The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday

VERY VICTORIAN VALUES

Emma Thompson’s new film tells the story of how Effie Gray married the art critic John Ruskin. It also explores the roots of the 19th-century Arts and Crafts movement. Caroline McGhie finds properties that capture its legacy

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Agood Victorian melodrama is nothing without its setting. Dark streets pooled with yellow lamplight, railway engines swirled in steam. The sitting rooms are heavy with patterned wallpapers and fabrics, the bathtubs have clawed feet and kitchen shelves are stacked with copper pans and jelly moulds. The tensions between the exteriors and interiors, the dark alleys and the front parlours, have been at the heart of many a screen drama. Few are quite as scandalous as Emma Thompson’s new film Effie Gray, which tells how Effie, married to the art critic John Ruskin, fell in love with her husband’s student, John Everett Millais. She claimed their marriage of more than five years had remained unconsumma­ted. A gripping court case followed in which Ruskin revealed himself disgusted by the female body (he had believed women were as smooth and hairless as the marble statues in art galleries). Thompson wrote the script and the film has had a long and troubled journey from inception to release, but is out now and blessed with many stars. Dakota Fanning plays Effie, Greg Wise is Ruskin and Tom Sturridge is Millais, with other celebrity turns from James Fox, Thompson herself, Claudia Cardinale, David Suchet and Derek Jacobi. Ruskin was a huge influence on William Morris. He gave us the Arts and Crafts movement and so many wonderful houses full of light and decoration. Ruskin might have struggled to appreciate the female body, but as a naturalist he had a huge appreciati­on of the wild. As an art and architectu­ral critic he admired old-fashioned craftsmans­hip, both keystones of Arts and Crafts and the Aesthetic Movement. The ideas were revolution­ary and the cross-fertilisat­ion between art and architectu­re was rich. Bedford Park, in west London, was built from the 1870s to include the best of the countrysid­e in the city. With parks, tennis courts and Queen Anne revivalist cottage styles, it became the model for the Garden City Movement. Sir John Betjeman hailed it as “the most significan­t suburb built in the last century, probably in the western world”. The book The Victorian Society (020 8993 0355) Book of the Victorian House (Aurum Press, £20) by KitWedd. Textiles and wallpapers Morris & Co (0844 543 9500, william-morris. co.uk). Paints Papers and The soaring house prices and desirabili­ty of the area prove its success. Derek Fletcher of John D Wood (020 8995 9394, johndwood. co.uk) is selling a five-bedroom property designed by one of the leading architects, EW Godwin, at £2.49million. “The family houses in leafy streets retaining all of the values of the country village – with a Tube station – made it special,” he says. “It is a very niche market which has always attracted artists and media types. Now it has been discovered by Kensington and Chelsea buyers downsizing.” Hence the arrival of restaurant­s with Michelin stars. “The late-Victorian era was a very exciting time, a very identifiab­le architectu­ral period full of innovation,” explains Dawn Carritt at Jackson-Stops & Staff. She negotiated the sale of the first Arts and Crafts home, Red House at Bexleyheat­h, to the National Trust, which has spent the last decade restoring it and revealing hidden treasure. The property was designed by Edward Burne-Jones for William Morris, finished in 1860 and described by him as “the beautifull­est place on earth”. While the Effie court case was raising eyebrows in London, Millais was busy painting his world-famous Ophelia, now in Tate Britain. He was one of the original Pre-Raphaelite­s, along with William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He used Rossetti’s lover Lizzie Siddall as his model – she lay in a bath of cold water and caught pneumonia in the process. In the painting, her body is couched in a forest of wild flowers. Morris’s wallpapers, covered in intricate flower patterns, are not dissimilar. Social hierarchy was built into the houses. Most homeowners kept sitting rooms for use on Sundays, hallways were inlaid with the best tiles and ceiling mouldings to impress. Even the less well-off had a servant tucked into a bedroom under the eaves, and kitchens were dedicated engine rooms. “There was such a huge building boom between 1850-1870 because people could move out of the cities away from the smog and get to their place of work by train,” adds Dawn. “The transport infrastruc­ture allowed building materials to be moved around the country, so we had terracotta from the Midlands, slate from Wales. And there were very detailed pattern books from which you could choose wallpapers, ceiling mouldings and fireplaces.” Cleanlines­s and moral rectitude were the order of the day. “This is also when bathrooms arrived with piped water and fixed baths instead of hip baths. The fittings were really built to last and a lot of the houses still have them.” Mrs Isabella Beeton, in her Book of Household Management of 1859, sums it up. “As with the Commander of an Army, or the leader of any enterprise, so it is with the mistress of a house. Her spirit will be seen through the whole establishm­ent.” Luckily that spirit can still be found today – if you know where to look. Live the Hollywood dream, page 5

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