The way we lived then

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The way we lived then

Message  Luce le Sam 20 Juin 2009 - 15:35

[Couverture scannée, merci à Luce]
How do you accurately re-create the Victorian London of an Anthony Trollope novel?
Garry Jenkins travelled back in time to find out...
One of the year's most eagerly anticipated period dramas, Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now, arrives on our screens this week, complete with all the traditional trappings of the genre.

As befits a true (if neglected) classic, the series' real strength lies in its unsettling contemporary resonance. Set in London during the railway boom of the1870s, Trollope's story reflects a time, not unlike our own recent history, when the established world was being swept away by the brash ambition and energy of a new order.

Its characters - all vying to profit from this revolutionary change in the city's fortunes - will be all too familiar to the modern eye. Robert Maxwell could have modelled himself on the dominant figure, mysterious eastern European turned social climber and self-styled "great financier" Augustus Melmotte, played by David Suchet. The assorted dissolutes, dreamers and gamblers who pour their fortunes into his schemes for railway lines on the other side of the world will make many dot-com failures squirm uncomfortably on their sofas.

Building on its undoubted pedigree, the production boasts a script by the king of classic dramatisations, Andrew Davies, and a stellar cast that includes not only Suchet, but also Matthew Macfadyen as Sir Felix Carbury, an aristocrat so corrupt he would sell his own mother, Douglas Hodge as Roger Carbury, his principled cousin, and Paloma Baeza as Felix's beautiful sister Hetta.

Needless to say, there is also a dazzling collection of 19th-century bustles and bows. Yet for all these qualities, the series' greatest asset may be its depiction of the capital city itself.

Ensuring London looked the part presented location manager Jamie Lengyel with the daunting task of finding suitable Victorian buildings in the centre of the city. And no location illustrates the pains he and his team took better than Bedford Square, in Bloomsbury. It will be on screen for under 15 minutes, and even then will probably attract less notice than the costumes and horse-drawn carriages. Yet no one will be able to fault its historical authenticity.

For three intense days and nights, a team of designers and artists set up camp to give the square a complete period makeover and transport a small part of central London back more than 125 years in time.

Bedford Square, a stone's throw from Oxford Street, was turned into Welbeck Street, home of the ambitious Lady Carbury (played by Cheryl Campbell). "The square is filled with all the trappings of modern life," says Lengyel. "Bicycle racks, modern benches, pay-and-display parking meters ... We removed the things we could, and covered those we couldn't with period street furniture."

It was the front of the main house and the eight neighbouring buildings that required the most attention. To the production's "period police-woman", stand-by art director Katie Buckley, the imposing front doors committed a series of crimes. "For a start, there are letterboxes," she says. "This is set in the mid-1870s, and letterboxes came in ten years later. Also, the doors have Yale locks, and they hadn't been invented then."

The greatest offence was the colour of most of the doors - a distinctive marine blue. "It's not an authentic period colour. I would call that an lTV colour," says Lengyel, with an ironic arch of an eyebrow. "We fitted new black doors with period fittings."

Today, the square is mainly occupied by businesses. "We had to make 'hides' to cover the plaques and alarms on the outside walls;' says Buckley. 'We also had to pay a lot of attention to the windows. You could see things like computers, so we put drapes and netting up. In all, we dressed 56 windows."

The road itself required attention, too. To eradicate all traces of yellow lines and other road markings, the surface was given a liberal dusting of gravel. For the final period touch, a postbox was brought in.

Even when a location passes the team's stringent standards, the unforeseen arises. "We arrived to finalise things and found that a huge marquee had been erected in the square," says Lengyel. "We knew there was a marquee coming in, but we didn't know how big it was going to be. The company that runs the square had recently cut out a lot of the plants, so we could see it quite strongly." But a few panicky phone calls later, the crisis had subsided. "We had to import five trucks full of trees in pots. Half a day's work and the marquee had disappeared."

