylvia McCordle.

Sylvia, a mulher de Sir William e mãe da garota Isobel (Camilla Rutherford), é interpretada pela grande Kristin Scott Thomas. Tudo em Kristin Scott Thomas é fascinante, até mesmo o fato de que, nesse filme realizado em 2001, ela parece mais velha e menos bela que em diversos bons filmes que faria depois – como Arsène Lupin, de 2004, e Há Tanto Tempo que Te Amo/Il y a longtemps que je t’aime, de 2008. Está mais velha e menos bela para adaptar-se ao papel, grande atriz que é. Sylvia merece o marido que tem, que por sua vez também merece a víbora com quem se casou. Um homem desprezível, uma víbora. Os dois, como costumo dizer, se-merecem-se.

Entre as dezenas de personagens, poucos são simpáticos

Na verdade, não é muito fácil, no meio daquelas duas dezenas de personagens, achar alguém simpático, boa gente, bom caráter. Como em Short Cuts, Altman lida com personagens desagradáveis, antipáticos, ou abertamente nojentos, asquerosos. Tanto no andar de cima quanto no de baixo. São poucos os que merecem a simpatia do espectador.

Uma delas é Mabel Nesbitt (Claudie Blakley), uma mocinha simples, um tanto tímida, bastante deslocada no meio de tanta gente esnobe e desprezível. Sofre muito, a coitada: o marido, Freddie Nesbitt (James Wilby), casou com ela por dinheiro, mas o dinheiro deixado pelo pai dela era menor do que ele imaginava, acabou rápido, e o imbecil hoje morre de vergonha da mulher que não tem criada e possui poucos vestidos para se apresentar nos salões.

Assim como Mabel, atrai a simpatia do espectador a jovem escocesa Mary Macearchran (Kelly MacDonald, ótima), criada ainda pouco treinada, sem experiência, que foi contratada pela pavorosa Constance, a condessa de Trentham, exatamente por isso, por ser barata.

Quem de cara saca isso, que Mary foi contratada pela condessa porque é mão de obra barata, é a experiente criada Elsie, ao conversar com a jovem. As duas ficarão quase amigas. Elsie é uma figura complexa, interessante, fascinante mesmo. Como é bela, ela usa a cama para pular o abismo social, mas tem plena consciência dele, o tempo todo. Lamenta o fato de que os criados estão sempre falando sobre a vida dos patrões – para que perder tempo com a vida dos outros, perto das quais jamais chegarão?, ela questiona.

Pelas graças que obteve na vida em função da beleza e de seu uso, Elsie se tornou algo inaceitável para um membro da criadagem: é revoltada. A governante, Mrs. Wilson, jamais a perdoará por isso.

“Como você agüenta essas pessoas?”

Algo correspondente a Elsie no andar de cima é Ivor Novello, o ator de cinema (na foto, com Mabel Nesbitt-Claudie Blakley). É aceito pelas outras pessoas – mas com reservas. Está no andar de cima, mas não é exatamente do meio, embora primo distante, como já disse, do dono da casa. Só que, ao contrário de Elsie, que exprime revolta, desconforto, desassossego com a situação toda, Ivor Novello se conforma. Ainda não se passou meia hora de filme quando há um brilhante diálogo entre ele e seu amigo Weissman, o produtor americano. Diz o americano, chocado com o esnobismo, a futilidade das pessoas da terra: “Como você agüenta essas pessoas?” Ao que Novello, tocando uma canção ao piano, para entreter o grupo, responde:

– “Você se esquece de que eu ganho a vida interpretando pessoas como essas.”

Altman, Bob Balaban e o roteirista James Fellowes farão uma fina ironia nas letrinhas miúdas quase ao final dos créditos finais. Lá aparece uma afirmação deste tipo (reproduzo o conteúdo; não copiei palavra por palavra): “Ao que se sabe, Ivor Novello jamais compareceu a uma festa em Gosford Park, até porque Gosford Park é fictício.”

Ivor Novello, personagem de ficção do filme, existiu na vida real – não sabia disso, não tinha prestado atenção a esse detalhe pequeno e saboroso. Os autores usaram o nome real de um ator inglês de sucesso naquele início dos anos 30.

Inglês, não – galês. Aprendo agora no iMDB: Ivor Novello, compositor, cantor, dramaturgo, escritor, nasceu em Cardiff, País de Gales, em 1893, morreu em Londres, em 1951. Em 1932, ano em que se passa a ação de Gosford Park, foi o protagonista de um filme chamado The Lodger. Em Gosford Park, esse filme é citado algumas vezes; gente da criadagem assistiu, adorou.

