If ‘Promising Young Woman’ Was Emerald Fennell’s Darkly Comedic Take on the Rape Revenge Thriller — One That Keeps Up with the Zeitgeist wave of speech on the Oscar for best original screenplay in 2021 – “Saltburn” is the writer-director’s entry into the country house canon. The film (in theaters) is the latest in a subgenre ripe for dramatic tension: upstairs versus downstairs; guest versus intruder; public versus private. Far from prying eyes, the characters in these tales tend to revel in their idyllic surroundings while unseen, often sinister, forces work against them, resulting in an unforgettable stay.
In “Saltburn,” Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan), a shy Oxford student, accepts an invitation to spend the summer at the family estate of a wealthy classmate, Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi). There, Oliver’s adoration for the charming aristocrat proves to be much more than innocent infatuation.
With its eager double helix of class consciousness and homoeroticism, “Saltburn” fits right in alongside literary classics like “Brideshead Revisited” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (and their many film adaptations). Here are five other films where spending the summer in a country house leads to major power imbalances and lifelong consequences.
Joseph Losey, whose 1963 film “The Servant” is his own masterpiece of queer-coded domination, once again relies on a screenplay by Harold Pinter to direct this quintessentially British period drama . Young Leo (Dominic Guard) is invited by a wealthy friend to spend the summer at his family’s country house. But when his friend is quarantined due to measles, Leo must find another way to pass the time. He soon finds himself the messenger in charge of his friend’s sister-in-law (Julie Christie) and her secret lover, the farmer (Alan Bates). Stunning shots of the property’s fertile lands fuel this Palme d’Or winner with a sense of freedom that its owners are quick to restrict; When the film catches up with Leo decades later, his loss of innocence can be attributed to that fateful summer.
The Art House Country House Film
“Cries and Whispers” (1972)
The silence of God, the inability of humanity to connect, the secret grudges that quietly tear families apart: all themes that Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman saw fit to contrast with the calm of a summer home. less than half a dozen times. Here, it’s a gripping look at the final days of a woman dying of cancer in her family’s palatial mansion, and her two sisters’ painful attempt to heal years of estrangement. As they fight against time to manage their emotions, the maid moves in holy bondage. Sven Nykvist’s Academy Award-winning cinematography places the white-clad women—including Bergman regulars Liv Ullmann, Harriet Andersson, and Ingrid Thulin—against richly saturated purple walls, drawing piercing performances from their icy exteriors.
One of the most influential documentaries of all time serves as a cautionary tale about what happens when you don’t pack your bags at the end of summer. When Albert and David Maysles were hired by Lee Radziwill, Jacqueline Kennedy’s sister, to make a film about their family, the documentarians’ attention quickly shifted to the women’s eccentric cousins: “Little Edie” and her mother, “Big Edie” Beale. The former socialites had holed up for nearly 20 years in their dilapidated home in East Hampton, New York, the stench of garbage and cat urine sustaining their special relationship. With a typically American blend of frankness and laissez-faire, the Beales continue business as usual, impervious to the changing tides of the outside world.
The cruel country house film
“Chinese Roulette” (1976)
Born in Germany in 1945, Rainer Werner Fassbinder makes films born from a deep distrust of humanity. But he winked desperately and devilishly even in his cruelest works, like this dark psychological thriller where two unfaithful spouses accidentally take their lovers to their country estate on the same weekend. When their resentful young daughter arrives, she manipulates the quartet, the governess and her son into playing the titular game, a sort of evil truth or dare, over dinner. Michael Ballhaus’s cinematography builds a claustrophobic ballet around the house’s mirrored interiors, tightening reflective bonds around each of its deeply guilty guests.
James Ivory took up the country house mantle and rode through the 80s and 90s with hits like “A Room With a View” and “The Remains of the Day”, all produced by his partner, Ismail Merchant. But it was for the adaptation of the novel “Call me by your name” by André Aciman that he won his first Oscar, becoming the oldest of all time at 89 years old. Director Luca Guadagnino bathes the film in its northern Italian setting, where a teenage bookworm learns the hurtful and healing powers of sexual attraction after a graduate student arrives at his family’s lush villa .