Within 24 hours of the set being readied, director David Yates and his team were on their way to the next location, leaving Lengyel to restore Bedford Square to its present-day self. It was two passers-by who paid the team the ultimate tribute. Returning to the set the morning after filming, the crew discovered two letters had been posted in the fake Victorian postbox.
Also this week, Omnibus profiles Anthony Trollope (Tuesday BBC2)
Captions :
 
STREET LIFE The transformation complete, director David Yates (centre) supervises filming. But a vast amount of work had gone into making London's Bedford Square historically accurate....

TRUE GRIT Not a cunning trick to avoid a parking ticket, but a way of creating an authentic road surface and hiding modern road markings.

BOXED IN Letterboxes were not invented until about ten years after the time depicted in TheWay We Live Now, so they were covered up.

NO CAUSE FOR ALARM Burglar deterrents were hardly commonplace in the I 870s,so to ring the changes they had to go.

CHANGE FORTHE METER Street furniture that was recognisably from the 21 st century was covered or removed.

YOU'VE BEEN FRAMED Doors were replaced so that they were the right colour and had authentic fittings for the period.

PLAQUE ATTACK The houses had to look residential,so modern business signs were hidden using mocked-up bricks.
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Today’s Choices

Message  Luce le Sam 20 Juin 2009 - 22:09

Sunday 11 November
Today’s Choices
The Way We Live Now
8.45pm BBC1
David Suchet towers over Andrew Davies’s spellbinding four-part dramatisation of Anthony Trollope’s novel, which begins tonight.

He is darkly sinister as financier Augustus Melmotte, who arrives in 1870s London with his oddly silent wife and very strange, twitteringly nervous daughter Marie (Shirley Henderson). London society falls over itself to make Melmotte’s acquaintance, though naturally there are many dark words spoken in his absence. ”I’ve heard the man’s a jew, a swindler and a scoundrel and I shan’t know him,” says an old buffer as he and his cronies discuss Melmotte in their London club.

But many people do wish to know him simply to take advantage of his money and financial know-how. And others, such as the self-seeking and feckless young wastrel Sir Felix Carbury (Warriors’ and Perfect Strangers’ Matthew Macfadyen), wish to know the odd Marie as a way of getting at her father’s money.

As London gossips about his strange family, Melmotte and his wife host a grand ball, but even in the middle of his somptuous occasion, he remains very much an outsider to an establishment torn between revulsion and greed.

Even if you have never been a great fan of Trollope, there is much to enjoy in this absorbing story. The performances, particularly those of Suchet, Matthew Macfadyen and young Paloma Baeza as Felix’s spirited sister, are outstanding. In all, The Way We Live Now is a welcome and very grow-up addition to the more predictable Sunday-night television fare. Anthony Trollope: Toffs and Tiaras can be seen on BBC1 on Tuesday.
Andrew Duncan interviews David Suchet: page 30; The way they lived then: page 34
Alison Graham
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Re: The way we lived then

Message  Marina le Mar 23 Juin 2009 - 11:29

C'est très intéressant, comme ils ont changé la rue. Merci pour cet article.
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"I enjoy being a man, but I'm not a chauvinist pig"

Message  Luce le Mar 23 Juin 2009 - 15:47

Andrew Duncan meets David Suchet
What drives the narrow-boat enthusiast - back on our screens as a roguish Victorian financier - to create waves when he lands a role? Attention to detail, a midlife crisis and God...
"I enjoy being a man, but I'm not a chauvinist pig"
It's disconcerting to have lunch with a man who claims his 34 years as a character actor have conditioned him to sum up people within half an hour. "I look at the eyes, listen to the tone of voice and become aware of what's underneath," he says softly, brooding over my every gesture. "I'm usually right, but not infallible -so don't worry."

We meet first as he is about to start filming The Way We Live Now, Anthony Trollope's novel of morality in the 1870s (more on page 34) in which he plays Augustus Melmotte, a European financier who, like the late Robert Maxwell, inveigles himself into the heart of British society before a spectacular comedown.
Months later, having seen him in the series looking like a pudgy spider with fat cheeks and a funny accent, I recall the sleek, fit figure at lunch and congratulate him on the padding. "There was none," he says. "That's what happens sometimes, with posture and gestures."

