‘Adaptation through Landscape: The Ruling Class’
British film adaptations of novels and plays set in country estates frequently carry a much greater emphasis on landscape gardens than their source texts. This interpolation of landscape seems, therefore, to be intrinsic to the transition from page/stage narrative to film. However, heritage critics argue that landscape detracts from the narrative qualities of such films. For them, incorporation of landscape differentiates a film from its source text, because landscape is essentially pictorial. My paper seeks to challenge this assumption. With The Ruling Class (Medak, 1972) as a case study, it addresses the storytelling functions of landscape in adaptation. Matching the genre hybridity of Peter Barnes’s play, The Ruling Class pursues its protagonist’s transformation through a landscaped trajectory. The film progresses from Harlaxton Manor’s formal gardens to its picturesque landscapes. This bipartite structure is the main focus of my paper. Formal grounds constitute the site where ‘paranoid plots’ threaten J.C. He fears the revelation of these schemes more than the schemes themselves. In response, he lets himself become intertwined in the plots, suturing the formal landscape into a fantasy of courtly and free love: a romance of the ruse. On the other hand, his first dramatically ironic soliloquy as Jack the Ripper is recited in a picturesque space. Therefore his arc comically and perversely straddles the divide between the courtly allegories of the formal garden and the pleasing concealments of the picturesque. Later his Gothic scheme is enacted in an interior garden theatre, ironically reiterating the moral questions posed by Austen’s Mansfield Park. My paper aims to clarify exactly how this deployment of landscape translates, develops or diverges from the modes and preoccupations of Barnes’s play.