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    Exploring the Enigmatic Charm of Country House Summers

    In “Saltburn,” Emerald Fennell, known for her previous work “Promising Young Woman,” takes a different approach with a story set in a country house. The film, currently in theaters, explores the classic theme of upstairs versus downstairs, invited versus interloped, and public versus private dynamics. Characters in these narratives often find themselves immersed in idyllic surroundings, unaware of the hidden, sometimes sinister, forces at play.

    In “Saltburn,” we follow Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan), a reserved Oxford student who accepts an invitation to spend the summer at the opulent family estate of his wealthy classmate, Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi). As the story unfolds, Oliver’s admiration for Felix transcends mere infatuation.

    With its exploration of class consciousness and homoeroticism, “Saltburn” fits snugly within the tradition of literary classics like “Brideshead Revisited” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and their numerous screen adaptations. Here are five other films where summering at a country house leads to significant power imbalances and lifelong consequences.

    1. “The Servant” (1963) Director Joseph Losey, in collaboration with playwright Harold Pinter, crafts a quintessentially British period drama. Young Leo (Dominic Guard) receives an invitation to spend the summer at his wealthy friend’s country house. When his friend falls ill with measles, Leo becomes entangled in a web of secrets involving his friend’s sister (Julie Christie) and a tenant farmer (Alan Bates). This film captures the fleeting sense of freedom in the lush countryside, which ultimately gives way to the loss of innocence.
    2. “Cries and Whispers” (1972) Ingmar Bergman explores themes of God’s silence, human disconnection, and simmering family resentments against the backdrop of a summer house. The film delves into the final days of a woman battling cancer at her family’s opulent mansion, while her sisters attempt to mend long-standing estrangements. The stark, visually striking cinematography juxtaposes the women’s icy exteriors against richly saturated crimson walls.
    3. “Grey Gardens” (1975) Albert and David Maysles document the eccentric lives of “Little Edie” and “Big Edie” Beale, cousins of Jacqueline Kennedy, who have secluded themselves in their decaying East Hampton home for nearly two decades. This documentary serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of refusing to leave a summer retreat, as the Beales remain oblivious to the changing world outside.
    4. “Chinese Roulette” (1976) Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s bleak psychological thriller takes place in a country estate where two adulterous couples unknowingly converge for a weekend. When their resentful daughter arrives, she orchestrates a diabolical truth or dare game, manipulating the guests and housekeeper into a psychological showdown. The film’s cinematography creates a suffocating atmosphere within the mirrored interiors of the house.
    5. “Call Me by Your Name” (2017) James Ivory, known for his country house films, adapts André Aciman’s novel into a story set in Northern Italy. A bookish teenager explores the complexities of sexual attraction when a graduate student arrives at his family’s villa during a summer vacation. The lush surroundings play a significant role in this coming-of-age tale.

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