Delícia de piada interna não tão interna assim.

Altman destroça tudo que passa à sua frente – com bom humor

Falta falar do outro personagem que chega a Gosford Park com Ivor Novello e o produtor americano Morris Weissman, um jovem chamado Henry Denton, interpretado por Ryan Phillippe. Mas sobre ele é melhor não falar nada, para não haver spoiler.

E, finalmente, há o Inspetor Thompson, interpretado pelo grande, em todos os sentidos, Stephen Fry. O Inspetor Thompson (de pé, à direita) surgirá lá pelo meio da ação, ou pouco depois da metade, quando se dá o assassinato de que fala o título brasileiro do filme. Uma figuraça.

São muitos os filmes em que aparecem detetives, inspetores da polícia inglesa que acabam roubando a cena por serem engraçados, divertidos. O inspetor deDisque M para Matar é assim, e Hitchcock usaria outro inspetor mais hilariante ainda no seu penúltimo filme,Frenesi, de 1972, passado e feito em Londres, num retorno do mestre às suas origens.

Os dois personagens do velho Hitch, no entanto, são bons de serviço. O Inspetor Thompson criado pelo trio Altman-Balaban- Fellowes é um completo idiota, coitadinho. Julga-se o maior, mas é um tremendo babaca – e reprime o policial que o acompanha, que talvez pudesse juntar as pistas que levariam ao criminoso. Se depender do Inspetor Thompson, vai ser difícil identificar o assassino.

E essa é mais uma grande sacada do filme – um filme todo cheio de sacadas, algumas grandes, outras que são pequenos detalhes, como, por exemplo, o fato de que o trapalhão inspetor jamais conseguirá proferir todas as sílabas de seu próprio nome.

Altman estava com sua iconosclatia afiadíssima, quando fez Gosford Park. Destroça tudo o que vê pela frente – mas com bom humor.

Um grande filme, para ver, rever, rever de novo.

Assassinato em Gosford Park/Gosford Park

De Robert Altman, EUA-Inglaterra-Itália, 2001

Com Maggie Smith (Constance, Countess of Trentham), Michael Gambon (Sir William McCordle), Kristin Scott Thomas (Sylvia McCordle), Jeremy Northam (Ivor Novello), Bob Balaban (Morris Weissman), Alan Bates (Jennings), Richard E. Grant (George), Helen Mirren (Mrs. Wilson), Eileen Atkins (Mrs. Croft), Emily Watson (Elsie), Stephen Fry (Inspetor Thompson), Kelly MacDonald (Mary Maceachran), Clive Owen (Robert Parks), Ryan Phillippe (Henry Denton), Tom Hollander (Anthony Meredith), Geraldine Somerville (Louisa, Lady Stockbridge), Charles Dance (Raymond, Lord Stockbridge), Sophie Thompson (Dorothy), Derek Jacobi (Probert)

Roteiro James Fellowes

Baseado em idéia de Robert Altman e Bob Balaban

Fotografia Andrew Dunn

Música Patrick Doyle

Produção Capitol Films, Film Council, Sandcastle 5 Productions. Estreou em SP 8/3/2002

Cor, 137 min

R, ****

Artigo postado em EUA e CanadáEuropa e rotulada 
In Gosford Park, Julian Fellowes proved that an English country estate can’t be beat for spellbinding drama played out in the lives of masters and servants. His hit series Downton Abbey also mines this rich vein of passion, nobility, treachery, and looming change — this time in the years just before World War I. Fellowes talked with Masterpiece’s Richard Maurer in December, 2010.

Could you explain the inheritance problem at the heart of Downton Abbey?

There are two separate elements, really. One is the fact that the whole estate is entailed to the title, which was quite common. It’s now rather gone, but it meant that you would never have the title, essentially, impoverished; the house and the estate were always going to go to whoever inherited the title. But what complicates matters for the Crawley family is that when the estate was in a bad way, and this was all before the show starts, Robert married an American heiress, Cora. Robert’s father made a deed of transference with Cora so that her money is locked up in the estate. When he did this, he assumed that Robert and Cora would have a son and the son would inherit the title, the estate, and her money. The deed of transference was only to stop her divorcing Robert and taking off with the money. But of course what’s happened is they haven’t had a son. So now there is this idiotic situation whereby not only do all the lands and the house go to Robert’s distant cousin, but also Cora’s money.

This issue must have come up from time to time in history.

