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Pallisers 8:16: Two scenes: wherein we spend time in front of a mirror and learn the tables of Duchesses are treacherous places · 15 November 08

Dear Friends,

The last of four blogs on 8:16: we’ve had themes and structure, with a comparison of the Phineas 2 films to Trollope’s Phineas Redux; a summary, transcripts and stills from Episodes 36-38; and a summary of Episodes 39-40, this time on the change of mood to bucolic and open treachery and pressure, again with transcripts and stills from relevant scenes.

I focus on two outstanding scenes. The first, of Lady Glen, now the Duchess (Susan Hampshire), contemplating her coronet, has resonance across the series, as one of its major themes is the price of security and ambition; the second, again of the Duchess, this time exposing Bonteen’s (Peter Sallis) lack of upper class cool by getting him drunk, and thus (by one dinner indiscretion) fatally undermining his hold on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a position he has labored all his life for. In the first we gaze sympathetically with our heroine at a mirror; in the second we learn that her dining table, that of a Duchess, is a dangerous place.

1) The Duchess, a fully mature married woman, making a career for herself as Duchess, politician, society hostess, wife.

Episode 38: “Helping Finn.” Scene 11: the Duchess dressing-room, a large one.

1. Establishment shot: Dressmaker and seamstress fitting Duchess while she avidly reads a political newspaper (with glasses)

2. Dialogue. Madame Max (Barbara Murray) comes in; we watch her open door and walk over, Collingwood (Maurice Quick) closing door. Concerned look on her face.

Marie: “Dear Lady Glen I fear Mr Finn is in a very very bad way. He came to me last night … he almost crawled on the floor before me.
(We see them through a mirror)
Duchess: “In adoration?”
Marie: “Alas, no. In chagrin at his party’s neglect of him.

Duchess. “Oh! What’s become of that Irish buoyancy?”
Marie. “Well, what there was has been punctured by the People’s Banner and now finally deflated by Mr Bonteen.
Duchess: (We watch duchess in the mirror.) “So what we need to do is pump some air into Mr Finn.”
Marie. “As I see it, yes.”
Duchess: “And the air he needs is applause.”
Marie. “Yes, say rather esteem.”
Duchess. “Umm Hmmm. Esteem. Esteem comes from office. Well I am doing my best for him, Marie. (Meanwhile she is dressed by women in coronation robes.) Umm. If all else fails I have got one card up my sleeve. It’ll be a very tricky one to play so I shall keep it until there is nothing else left.”
Marie. “Yes, Lady Glen.”
Duchess. “Well it occurs to me instead of reinflating Mr Finn directly, one might do better to deflate Mr Bonteen, thereby removing the enemy and leaving some spare esteem floating around for Mr Finn.”
Marie. “Dangerous game, Duchess.”
Duchess wiggles and giggles.
Marie: “I had thought that from now onward you were going to eschew all such mischief.
Duchess: “Oupf!”
Marie: “To talk in a man’s favor or disfavor is one thing, plotting Lady Glen is another.”
Duchess: (Taking up coronet) “Well, one can’t give up one’s dear old habits straight away (fonding coronet). Isn’t it pretty, Marie? (puts it on her head.)
Marie: “Your grace?”
Duchess: (Looking at herself in mirror with coronet on head.)

She looks at this object for which she has paid a high price. It is a reductive experience.

Marie: “Does it sit heavily on your head, Glencora?”
Duchess (Takes it off with a look of remorse in her face). “No no they make lighter ones for women.
Marie looking; Duchess blurred.
Duchess sits. “The only trouble is one can hardly ever wear it. So it wouldn’t be fair would it, Marie, if I were deprived of all my other amusements merely for this”

Her statement does not reflect her actual thoughts.


2) The way to exercise power for a woman is through indirect strategem, trickery, with a servant as your accomplice:

From a paragraph in Trollope’s Phineas Redux, Ch 40, pp. 358-59 (Oxford edition, most recently reissued with an introduction by John C. Whale), Raven writes two bravura political scenes. In the first Lady Glen tricks Bonteen into exposing himself; in the second the two Dukes confront (hard-face it out) with Gresham to force him not to appoint Bonteen to the cabinet (all the while Erle mocks on about class snobbery going on here), and succeed, but after they agree not to insist on giving Finn a minor post (well, “not yet” says Palliser now Omnium under his breath). (see 8:16: Bucolic landscape & insider politics, tricks & pressure). The result is actually the worst of all worlds in all areas.

