The Observer, Sunday 20 May 2012
For those suffering Downton withdrawal symptoms, the BBC provided a cure with Chatsworth revisited
I suppose we have Downton to thank (or blame) for the cheerful gush ofChatsworth, a three-part series about the ups and downs of Derbyshire's most popular 300-room house. In the event, it was disappointingly short of lickspittles – servants now being called staff or even, in the case of the team in charge of putting out the knives and forks, an operation that required tape measures, experts. Elsewhere were flocks of gardeners and handymen and a woman dusting 17,500 books before the tourists started flooding in for the new season. And – oh my goodness – here were the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire themselves, mucking in with the litter-picking crew! The 12th duke (filmed struggling across a ditch with a bin bag) seemed more than happy to distance himself from the reputation of his class as bloodsucking idlers, acknowledging the incongruity of so much zeal and industry and money-making devoted to conserving a house with two people in it. And how right Tony Blair was, he added, to rid Parliament's upper chamber of its hereditary peers.
There was backstory, though not much, told in black-and-white pictures of young men in bow ties and gals in frothy frocks – enough to tantalise those who still drool over the Hitler-bothering Mitford sisters (indeed, "Debo", the elderly dowager – a term helpfully brought back from the dead in the person of Maggie Smith – lives here on the estate, where signed copies of her memoirs go like hotcakes), but not enough to explain what all these dukes and duchesses of Devonshire were doing in Derbyshire anyway. Did they just wake up here one morning?
But that was long ago.
The narrative – written and delivered with the slowest common denominator in mind – could have done with an ironic spike up it from a Geoffrey Palmer. But you could make your own fun following Heather, 24, the jolly probationary head guide on her rounds, one minute explaining to older colleagues what an iPod was, the next having to get firm with foreign visitors unfamiliar with the apparently English custom of wearing your rucksack on your front to minimise the risk of knocking over one priceless bust of Cicero while turning too abruptly to admire another.
At night, Heather swotted up on her Chatsworth lore, aiming perhaps to revise her spiel on religious paintings ("You've obviously got Joseph there – Technicolor dreamcoat"), with less recourse to Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The star of the show, though, was the irrepressibly bustling and faintly camp André, who started as a boy in the kitchens 29 years ago and now ran the award-winning gourmet shop. He was soon introducing us to the duchess's "revamped toilets", where someone had stolen one of the photographs above the urinals and left a soiled pair of underpants in the cistern. Retrieving them with understandable dismay, André blamed local van drivers, who seemed to think Chatsworth was a public convenience. "It feels like a personal attack on me," he said. You could see why. André was deference and duty personified, visibly straightening every time he referred to "her grace" (the one signing the books). You felt André would be a stalwart come the revolution, happily being cut to ribbons on the doorstep while you escaped out the back in a gilded coach. There wasn't much more to report, though I must say the village church service featuring two live sheep had some of the most tone-deaf hymn-singing ever heard on national television. Next up, toffs on horses.
Chatsworth Review: “Like Coachella, But With More Flowers”
May 22, 2012 by Jack Sharp in http://channelhopping.onthebox.com
Do you like drama and excitement? No? Okay, good. Do you like excessive preparation and shiny, expensive-looking things? Yes? Then this three part series about Chatsworth House, or as it’s sometimes known, ‘The Real Life Downton Abbey’, won’t disappoint.
On tonight’s episode there’s some intense, high-octane tablecloth ironing action set to a galloping prestigious-sounding musical score that refuses to quit. Viewers are granted backstage access to the Chatsworth flower festival, Florabundance (kind of like Coachella, but with less rock, more flowers), and the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire attend the Chatsworth International Horse Trials. All of these events, of course, are spliced together beautifully with aesthetically pleasing transitional shots, featuring chandeliers and other expensive things, like cutlery, leather bound books and rich mahogany.
It’s enough surely to prompt you into making a little impressed “ooh” noise. That, I imagine, is what defines the main demographic of people that enjoy watching Chatsworth—it’s a programme for people who make little impressed “ooh” noises when watching expensive and historic artefacts being polished for long periods of time. Now, there’s nothing wrong if you do enjoy that, obviously. But if you don’t like that, then you’re probably not going to like Chatsworth. In fact, you’re probably going to switch to another channel within the first five minutes, though you’d perhaps be wrong to do so—unless something genuinely good is on the other side.
As it happens, the programme does have its moments, and these come mostly from the people who work at Chatsworth House—the maids, the cleaners, the mahogany polishers, the tea towel folders, etc. For example, the tablecloth ironing scene sounds more boring than it is to watch. The two ladies that have been asked to iron an incredibly large dining tablecloth bring a lot of humour to the episode. They’re kind of like the middle age, female equivalent of Abbot and Costello.
As you can imagine, they try their best, but ultimately do a terrible job. When silverware is laid out on top of the table for an event happening later that evening, it looks even worse.
“I think it detracts from the silverware,” comments one lady. “It would be better if it had been ironed.”
“I think no cloth at all would have been better,” says another.
The comments left me pondering what is indeed best: a more thoroughly ironed tablecloth or no cloth at all. Then I realise that Chatsworth has done this to me. An hour of television about a big house, horses, statue polishing and ironing has turned me into somebody who seriously considers whether a more thoroughly ironed tablecloth is better than no cloth at all.
Perhaps some viewers will find the Chatsworth International Horse Trials a bit more thrilling than the tablecloth bit. There are at least a few clips of horses jumping over big things, which is cool for a minute. Mostly, however, it’s preparation—lots of preparation. We see the Dutchess preparing. The Duke preparing. Staff preparing the trials. And so on.
Unfortunately, despite it’s occasional charms, it is difficult for me to recommend Chatsworth. It’s not so much a series that you choose to watch, but one that you end up watching and then surprise yourself by watching it all the way through. That is, unless you’re genuinely really interested in big houses, horses, statue polishing, ironing and tea towel folding. Then you’ll love it, I’m sure.