Oh, Absolutely! People forget that there were something like 350 American heiresses married into the British upper classes during the 1890s and the 1900s. They rescued countless families from collapse. But what couldn’t be allowed was for the woman to divorce and take her money. This issue arose after the 1870s because Parliament passed the Married Women’s Property Act, which meant that a woman could retain ownership of her own property after marriage. Before that, when a man married a woman, her property became his. What the new law meant was that there was suddenly a danger that these heiresses would come in and put everything right, and then suddenly turn around, get a divorce, and ask for their money to be extracted from the estate, which would almost invariably lead to its collapse.

Why was America suddenly exporting its heiresses?

What happened was that although America had a perfectly established upper class, with families making increasing amounts of money as the century wore on, they never embraced primogenitor. When a man was rich in America, he made all his children rich — not just all his sons, but all his children. That meant there were a lot of American heiresses. But British heiresses were very rare because practically all of a woman’s male relatives had to be dead before she would inherit anything very substantial. In America, a lot of these very new fortunes found that they couldn’t get their daughters into top society in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, or wherever because there were rules keeping them out. But if they came over to Europe, nobody could tell the difference between one American and another. So whether you were a Winthrop or someone whose father had made his money three months ago didn’t matter.

What were these young Americans like?

These girls had not been brought up in the stiff and corseted ways of England. They were very free and easy, but not in the least immoral — far from it actually. They talked to everyone, they spoke to men they didn’t know, they were lively at dinner parties. Of course, this was terribly attractive. The Prince of Wales, who later became Edward VII, adored American women. And so they became fashionable. They also were perceived as being the answer to an economic crisis. There was a big agricultural depression here that lasted from the beginning of the 1880s more or less until the First World War. Everyone who owned land saw their income go down, and suddenly here were these girls who were all healthy and talkative and fun. And they were also rich! So they were snapped up.

Did they loosen up English society in a permanent way?

They were the first people who really started to tell the upper classes how uncomfortable their houses were. The idea that you should have a bathroom for every bedroom, the idea that there should be heating — all of this really started with the American girls. Not everyone took to it, as I can testify because even still in the sixties houses were very uncomfortable. But that was the beginning of a drive towards comfort. They were also much more interested in food than the English had been. And they had an influence on manners. The idea that society should be free, not in any democratic or revolutionary sense, but in the freedom to chat, or mix different people together, or have more relaxation in the business of the London season — I think they did have an effect on that.

Did you grow up in a setting like Downton Abbey?

No, I didn’t. I was a poor relation, so I was always the unimportant member of the house party. When I was young, there was still a debutante season, which is gone now. If you’d got onto the list of men for that, then you were asked to a lot of the dances and balls in the country. I did see it a bit, but I was nobody. I sometimes think being a minor figure gives you a better viewpoint than being a major one. When you’re a major one, everyone makes a fuss over you and laughs at your jokes. I didn’t have that at all.

Judging from Gosford Park and now Downton Abbey, you were fascinated with the scene.

Yes, I did get into it. I was there during the season of 1968 and a little bit of ’69. I sensed that I was seeing the end of something — the last notes of the pre-war world. The sixties was a kind of Janus period of facing both ways. In one way, it was looking forward to the world that overtook us in the 1970s — of Woodstock and dope and all the rest of it. But in another way, it was only just after the 1950s, which was women wearing hats and gloves and no divorced people being allowed into the royal enclosure. It was a funny period, really.

Could you talk about the big themes in Downton Abbey? One seems to be authenticity — who does and does not belong.

You’re right. I am rather interested in the insider/outsider. I said in one of my novels, if you leave three Englishmen in a room they’ll invent a rule that prevents a fourth from joining them. There is something about the club mentality, when everyone makes rules and special languages and trip wires to protect themselves, that I find very interesting. Another big theme is the transition to the world we know today. We quite deliberately chose a period just before the First World War, when ostensibly this is the old world in which everything is very ordered and everyone knows their place; but in another way, it’s on the brink of the modern world. These people are riding in cars and catching trains and making telephone calls and receiving telegrams; and women’s rights and trade union rights are starting to disrupt the old order. It’s a world that the modern audience can understand. We’re not asking them to go to a distant planet.

Were there domains in the house where the butler had no authority, such as in the kitchen or over the lady’s maid or valet?

It’s a little bit more complicated than that. Almost everything done in the house was ultimately under the butler’s control. He had a relationship with his employers that was what we would think of as senior management. No one would talk to their butler without proper respect, and even a lady’s maid or a valet would not be cheeky to a butler. But that said, the housekeeper was head of the female staff; the cook was head of the kitchen staff; and ladies’ maids and valets were always slightly jokers in the pack. Although technically they were not senior to the housekeeper or the butler, nevertheless they had a relationship with the employer that was probably the closest of all. When you’re being dressed by a man, day in and day out, and he’s scrubbing your back in the bath, or helping you into your long johns, you obviously have quite an intimate conversational friendship with him. And that gave valets a kind of power that made the other servants nervous of them, because they could influence the employers — and relentlessly did in some cases. The same goes for ladies’ maids. So it’s slightly difficult to say whether the butler was senior to these personal servants; because although technically he was, nevertheless no butler who knew anything about it would make an enemy of the valet.

