Adam’s Anarchy: The Gypsy and the Gentleman Reconsidered
What have been the major watersheds in the history of country-estate films and television? Whether this history is seen as one of modes of production, aesthetics or ideology, it is Joseph Losey’s deployment of the country house and its grounds that should emerge as pre-eminent. Losey’s historical materialist exploration of Melton Constable Hall’s architecture and landscapes in The Go-Between (1971) set a precedent followed by Brideshead Revisited (1981), The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982), and other films and programmes for which adaptation of locations was as important as any literariness. However, Losey first devised his historical materialist approach to the topos of the country estate film thirteen years earlier, with The Gypsy and the Gentleman (1958), much of which was shot at Shardeloes, in Buckinghamshire. Made between the first Free Cinema programme and the British ‘angry–young-man’ feature films, which placed a new emphasis on location shooting in social realism, The Gypsy and the Gentleman was the first country-estate film to be grounded in the kind of attention to architectural detail popularised by Nikolaus Pevsner. Unusually, Losey used the location’s interiors as well as its exteriors, retaining as much as possible Shardeloes’ dialogue between Robert Adam’s interior decoration and Humphrey Repton’s landscape gardens. The film has been derided and neglected because of weaknesses in its plotting and performance, but it deserves to be reconsidered in the light of growing interest in the history of British cinema’s production design and revisionist perspectives on the cultural roles of the country estate in the twentieth century. This paper will discuss the film’s groundbreaking location work and offer an analysis of Losey’s engagement with the aesthetics of Adam’s interior design and Repton’s landscape gardens. Through its adaptation of the location’s aesthetics, the film offers a radical vision of the country estate as an embodiment and symbol of power; I will argue that the most striking scenes are those that dramatise anarchy against the location’s architecture.