'Landscape Gardens in The Ruling Class'
This essay offers an analysis of the way landscape garden locations are deployed in the film The Ruling Class (Peter Medak, 1972). It situates the film in relation to a turning point in screen landscapes, comparing it to The Go-Between (Joseph Losey, 1971). It also explores how locations were utilised as part of the process of adapting Peter Barnes's play into the film. Matching the genre hybridity of Peter Barnes’s original play, The Ruling Class pursues its protagonist’s transformation through a landscaped trajectory. The film progresses from formal to picturesque gardens, mobilising a paradigm shift in the history of English landscape architecture to deconstruct the relationship between the aristocracy and landownership. My essay considers the way in which the film thus creates a dialectics between two historical landscape styles and, in doing so, treats the gardens like the film’s other cultural references: as surfaces, pastiches detached from their provenance. It is apt that a film which attacks the aristocracy denies even the aesthetic pedigree of the ruling class’s landscapes. Despite the widespread use of the country estate as a chronotope in British cinema, there has been no other scholarly exploration of the aesthetics of such screen landscape gardens. Almost all other writing on country estates in cinema focuses on issues of ‘heritage’ and dismisses shots of gardens as meretricious. My essay, however, focuses on the semantic significance of screen gardens and develops a new methodology, in which an original analysis of screen garden aesthetics is supported by: careful reference to authorities on landscape history; research of the history of the film’s locations; fieldwork which assesses the formal differences and similarities between the screen gardens and the actual country estate; research on the film’s production history and its place in the history of British country-estate cinema; and Foucault’s theory of heterotopias. The film has rarely been discussed, so the essay makes a key contribution to this collection, which is one of the first books on 1970s British cinema.