Could you give us the fictional backstory of the house in Downton Abbey, which I assume was originally church property?

As you know, in the Reformation Henry VIII took all the church lands away from the Catholic church and booted out the priests. Then these houses were given to favorites or sold to people who wanted to establish their families as landed families. Interestingly enough, the house we filmed in, Highclere Castle, was originally an abbey. The house has been remodeled and remodeled, first by the Georgians and then in the early years of Victoria’s reign as a gothic masterpiece by the architect Sir Charles Barry. My assumption is that either the Crawleys were rewarded Downton at the Reformation, or possibly as is the case with the Herberts, which is the family at Highclere, they married the heiress to the estate at some later time and it’s been in their family ever since. Of course, it’s had one or two dangerous times, one of them in the 1880s when Robert married the young Cora from America and set things right with her money.

Was this country-house style of living a peculiarly English thing?

All the aristocracies, with the exception of the American aristocracy, are I think land-based. That said, where the English are not unique but quite unusual is that they liked to spend a lot of time in their houses on their estates. In some countries, like France in the old days, the estates were there to generate income, but the aristocrats didn’t go there all that much except to hunt. It wasn’t uncommon for English aristocrats to essentially live on their estates for most of the year, and maybe go up to London for a month in the season, particularly if their daughters were of marriageable age. The English are closer to the land that they own, and that’s always been the case. And indeed in the 18th century people would make fun of us for it. We were seen as Farmer Giles, with straw coming out of our hair.

Are there any little details of etiquette from this period that you wish would be revived?

[Laughs] Well, I think that thing of being polite, of making people easy in your company, of not burdening them with your troubles; that’s quite nice, to be honest. These days, we always pour everything out…

Even the English?

The English less than the Americans, but far more than we once did. Formality has had a very bad press lately, but formality is quite refreshing when everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing. We live in the age where it says on the invitation, casual chic. What does that mean? Back then, they knew what they were supposed to wear; they knew what they were supposed to do — that during the first course of the dinner you talk in one direction, set by the hostess; during the second course you talk in the other direction; and by the time it comes to the pudding, you can please yourself. Many people would now find that very artificial, but what it means is that nobody gets left out. How many times have you been to a dinner these days and one guy or one woman is just sitting there and nobody’s talking to them? That didn’t happen. A lot of these rules that people think were silly, they did have a point.

You have a devilish way of frustrating our plot expectations. Did you do this in the interest of realism, since life is never like it’s portrayed in Jane Austen?

Very few people’s lives are what they expected them to be. They may be better and they may be worse, but they’ll be different. I do feel that one shouldn’t automatically provide the inevitable. Having said that, I find that when you start to write these characters, you do get very much taken up by them and you want things to come right for them. But you can’t have everything come right too soon, because then it’s all resolved; and when it’s all resolved, it’s finished in a way.

Congratulations on being made a peer. Does this mean any changes in your life?

It means that my life will have a political dimension because I will be in the House of Lords, which is one of the two houses of Parliament. I’ve always been interested in politics, and now I am in the very comfortable position of being able to have not a loud voice, but certainly a ringside seat to the political decisions being made; and that interests me very much. I don’t think it will alter my life in any other way.

As a peer, how should you be addressed?

I am going to be Lord Fellowes of West Stafford. I would be called Lord Fellowes, if someone was talking to me.

Suppose this had happened a hundred years ago. Would that have made you eligible to marry one of the Crawley daughters?

[Laughs] Perhaps I’m eligible anyway! One of the great strengths of the British upper classes is that they have always been pragmatic. When someone new made a lot of money and became very important, they didn’t turn up their noses at him, as they did in some countries on the continent. On they whole, they embraced him. He would be given a baronetcy or a barony, and his daughter would be married by Lord Thing or his son would marry Lord Thing’s daughter or whatever; and he would be swept into the fold. In the greatest families in the land, you will find that this wife wasn’t particularly aristocratic, but she had a lot of money; or this one was very beautiful; or this one was the daughter of someone who was very important politically but not particularly significant socially; and so on. We’re not like the Germans, where your wife had to have the same amount of quarterings on her shield as you did. The British never really cared much about all that. They wanted to stay in the swim. And when you stay in the swim, that means embracing the new just as much as protecting the old.

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