Weekend Film Recommendation: The Shooting Party

I have a weakness for British art that echoes French art. I have posted at RBC (here and here) about my appreciation of Anthony Powell’s Proust-esque Dance to the Music of Time. In a similar vein, my movie recommendation this week is a British film that recalls Renoir’s Rules of the Game: 1985’s The Shooting Party.

The plot: Not long before The Great War will descend upon Europe, the kindly, idealistic, yet somewhat world-weary Sir Randolph Nettleby (James Mason, in his final cinematic performance) hosts a weekend shooting party at his arcadian estate. The guests include the competitive and cold Lord Gilbert Hartlip (Edward Fox, as watchable as ever) and his amorous and unfaithful wife Lady Aline Hartlip (Cheryl Campbell, whose performance stands out even among all this talent). Another unfulfilled but better-behaved noble couple (Lord and Lady Liburn, well-played by Robert Hardy and Judi Bowker) join them, as do a number of not-quite-that-loftily-titled but still upper class types from England and abroad. Gossip, affairs, and philosophical discussions upstairs and downstairs ensue as countless pheasants and grouse meet their end.

The main pleasure here is seeing a large number of outstanding actors work their magic under the eye of a solid director (Alan Bridges). Julian Bond’s adaptation of Isabel Colegate’s novel includes many subplots involving the marriages and friendships of the characters, the dynamics between and among servants and gentry, and observations on how children interact with and understand adults. Some of these are amusing and heartwarming. But this is no comedy: the film has an undertone of violence which the shooting scenes symbolize. By the end the viewer appreciates the violence some upper class people are willing to casually commit against lower class people and also the mix of self-regard and misplaced romanticism that will facilitate much of the aristocracy of Europe wiping each other out in World War I.

Some of the dialogue is heavy-handed, as if Bond doesn’t trust the audience enough to understand the themes of the film unless he has a character state them explicitly. But the experienced cast is skillful enough to sell these awkward moments and make even more of the (thankfully more numerous) authentic exchanges in the film. As for the look of the movie, anyone who has seen an episode of Masterpiece Theater knows that the Brits can do the country house with wood-paneled rooms and roaring fireplaces stuff as well as anyone, and they don’t disappoint here, including Fred Tammes’ autumnal cinematography.

My favorite scene in the movie is I suspect almost everyone’s favorite scene in the movie because it brings together two British acting giants to play off each other beautifully. John Gielgud is an animal rights protester who disrupts one of the shoots, bringing him into Sir Randolph’s presence for an exchange that dissolves the tension between them. I close the recommendation with a clip (which will not spoil the film’s plot at all) to highlight the stellar acting you will see if you watch this fine drama.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

8 thoughts on “Weekend Film Recommendation: The Shooting Party”

  1. Yes a great film….when I saw the title I immediately thought of that scene…one of my favourite in any film. Thanks for including it.

  2. I missed this one, but it sounds terrific. I thought the title might refer to the cheeky Saki short story, The Open Window, and I wondered how they could stretch a 4-page punchline into a feature-length film.

  3. I bet someone here will know this – do pheasant and grouse taste good?

    My chances of finding out in person seem remote.

    I’ve seen that movie and I recall liking it. I guess I’m an Anglophile too.

    1. Just out of curiosity, did everyone else already know that Amazon owns IMDB and has for many years? ‘Cause I only found out recently.

    2. I’ve eaten pheasant a number of times in the UK. A fine meal — nothing to grouse about.

    3. Pheasant, grouse, partridge, quail, woodcock, and squab are all delicious. Best in a low and slow braise, though if you spatchcock them they will grill up well. Cider is a natural for the braise. Thyme, duck pate, and halved seedless grapes are a lovely stuffing. Sauces of any berry or pitted fruit (peach, cherry, apricot, plum, e.g.) reduced with some red wine and sugar — a gastrique, more or less — go well with wild fowl. Some cider vinegar and spicy dijon warmed up are also a nice condiment for dipping the meat in.

      1. Wow, you’re making me hungry! You must be a really good cook. It is a wonderful talent to have. I think music and food – that is, when we feed each other – are the highest arts and may be why we haven’t been flooded a second time.

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