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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Revisiting the Regency House Party

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I have just finished watching the Regency House Party. The 4-part series was broadcast on Channel 4 in 2004, and is available to watch on You Tube in 36 parts.

The Regency House Party is a reality TV show, bringing together five gentlemen from the modern world and five ladies with their chaperones to spend a summer (9 weeks) is a Regency country house.  Brought back to the year 1811, the idea is to pair off the amiable bachelors with their beautiful counterparts, with match-making efforts made by the ladies’ chaperones.

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                                     Guests arriving at Kentchurch Court.

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                                          Staff welcoming the guests.

The Regency House Party is a very well-designed production with plenty of period detail down to chamber pots and a Regency-style shower. The costumes are fantastic, some of which have been recycled from earlier period dramas. The men in the show, in particular, look stunning in their long coats, breeches, cravats and top hats. The country house, Kentchurch Court, which is located in Herefordshire, has been decorated in 19th Century style and really brings the Regency period into life.

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                 Miss Braund and her chaperone inspecting their bedroom.

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                     Guests at dinner - the highlight of the Regency day.

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                   The highest-ranking gentlemen leading the way to church.

We follow the ladies and gentlemen, as they get used to living according to the Regency decorum and etiquette, with various degrees of success.  The series shows that life was fun-filled for the idle gentlemen, who get to drink all day long, take snuff, splay sports etc. while the women are obliged to sit indoors with their books and needlework.

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                     Ladies feeling bored while the men are allowed to play.

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          Miss Hopkins struggling to come to terms with her Regency identity.

Initially, the women struggle living within the confines of the Regency etiquette and throw fits at their chaperones, finding the environment oppressive. Perhaps, it would be difficult for a modern woman to lead a Regency life for as long as 2 months; few of us are as ‘accomplished’ as the Regency ladies, who could easily switch between needlework, French and Italian literature and playing the harp. Personally, I would love to have some time out to attend an experiment like this. Instead of sitting around and moaning, I could imagine spending my time perfecting my skills at the piano, writing or painting, not having enough time to hone my skills given the hectic modern struggle of work/life balance.  

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                                             Ladies in muslin.

The ladies and men have been assigned particular roles, matching their real-life personas to roles they might have had within the Regency society. The casting has been carefully done and most of the people seem very well suited to their roles, coming from privileged backgrounds themselves, with posh accents to match. A real-life industrial heiress, Victoria Hopkins, plays a newly rich heiress Miss Hopkins. Countess Griaznov is a countess in real life, with limited powers. One the other hand, the musician, James Carrington, has the role of a Regency charmer, with plenty of sex appeal and little money.

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                   Mr Gorell-Barnes writing a letter. Image from Channel 4.

The men are certainly very well adjusted to their roles from the very beginning of the show (apart from a hairdresser turned army officer who leaves early). The Mr Darcy of the show, Mr Gorell Barnes, is a very good host, and so like Mr Darcy in his manners that he rarely smiles or shows emotion. Captain Glover is a charming Regency gentleman, with manners and personality to boost.  The handsome Mr Carrington with his dimples makes a great Wickham/Willoughby, with plenty of charm but few prospects on his side. 

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                               Captain Glover in his naval uniform.

I found Miss Hopkins quite crass for a Regency lady, but incidentally she turns out to be very popular with the men who are obviously used to strong-minded, independent modern ladies.  Some of the personalities in the show can be quite annoying, and they have probably been cast on purpose to bring out some drama in the show.

The series does have its moments; seeing the men in breeches ride their horses, bombing French miniature ships to celebrate the victory against Napoleon’s army, Captain Glover making a life-size ‘be happy’ sign of hay and flower petals as a love token to Miss Braund, the ladies wondering whether Mr Everett is ‘good in the sack’ as he participates in a sack-race…

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…let alone the wet-shirt scene with Mr Gorell Barnes, our true Mr Darcy!

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The series does have its flaws, with some factual mistakes here and there, but is certainly fun to watch. I would love to enter an experiment like this, but perhaps attending the Jane Austen Festival would be more realistic to start with. Would you like to go on a show like this?

Have you seen the Regency House Party and did you enjoy it?

 

To watch the series on You Tube, click here.

To read an interview of Mark Foxsmith and Lady Devenport on their experiences at the Regency House, click here.

12 comments:

  1. I liked it, didn't love it, although I liked the companion book a great deal.

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  2. My husband and I watched the series last year on YouTube and thoroughly enjoyed it. I agree with you about some of the personalities being annoying, but the costuming, setting and some of the interesting events made up for them. I also got the companion book -- for less than $1 on Amazon -- and while I haven't finished it, it seems like a useful resource.

    I also agree with you that I would love to be able to experience such an immersive Regency environment -- and certainly wouldn't be complaining the whole time.

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  3. @Vic: I see, I will try to get hold of the book then!

    @Kelly: I hope the $1 offer is still on!!

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  4. Hi Anna. Great post.
    I always think the interpretation of history is an interesting subject.

    There are all sorts of resources and ways of helping us understand the past. Archaeologists find new evidence, there are original documents to read, photographs, sketches and paintings from the past to look at, all great resources. Old diaries and letters help us get into the personal lives of individuals and what is becoming a lot more prevalent these days, building new versions of buildings from the past or making artefacts and things from the past, using a range of historical evidence. This helps our archaeologists and historians interpret the use of tools, materials and old technologies. It all adds to the sum of our knowledge and understanding.Going to a place of historical significance helps you see the structure,the environment and physicality of a place and adds another useful element in our interpretation. However, people dressing up in costumes and trying to re enact the past has always made me wonder about that activities value. The people who do this have their modern experience of life and can they really understand the past any better by dressing up?

    I suppose it can be fun. I don't want to be a total kill joy.

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  5. I've been having a think. Perhaps I have been a little unfair. Costume drama is about interpreting literature from the past and that is very important. I think the making of costumes and recreating materials, patterns and designs is a fantastic exploration. OK I agree, if you make a Regency dress or costume I suppose you have got to try it on and prance about a bit.

    All the best,
    Tony

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  6. @Tony: You have made a valid point - people who dress up and try to enact a Regency lifestyle may not understand the past any better than if they were simply reading history books and visiting museums. We see this in the show, as the women especially struggle to see the point of living such a confined life and, comparing that to their modern lifestyle, complain about their lack of freedom in the house.

    This kind of an experiment is more of a role-play or a game - and I think for many of the participants it was a challenge they wanted to have - can they survive in the house?

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  7. Anna, I haven't seen this, but will put it on my list. I'd like to have participated in something like this when I was single--wouldn't care to live apart from my husband for eight weeks, and he would not be at all interested in doing this. I'm not sure I could cope for long without modern plumbing! One thing is certain, I would not be sitting around making chit-chat with a bunch of bored women; I would be alone somewhere with a good book and a proper cup of tea!

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  8. I would have never participated in something like this. I'm sorry, but I don't think I could stand it. It's one thing to read a book or watch a movie set in this period. It's another to try to live during it. I think it would take a person who views the past through rose-colored glasses to endure it. And I'm just not that type.

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  9. Do we ever find out if the couples ended up together in the "real" world? Would love to see an update, especially of the "May-December" romance...

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    1. So would I! I read that Lady Devonport and the much younger Mr Fox-Smith did carry on their "inappropriate" relationship beyond the series, but I have no idea if they're still together... would be fascinating to find out!

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    2. They broke off their relationship after a year, I read. Here's a link to an interview they did while they were together, after the show: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2004/11/07/DI2005040307713.html

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  10. Thanks for the link! Shame that the couple didn't last, they were very sweet together...

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