Episode 40. Position Denied. Scene 18. Palliser’s dining room

1. Establishment shot: the laid out dinner table before anyone is there. Elegant china, beautiful room with arch and columns, gilt on walls, candles lit and fresh fruit on table.

2. Doors open and we see Collingwood, with Bonteen bringing in Duchess first to the right. Bonteen’s voice heard saying “Duchess” and Duchess’s voice saying “Mr Bonteen you are …”) Then to the left Duke bringing in Madame Max. We hear Bungay’s voice. Bonteen voices: “do. Bungay: “Oh ….”

3. Closer up. Duchess sitting down and saying “Mr Monk” for Mr Monk to sit on her other side. Footman helps her sit down and Bonteen takes the place on her other side.

4. Conversation ensemble. Everyone overhearing everyone else even if conversations split into threes.

Duchess: “I think one of the nicest things about giving small dinner parties is one is not obliged to invite boors to make up the table.” (To Bonteen) “One need only ask one’s friends.”
Dolly (sharp): “then we are all very honored to be here, Duchess.” (catching flattery)
Duchess: “You always [speak? think?) so charmingly Mr Longestaffe … ah uh …even if his song is in a different key later on at the Beargarten.”
Dolly: (looks a little menacing): “Touche!”
Duchess: “And no evening would be the same without Mr Finn. Is not that so, Madame Goesler?”
Marie (from the other side of Finn): “Mr Finn is one of the best listeners in London, Lady Glencora.” [It’s very stupid of Bonteen to go on insulting Finn when Lady Glen, his hostess has made a point of noticing and her friend of praising him]
Monk (on Finn’s other side): “A man who can speak to the point when he wishes like all Irishmen.
Bonteen: “Though some Irishman have a way of talking round the point, eh, Finn? And the wrong point at that.”

Camera on Lady Glen’s face going hard.

Monk: “I did not know that you were an expert on the Irish, Mr Bonteen.”
Bonteen. “Only on some. On those in the house, for example.”
Finn (grim look on his face): “and I fear we are not representative, Mr Bonteen.”
Bonteen: (first signs of getting drunk, face looks held together as he holds glass not quite steadily): “Oh, but you are, Finn. (Touches glass with Duchess.)

Finn looks pained and Marie shakes her head at him, warning him to remain silent.

Duchess (to Bonteen): “Naughty words, Mr Bonteen (glint in her eyes). He drinks, put glass up high as downs the whole thing. Camera on that glass, now empty, as he puts it down.

Camera flicks, blurring and resharpening, and we have a sense of time passing, during which we see a white gloved hand filling Bonteen’s glass. Bonteen now eating the main dish, some of it gone.

Duchess: “Uh tell me what steps would you take to cure the ills of Ireland?”
Bonteen: “The ills of a country can only be cured Duchess (he belches, is slightly woozy) by sound financial administration. You must have honest and competent men to manage the funds (his voice unsteady, working to make this sensible statement).

Monk: “But first you must have funds to manage.”
Bonteen. “Quite right, Monk, quite right and to get the funds you must have a product. In short, Ireland needs a product.” (soft sounds of Finn’s voice somewhere in background talking to someone else)
Duchess all admiration: “Oh you sum it up both neatly and forcefully, Mr Bonteen …. uh … but surely it is up to Ireland herself to find the product. Oh, you gentlemen in the cabinet can do much I know … ”
Bonteen: “I am not actually in the cabinet, Lady Glencora” (speech now slurred).
Duchess: “Not yet, Mr Bonteen, but I think we can take that for granted (soft voice, conspiratorial posture; camera moves away and she sounds louder). “as I was saying you gentleman of the cabinet can do much, but surely it is up to Ireland herself to find the product and to produce it.”
Bonteen (correspondingly louder) “If we leave it to the Irish themselves, Lady Glen, then nothing will be done for 10,000 years.”

Camera on Finn turning his head. Sense is Bonteen has been too loud, Dolly looking at Lady Glen as Collinwood goes round table filling glasses.

Bonteen: “No, what I propose to do is this: I shall set up a special committee which will first consider in detail the economic affairs of Ireland, and it will then consult with the Board of Trade. Now this way we shall be able to dermine what is best for the Irish and the best way of making them do it.”
Duchess: “Brilliant” (we know this is something insincere in everything about her; he is too drunk and doesn’t know her) “Quite brilliant, Mr Bonteen (nods to Collingwood, slight gesture to refill that glass) But tell me how wil you get the Board of Trade to cooperate?”

