Spirits of Place: The English Picturesque in Post-Second World War Audiovisual Narratives

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis offers a detailed, work-by-work chronological study of the picturesque in a small number of carefully chosen country house screen narratives, from the period 1949-1982. Each chapter deals with one of these works: Kind Hearts and Coronets (Robert Hamer, 1949); The Go-Between (Joseph Losey, 1971); The Ruling Class (Peter Medak, 1972); Brideshead Revisited (Charles Sturridge and Michael Lindsay-Hogg, 1981); and The Draughtsman's Contract (Peter Greenaway, 1982). These screen fictions are not representative of country estate screen narratives in general, nor are they typical of their directors' oeuvres. The most significant trend is a topos; they all feature a specific type of figure set in a picturesque landscape: a male protagonist who visits a country estate and whose status as an outsider there is largely articulated through his perception of the landed family and its estate. Each figure performs in a picturesque landscape; in the process, he alters, and is altered irrevocably by, the estate. He becomes its genius loci (spirit of place). What was, in 1949, a somewhat unusual landscape narrative, became a small, but highly significant, groundbreaking genre between 1971 and 1982. Through this combination of case studies, I chart a history of innovation in the deployment of country estates in post-Second World War film and television. Heritage criticism tends to see landscapes in screen fictions as pauses in, or distractions from, narrative. This thesis develops an alternative approach to analysing and historicising audiovisual narratives set in picturesque landscapes. It examines the way the chosen works establish a reciprocal relationship between location and narrative. It argues that landscape history plays an integral role in such fictions and that landscape historiography is, therefore, a valuable hermeneutic tool for the analysis of these narratives, yielding new insights into a distinctly English genre.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Birkbeck College
  • Christie, Ian, Supervisor, External person
  • Mulvey, Laura, Advisor, External person
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Apr 2009
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2009


  • picturesque
  • country house
  • landscape gardens
  • british cinema and television
  • Kind Hearts and Coronets
  • The Go-Between
  • The Ruling Class
  • Brideshead Revisited
  • The Draughtsman's Contract
  • genius loci
  • Marxist landscape theory
  • garden aesthetics
  • Heritage
  • Subversive narratives


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