It is a remarkable transformation and one he has accomplished in different ways many times, commandeering aspects of his own obsessive personality to ensure realism. For Melmotte - "a theatrical, larger-than-life part that I loved" - he read every biography of Maxwell, and as Sigmund Freud in the early eighties he had the psychiatrist's day-bed transported to the set of the BBC2 series. For his most famous role, as Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, he disguises himself with a rnoustache and 43 in waist, and for a chain smoker in the 1990 television movie Separation, he took up smoking again, having just stopped. "That was carrying it to a quite stupid degree, but some actors think you can just pretend. I believe it's only by being affected yourself and showing your own dirty wash ing that the audience will be similarly affected. Thankfully I haven't been near a cigarette for four years. Too little is made of the power of nicotine. It should be a class A drug, but it makes so much money the Government won't ban it."

Such attention to detail is carried through to his private life - he colour-codes his shirts, arranges his socks methodically - and his hobby of travelling the waterways of Britain in his narrow boat means he remains shipshape at all times. "Canals are such an important part of our heritage, and I'm passionately involved with preserving them. I've had a narrow boat for years. They're cramped, but not damp if you have proper-insulation and heating, and the joy is you can up anchor and go. When I started acting I was literally the snail with a house on my back, travelling from rep to rep. It saved getting digs, which I loathed."

He admits he can be difficult to live with. "I'm ultrasensitive-you have to expose your nerve endings every day as an actor. I know you can't survive in show business and be that vulnerable, but I drive everyone crazy and find myself impossible sometimes. I'd divorce me - if I'd give myself favourable enough terms. I often think I should take it easier, but you are what you are. I want constantly to surprise.

"I know I'm given to too much self­discipline. I played Salieri in Amadeus for nearly two years and had to keep in the peak of physical condition. It was flattering to get a Tony nomination for the Broadway run [as best actor], but I felt totally drained. I had no life outside the play. I'd book the same table at a New York restaurant on Sunday, take the cast to dinner and get ratted. For the rest other week I was a monk."
Adept at analysing the characters he plays, he is also open about his own motivations, including "middle son" and "paternal disapproval" syndromes, midlife crisis and God.

Older brother John is an ITN newsreader and the youngest, Peter, works in advertising. "He was born when I was seven, a verydefining age. I had a sure footing on my little ledge, and suddenly I was neither one thing nor another. When there's a large gap between siblings, you lose your place."

Their mother Joan and grandmother had been actresses, and their father Jack, who died this autumn aged 94, was a Harley Street gynaecologist. "I'm a mixed grill of Russian, French, Jewish descent, born in Paddington. There are three things I might have been instead of an actor - a surgeon, psychiatrist or teacher. I was never clever at school, but I've loved teaching classical drama at universities. I'd like to have been a psychiatrist because I enjoy hearing about people, and a doctor - in order to please my father.
"He was very strict and removed, as that generation was, and made it quite clear he didn't want me to act. He'd paid for my education [at Wellington, which he hated] and said I should have a proper job. One reason I go so far into my roles is because I wanted to show him it was serious, important work. I regret the way actors have been reduced to 'luvvies. It's demeaning. We've moved on from being just wandering minstrels, although we're now in an age when actors have pop-star status, although I'm not one of those. It saddens me that the activities of soap stars can become page one news."

Maybe feeling displaced at an early age is the key to his acting, as he usually plays outsiders. "One's identity is found through how others react to you. You become accepted in youth by what you're good at, which with me was sport, and the ability to perform. When I did productions at school I found an identity through the most dangerous area - praise. It's seductive and can be incredibly temporary. There's little loyalty in show business. You can be here today and gone tomorrow. It wasn't until my late thirties I realised that, as an actor, your career depends on other people choosing you, and that's a recipe for nervous breakdown. I decided not to let it affect me, and gradually was able to say, "I am my own man.''