Bonteen (Collingwood filling glass): “Well, you forget Lady Glencora that I am ... thank you .. the Board of Trade.”
Duchess (smiles delightfully confidential): “At this moment yes, but by the time of which we are speaking you will perhaps have left it for higher things” (titillating pitch in her voice).
Bonteen (a sort of chord has been struck and he replies full force): “The Board of Trade will not have forgotten me I think and it can hardly retuse to cooperate with the Exchequer.”
Finn (grimace swallowed down): “And the Irish, Mr Bonteen, are you sure they will cooperate …?”
Bonteen: Well it’s up to people like you, Fawn … it’s up to people like you, Finn, to see that they do.”

Camera now moves out to Bungay at table who looks quietly perturbed, and then to Palliser who makes grim eye-contact with Bungay.

Duchess (notices these men and goes on): “Eh um uh what men have you in mind for your committee?”
Bonteen (same dynamic as “I am the Board … ”): “I propose to bring in with me Parrish, Wetherbee, Posten in junior positions and to obtain a rather more ample place for Ford Lawn …”
Dolly: “You mean … ”

Dolly (a choral character) sees what is occurring throughout and his eyes narrow

Bonteen: “Lord Fawn.”
Dolly (smiles): “You mean you’d like these men to take some of the load while you carry on that decimal coinage for Palliser” (soft spoken, also tempting him to go on).
Bonteen (now loud, trying hard to hold on steadily): “The decimal coinage will of course have a place in our affairs … ”

Camera on the Duke now hearing this …

Bonteen: “But it will not be my way, Lady Glencora, to confine myself to pursuing the policies of the previous Chancellor which though I respect him no no what I propose no um …what .. .Lady Glencora I must strike out a new line for myself, several new lines in fact. This Irish business is only one venture amongst many, no, it is my considered intention to [launch?] a full inquiry into the organization of our major banking houses to say nothing of the stock exchange and the acceptance market. I shall also investigate bucket-shot money lending …”

Switch to Scene 19, conference cabinet where Gresham is looking concerned Bungay speaks his disavowal of Bonteen: “The truth is Gresham …”

For more on these scenes, see 8:16: insider politics, tricks and pressure.

This being televisual art, the unreality of the experience (surrounded by daily life) has been underlined by the playful use of strategem in the part, the bucolic landscape, the allusions (to Shakespeare), not to omit the use of costume drama, but these insider politicking scenes like this which reflect real life in the 21st century (as experienced by viewers in their offices) make this part particularly powerful.


See various links and a concise summary of 1:1-3:6, 4:7, 4:8, 5:9, 5:10, 6:11, 6:12, 7:13, 7:14, and 8:15, 31-33, 8:15, 34-35

Posted by: Ellen

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  1. NB. One of the subtler touches of visual information in the series is the growing collusion of the Duchess (Susan Hampshire) with Collingwood (Maurice Quick). She could not manage what she does without him. He it is who goes over discreetly to people to tell them the Duchess is waiting upstairs in her boudoir to talk to them. He it is who keeps pouring Bonteen’s wine, filling that glass. The camera captures the pair of them (Duchess and Collingwood exchanging eye contact and her nodding and him in quiet ways).

    I put on our blog (as I couldn’t quite capture the action of the nod and glance, it was so swift), the still of Collingwood pouring Bonteen’s wine. The white-gloved hand, the exquisite cut glass, all perfect. Cut-glass accents is Emma Thompson’s word for posh accents. We should remember Bonteen has worked hard for years to come near this position, is thoroughly conversant, and in the scene means to reign in banks (!), and it takes just a few moments of indiscretion, of displeasing one powerful man’s ego and pride, and he loses. He could retrieve, but (as Trollope tells us) he is so angry, he cannot contain himself and return again to hard work and (thwarted) hope.

    The Pallisers films are neither unidimensional or unironic. What we see (Dolly's ironic hard look for example, Bonteen's innocence) provides an ironic contrast to what is said (that is everyone in the film but Mr and Mrs Bonteen seems glad to get rid of him; Lizzie Eustace is a hypocrite and liar so her opinion goes for nothing) about what happens (that he is deprived of the position). This is reinforced in the next episode where we discover Legge Wilson has been making foreign trade relationships worse for English merchants and buyers instead of better.

    Elinor    Nov 15, 10:58am    #

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