Stephen Arnell

10 films about the upper classes

  • From Spectator Life
Brideshead Revisited (2008), Image: Shutterstock

Emily Mortimer’s BBC1 adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s classic The Pursuit of Love is proving a hit with viewers, demonstrating that the antics of our social betters continue to fascinate many of us.

Downton Abbey may have helped pave the way for this interest, but there is far more to the upper classes than Julian Fellowes’ occasionally jejune televisual guidebook to snobbery, etiquette, and unforgivable social faux pas.

Without further ado, ten movies where we ‘Non-U’s’ are given a privileged insight into the lives of the ‘U’s’.

The Scandalous Lady W (2015) Amazon Buy Only

Natalie Dormer (GoT/The Tudors) plays the real-life aristocrat Seymour Fleming (1758-1818), who became Lady Worsley on her unhappy marriage to Sir Richard Worsley, 7th Baronet of that name.

Lady Worsley’s behaviour was shocking, even for those decadent time – with multiple lovers, venereal disease and a descent into the life of the Demimondaine. At one time, her cuckolded husband was said to have humiliated Worsley by displaying his unwitting wife naked when bathing, a practice apparently known as Candaulism.

Worsley outlived her rather useless other half, managing to reclaim her considerable fortune and bag a much younger husband to boot.

Natalie Dormer is currently developing Vivling, a mini-series about the actress Vivien Leigh, who, like Lady Worsley, had a complicated marriage (Leigh to Laurence Olivier) and suffered accusations of nymphomania.

Madame Bovary (2014) Amazon Prime, Rent/Buy

This latest version of Gustave Flaubert’s classic novel sees bored country doctor’s wife Madame Bovary (Mia Wasikowska) follow her caprices to social disgrace and financial ruin when she seeks the attention of the wealthy and rakish Marquis d’Andervilliers (Logan Marshall-Green).

When unceremoniously dumped by the jaded aristo, Bovary’s social pretensions and carefully cultivated airs and graces lead to a tragic ending when she embarks on another liaison.

Reviews of Sophie Barthes’s film were mixed, but on the plus side, the movie looks great, and performances are solid, with a supporting cast that includes Paul Giamatti, Rhys Ifans and Henry Lloyd-Hughes, who plays the unfortunate Dr Bovary.

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