Thursday, January 15, 2015

In The Arts Will 2015 Once Again Be The Year Of The Posh?

in this picture from the Daily Mail article on his class at Eton Eddie Redmayne is #11, Prince William is #20
As a break from the awfulness of the world the Golden Globes is hard to beat: beautiful people getting drunk and winning stuff and being gently teased by the razor sharp Tina Fey - who cd complain about that? I'm a cinephile too and I've seen some of this year's big films and this year's TV has been great. Everything went well at the awards I thought (except for True Detective getting robbed) until the best actor trophy where it was a case of the boy from Eton beating the boy from Harrow. I must admit that I found it hard to root for Eddie Redmayne who comes from incredible wealth and who went to the most exclusive private school in the world (Eton College). The bookies had Redmayne as the favourite to win best actor over Benedict Cumberbatch who also grew up rich and went to the second most exclusive private school in the world (Harrow). We all like to cheer for the underdog so its tricky when the culture offers us a choice between a Cumberbatch and a Redmayne. Redmayne was in Prince William's year at Eton and has lived an incredibly charmed life. There was a nice Daily Mail story about him with the headline How Redmayne Went From Riches To Riches. Many of the hot young English actors you can think of went to private school and from thence to Oxbridge and straight into BBC costume drama and Hollywood. (This year's big BBC costume drama is the much anticipated Wolf Hall starring Damian Lewis, who, of course, went to Eton.) For some reason this rule doesn't seem to apply to Scottish or Irish actors as far as I can see but an alarming number of English actors are very posh indeed. 
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Of course you can't blame Redmayne or Cumberbatch or Lewis for the choices their parents made in sending them to school but if you go to Eton or Harrow at the very least you should admit your privilege. Not everyone has to be like George Orwell who went to Eton but who then spent a year living as a down and out "to see how the other half lived." You don't have to do that but it would be nice if you could admit that talent only got you so far and for the rest it was connections, wealth and power. Only 6% of the British population go to private school and only 1% go to boarding school, but those 6% and those 1% dominate every aspect of life in the United Kingdom. Business, the arts and political life are run by a tiny private school clique. The editor of almost all the national newspapers is a private school boy, the men (its always men) who run the universities are private school boys, the man (its almost always a man) who chairs the Booker Prize panel is almost always a private school boy. There are exceptions of course but the exceptions prove the rule. Britain's Prime Minister went to Eton, his Deputy Prime Minister went to Westminster School, his Chancellor of the Exchequer went to Eton etc. etc. Even in pop music, apparently, its the private school types who rule the roost. Yes, its true that often talent will always rise to the top like the cream in the milk but its going to be a harder slog if you went to a comprehensive school, or if you're the wrong body shape, or if you're a working class woman, or if, God help you, you have a Brummie accent...
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Redmayne did a good job playing Stephen Hawking, almost as good a job as, er, Benedict Cumberbatch did in the BBC TV version 10 years ago . They both seem like thoroughly nice chaps and that's the problem with chip-on-shoulder class war rabble rousing: Redmayne and Cumberbatch are probably good eggs; my point however - such as it is - is that a working class actor could have done just as good a job as either of them but in today's climate they are unlikely ever to be given the chance to show it.