As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I’m a fan of winter—a good snowy winter means plenty of cross-country skiing, with some sledding, Nordic hiking, and ice skating thrown in for good measure. Still, I do reach a breaking point every year, and this year it’s happening right about… now. Perhaps it’s the inevitable let down after a warm-weather vacation, or maybe the wondrousness of Monday’s sunshine-and-mid-30s immediately followed by arctic levels of cold is just too much for my psyche to take. Regardless of the why, with the frigid temps outside I’m not planning to venture far from the couch.
And what better way to spend the day than by catching up on house-themed TV and movies? Here are five of my older faves (in order of preference) prominently featuring houses good, bad, ugly and otherwise.
Remade into a brilliant HBO movie in 2009 starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange, the original 1975 documentary by the brothers Maysles is a portal into a strange and transfixing parallel universe of this decrepit house in mid-70s Hamptons. In the company of myriad feral cats, Big Edie (Edith Bouvier—yes, that Bouvier—Beale) and her daughter, Little Edie, occupy their once-beautiful family home Grey Gardens, as it crumbles at their feet.
Big and Little Edie, still from Grey Gardens
Based on the novel of the same name by modern gothic author Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca was Alfred Hitchcock’s first American project, his first under contract with David O. Selznick, and the only of his films to win the Oscar for Best Picture. While the film is named for the deceased wife of debonair main character Max de Winter and begins in Monte Carlo, the bulk of the film’s action takes place at Manderlay, a brooding seaside country estate in Cornwall. Starring Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier, Rebecca is superbly acted with beautiful black and white cinematography, and an ending you won’t expect!
Imagine being transported back to the mid-80s, to a sleepy New England fishing village where Susan Sarandon is a cello player, Cher is a self-taught artist of voluptuous small sculptures, and Michelle Pfeiffer is a fresh-faced reporter. All single ladies, the trio is inexplicably drawn to the new-to-town, mysterious Darryl Van Horne, portrayed by a young but appropriately creepy Jack Nicholson. In this adaptation of John Updike’s novel of the same name, Van Horne’s new home, referred to as the Lennox Mansion, is historically significant as the site of many witch burnings—the perfect abode for Nicholson’s character, the devil incarnate.
Before Downton Abbey there was Upstairs Downstairs, a program in which, between1903 and 1930, the fictional trials and tribulations of the Bellamy family and their below-stairs staff of servants comingled with real-world events. The series lasted from 1971 until 1975, and was reprised for a 2010 PBS miniseries which lasted two seasons, totaling nine episodes. Much like Downton Abbey, the Bellamy home is often referred to as a sort of named character: 165 Eaton Place. Much of the show’s action and subject matter center around the social norms of the day, with the various sections of the London townhouse playing their part in developing the plot and furthering action. The first several seasons of the program appear grainy and muted to the modern eye; still, the show is entertaining in the way that only a wonderfully melodramatic 1970s-era British drama can be. The two later seasons are more appealing to the eye, if a bit understated.
This eleven-part miniseries based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh is an epic in the true sense of the word, following the story of two young men who meet as students at Oxford in the 20s, whose lives become intricately bound up with one another. The story eventually comes full circle toward the end of World War II, when protagonist Charles Ryder (portrayed by Jeremy Irons) is unexpectedly billeted at the Marchmain ancestral home, Brideshead, which has since been taken over for military use. The 13 hours of this 1981 miniseries were all shot on 35mm and feature beautiful images of the stately home (Castle Howard in the real world), as well as locations throughout the English countryside, in Venice, and Malta. Perfect for a weekend of true hermitude, or maybe when you’re “sick,” or even actually sick.
Admittedly, you won’t find any of these titles in your nearest Red Box. Fortunately, many are available to stream online (some even on YouTube, free of charge) or to borrow at your local library (which is how I came to know most of these titles). Punxsatawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter—plenty of time to acquaint yourself with a few new houses.
Angela Anderson, 612-396-3654
Licensed Associate Working with Sharlene Hensrud of RE/MAX Results, and HomesMSP — Sharlene, John, Angela