Friday 29 May 2009

Far From the Madding Crowd, 1967

This is an original poster for the film of Hardy's first successful novel, published in 1874, and set in his own 'partly real, partly dream country' of Wessex. The strip taped along the top referring to Thursday June 20th connects it with a 1968 showing.

At the time this was the most authentic big screen adaptation of a Hardy work. It was directed by John Schlesinger, scripted by Frederic Raphael, photography was by Nicolas Roeg and the folk-based musical score was by Richard Rodney Bennett. Julie Christie starred as Bathsheba Everdene, Alan Bates as Gabriel Oak, Peter Finch as William Boldwood and Terence Stamp as Sergeant Troy. Cinematically, Schlesinger subsequently regretted following the novel too closely, making for an over-long film and pedestrian plotline with lots of epsiodes (the story was originally written in serialised form). Doubts were expressed at the time about Julie Christie in the main role and the implied addition of a 1960s style feminist agenda.

Shot on location at more than 20 sites around Dorset and Wiltshire, one of the film's strong points is its powerful portrayal of Hardy's Wessex through Roeg's cinematography. David Shipman in his two volume 'The Story Of Cinema' (1982) declared that there had never been a better film about the British countryside.

Friday 22 May 2009

Ercol chair, 1960s

Ercol furniture is unquestionably one of the great style success stories of the twentieth century. It’s a survivor, never quite sinking out of fashion before a new retro wave brings it bobbing back up again. It also has a rural connection, which is why this Goldsmith rocking chair from the 1960s (design number 435) has been added to the collection.

The firm is rooted in the traditional craft of chairmaking centred on the Buckinghamshire Chilterns. For hundreds of years, generations of bodgers worked away in the extensive woods of the area turning legs and spindles from the native beech which they supplied to the chair makers in and around High Wycombe for onward distribution to London and beyond in their thousands. These chairs, with their adzed elm seats, came in many different variants but have been generically known since the eighteenth century as Windsor chairs.

Lucian Ercolani, a young Italian designer, started making furniture in High Wycombe in 1920. His big break came in 1944 when he won an order from the Board of Trade for 100,000 low-cost chairs which he met by re-working the basic Windsor form into a chair that could be mass-produced. He went on to exhibit at the Britain Can Make It exhibition in 1946 and the Festival of Britain in 1951 where the light, simple but modern feel of his new-look Windsor furniture was a hit with cash-strapped post-War home makers.

Many of the classic Ercol lines are still produced today, along with more contemporary styles, at the firm’s purpose-built factory now located in Princes Risborough.

Friday 15 May 2009

Yattendon jug, c.1900

Its connection to the village arts and crafts movement at the beginning of the twentieth century, together with a local link, has brought this item into the project collection.

It comes from the Berkshire village of Yattendon where a metal-working evening class for young men was organised for more than twenty years until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 by Elizabeth Waterhouse (1834-1918). She and her husband Alfred, the distinguished late Victorian architect, moved to Yattendon in 1881 from nearby Reading, having purchased the estate and begun building a new country house for it a few years earlier. (Their previous home, Foxhill, is now part of the University of Reading and the Museum of English Rural Life is housed in another Waterhouse building which was originally designed for biscuit manufacturer, Alfred Palmer).

Elizabeth Waterhouse deployed her literary and artistic skills to play an active part in the life of the local community. The idea for the evening class came from the same root as the Keswick School of Industrial Arts (see earlier post) and other initiatives around the country. It was affiliated to the Home Arts and Industries Association which came together in 1884 with philanthropic aims to stimulate handicrafts in rural districts, give young people something useful and wholesome to do in their spare time, and create avenues of communication between the educated and labouring classes.

The Yattendon class made a wide range of repouss√© copper and brass items for domestic use, often to designs by Elizabeth Waterhouse herself, which grew in reputation with the help of awards won at the Association’s annual show at the Albert Hall. Over 5,000 pieces were made in total and sold through a shop in the village, at Liberty’s in London and other outlets.

Friday 8 May 2009

Withnail and I, 1986

An earlier comment to this blog suggested that the way that the countryside is depicted in films, TV programmes etc is an important area for this project to address. Film posters are a way of representing that so here’s one that was picked up at a recent Christie’s sale. This is an original poster dating from the first release of the film in 1986 and with artwork by Ralph Steadman.

Withnail and I was written and directed by Bruce Robinson, starred Richard E.Grant and Paul McGann and was financed by Handmade Films – George Harrison is in the credits as a producer. It has achieved the status of a cult classic in spite of being only moderately successful initially at the box office. There are websites devoted to the film and numerous clips are to be found on Youtube. Sleddale Hall near Shap in Cumbria, the farmhouse where much of the shooting was done, became a pilgrimage site for fans and was sold in its derelict state in early 2009 amid huge publicity.

The film is set in the 1960s and follows two out of work and heavy drinking actors who seek escape from the squalor of their London flat for a sojourn at uncle Monty’s cottage in the country. Its grim and darkly funny portrait of the countryside features a gallery of sinister rural caricatures. In popular culture we seem to want the countryside to be either pastoral and idyllic or strange and menacing. It is a common theme to set out expecting one, only to find the other.