This isn’t a movie but it’s the most enjoyable thing I’ve seen in ages. Currently available on Amazon Prime, this PBS series is part reality show and part historical immersion experiment. Filmed in 2001, Manor House put 21st century people into the clothes, roles, and lives of the families and servants who lived in England’s Edwardian era manor homes for a three month duration.
What I loved
Everything. It’s like this show was made for me and my specific niche obsession. The attention to detail in the hierarchy, manners, and tools constantly rubs up against modern sensibilities, and it manages to display both the luxurious opulence of manor living and the degrading drudgery of servant life. The beauty and the beast of it is all on display.
A narrator provides historical context throughout, noting when the modern participants are breaking the rules, and also drawing connections between global affairs and the decline of these homes. When two of the volunteer servants fall in love, this narrator tells the audience how such an affair might have jeopardized real servants in the past.
Some of the “servants” are the grandchildren of maids and butlers, and the experience made them understand that relative’s life more. The Indian-Briton school teacher who served as tutor for the “Lord’s” second son spoke about his newfound empathy for Jane Eyre, a fictional governess who, like him, was excluded by both the family and other servants. A former housemaid at the property where they are filming returns to visit, and talks some about the sexual harassment she had no legal protection from.
What I didn’t love
The Lord and Lady! While they start off benign or even likeable, three months of deference, power, and servants turn them into an easy to hate pair. The magic of editing doubtless plays its role, but one feels they had raw material enough to work with. The Lord in particular expresses increasingly sexist, racist, and imperialist views over the course of things. I can’t be sure how much he was playing the part, but the role is certainly villain.
In conclusion, if you are a history geek this is amazing. It looks at all the roles in a manor house, not just the noble ones, and it neither glamorizes nor demonizes the era it explores. I absolutely loved it. All the stars.