A few years later he found God "the most important thing that happened to me" - when he had a sudden desire to read the Bible from cover to cover. "I hate the phrase 'born again'. There's a human need to search for spirituality. Christianity is a constant challenge to me. I fail on a daily basis."

Midlife crisis hit him at 46, nine years ago. "I don't think there's a man alive who hasn't gone through it. I don't see it as a joke, having thankfully come out the other side. We're browbeaten to the point of boredom about how we must take the female menopause seriously, but it doesn't work the other way round. It usually presents it­self as insecurity and can take many forms: a new job, relocation, drink, girls, the moment you come out and admit, “I am gay.” Or, like me, you look at yourself in the mirror and think, 'I'm no longer as attractive as I might have been, if I ever was.' You get that strange feeling, 'Shall I do something different?' That thought has stayed with me although it's not so prevalent. Look at the delights I've had." He also learnt the clarinet. "As an actor you're in danger of being self-centred, and I wanted to find the music in me."

His family has always been an essential support. He met his wife, actress Sheila Ferris, at the Belgrade theatre, Coventry, in 1972, and they were married four years later. "I'm glad, and very grateful she gave up work when we had children [Robert, now 20, and Katherine, 18]. I don't know how they'd have turned out if she hadn't, God bless' ern, but the reason they're like they are is because she made that sacrifice. We're going through a huge phase of teenagers using alcohol. Young people actually go to parties and get to the point of vomiting quickly so they can start again. Did you know that? It's not written about."

He pauses, wondering whether to continue and then adds, "What I'm going to say will make me sound the biggest old-fashioned fart in existence. Our culture is fed hedonism, sex arid violence on film and TV, and I'm against those who say it doesn't influence the audience. Actors, producers and programme-makers have a responsibility. But, for goodness' sake, I'm hoist on my own petard.
"I've been seen having sex - in a film called Sunday, which won the Sundance film festival four years ago. I was embarrassed to find myself looking at this beautiful Israeli girl, completely naked, getting into bed and obviously going for the Oscar with me in action on top of her. I'm not normally given those roles, I hasten to add. You may have noticed I'm not 6ft-in [he's 5ft9in] and blond. At23, I looked as I do now - that's when I started going bald.

"Of course, with all this political correctness, a middle- aged man like me, brought up in a different way; has to be pretty careful. Putting your arm round a girl and giving her a cuddle can be taken the wrong way, and often is. I find that awkward because I'm a demonstrative person, a chauvinist, in the sense that I enjoy being a man, but not a chauvinist pig."

It hasn't all been a charmed life. He had high hopes for a show about his favourite performer, Sid Field, in 1994, but it was a disaster. "I didn't realise how few people had heard of him. It was one of the most painful experiences an actor can have, to be critically acclaimed and find you're playing comedy sketches to only 30 people. I died every night, but they say no pain, no gain, so I look on it as a character-building experience."

He's also had little success in films. "I wouldn't mind a plum role in Hollywood, not that I want the fame, but because I haven't fully cracked it and would love to feel accepted as a major player in all media. It's a lot of luck. You can be the most honed craftsman in the world and never be offered the right role, and I've been so lucky.
I've done several major television projects one after the other - Poirot, Victoria and Albert, National Crime Squad [which is being made into a series], where I'm a hard-hitting, very angry policeman. And now Melmotte. Such different parts. "My character acting has opened up and I'm on cloud nine. My gift -my craft, if you like - is to become different people and, in a world of soaps where actors so often play themselves, it's a great present I've been given."
Links
Talk on line with other David Suchet fans across the world,and find out more about The Way We Live Now via www.radiotimes.com/weblinks
CANAL CAPERS
Suchet says his craft is to become different people, but in his spare time his craft is a narrow boat (right and above) with his family - daughter Katherine, Meg (Robert's girlfriend), son Robert and wife Sheila
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