Casting Lady Kate Fitzwilliam

Looking at who would play an older Kitty Bennet in the Wardrobe

The fifth volume of the Bennet Wardrobe Series, The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn, is in the process of being re-edited and republished by Meryton Press. The book is set to bow again (Amazon worldwide including e-book and KindleUnlimited as well as print. You may also enjoy Amanda Berry’s performance of the book at Audible.) by mid-October 2021.  

There is still some foundation building yet to be undertaken. In this volume, readers will learn of the origins of the Bennet Family Trust itself, the Founder’s Letters, and the underpinnings of the hidden Bennet wealth. New characters who will figure in subsequent volumes are introduced. The most important villain in the entire Wardrobe series also makes his entrance.

To repeat what I wrote before (literally, I copied the next two paragraphs from the previous newsletter): if I am to be honest, I think I write films rather than books. The more I read my work, the more I sense verbal descriptions of visual contexts. I believe this allows readers to immerse themselves in a wholly new world.

Of course, writing for the visual implies that I also imagine that actual picture. In a way, I do. Yes, I do “cast” my books as if the end product was not 350-odd pages but rather 118 minutes of “film.” (I put that word in quotes because writing the state-of-the-art term “digital” leaves me feeling cold.)

In the case of TE: TCVL, I saw Lady Kate Fitzwilliam, now the eleventh Dowager Countess of Matlock played by Charlotte Rampling. I “interviewed” Ms Rampling in this imaginary encounter with a breathless reporter. However, this little set-piece allowed me to discuss the book using Ms Rampling’s voice.

As a lead-in to this mock interview, I want to remind you that I subscribe to the great science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein’s “world as myth” idea which argues that the act of writing fiction creates the reality in which that fiction exists. Thus, the interview approaches Pride and Prejudice as if it is a romanticized biography, a work of non-fiction. 

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Interview with Charlotte Rampling

Charlotte Rampling has appeared in over 110 films and has long been a fixture on the British (Georgy Girl) and French (Swimming Pool) film scenes with occasional forays into Hollywood (45 Years, Red Sparrow). Her list of awards is long and the purest evidence that she is an actor of prodigious talent: nominations for the Academy Award, Emmy, César, and SAG. Her work has also been recognized in film festivals from Berlin and Venice to the continental European. Rampling was made a member of OBE in 2000 and Legion d’honneur in 2002.

In 2015, Rampling joined the cast of Fluidity Films cinematic version of Jane Austen’s Sanditon. However, delays led to the shelving of the project. What might have been: Rampling was slated to tackle one of Austen’s most interesting doyens, Lady Denham. However, the hard-working actor quickly appeared in several independent projects, capping off a pre-Covid slate with Mathew J. Saville’s dark comedy, Juniper (New Zealand, rel. August 2021).

The View from Here tracked Ms Rampling down on Juniper set. Over a craft services luncheon of salad niçoise and iced tea, we explored her interpretation of Lady Kate Fitzwilliam’s later life in the soon-to-be-released “The Countess.”

Her elegance has long been her trademark, but your reporter found her piecing grey-blue eyes, nearly identical to Lady Kate’s original Bennet Eyes of china-blue, to be riveting. Those eyes…and her top-drawer British English colored with the softest hint of cross-Channel backtone…convinced me that Miss Rampling was the perfect actor to bring the mature Lady Kate, a giant in her time, to life in this world looking for heroes.

VFH: Before we begin talking about The Countess, I cannot help reflecting on how quickly motion pictures are green-lighted these days. ’Twas just nine months ago that I sat with Saoirse Ronan to discuss her interpretation of Lady Kate’s younger self, Kitty Bennet. Here we are today to speak about the same woman forty years deeper into her life.

Rampling: Actually, this was not a question of producers grasping onto an idea for a sequel to a hugely successful film. (VFH: The Renoir Likeness has grossed over $125 million on a budget of $19 million.) Sally Jenkins, the director for both Likeness and Countess, conceived both films as a single unified whole much like life. Kitty Bennet grew into Lady Kate. Her experiences shaped her path from the one who coughed to the helpmeet of Britain’s greatest diplomat and a woman who shaped the nature of British life for nearly fifty years. Thus, Jenkins developed the films simultaneously, understanding that there were aspects of the later story which looped back through the Wardrobe to shape—or not shape—the earlier.

          Even though the Countess does not appear in Likeness, you can find her in Mary Bennet’s story that was set to film by Mr. Christopher Nolan in The Ravel Portfolio.

VFH: Your point is that Jenkins recognized that both films could not exist independent of the other.

R: Exactly. Everything about the history of the Countess went deeper than just the story. Jenkins needed to have Saoirse and me understand that our characters were the same woman: Kitty grew into Kate and everything that was Kate came from Kitty. The actions I took as the Countess of Matlock—or in my alias of the Countess of Deauville—would not have been authentic if I had not been informed by Saoirse’s performance. Likewise, she had to understand that her character’s life did not end when Jenkins called out ‘That’s a wrap” on Likeness.

         I was on Likeness’s set every day that she was working…and many when she was not. Saoirse would tell me that I became the figure toward which her soul was growing even when she was opposite Eric (Bana—Henry Fitzwilliam) or Karen (Gillan—Maggie Small). Sally shot the films sequentially, so when Likeness wrapped, Countess started. Thus, Saoirse came onto our sets to support me as I interpreted the woman into which her Kitty grew.

VFH: You have made a career of portraying powerful women. However, this is, to my recollection, the first time that you have portrayed a character pulled from real life.  How is this different for an actor?

R: (laughing) You might say I am entering my “old Lady” period with Lady Kate who is, after all, sixty-three at the beginning of the film and in her mid-seventies by the end. (VFH: Rampling is a youthful seventy-five at this writing.)

          However, to your question: I see it as two different sides of the same coin. You might also ask this of Meryl (Streep—Margaret Thatcher) or Gary (Oldman—Winston Churchill). I would imagine they would likely agree with me when I say that we are not impersonating the person we play.  We do the best we can to provide an authentic interpretation of what that individual was like, given that we have somewhere around 108 minutes to sketch a decades-long life.

         That said, there is a difference in developing a character from real life. In a drama, we work off of what is provided by the screenplay and our own research into what we assume shaped the individual. We also have to deal with imagery of the individual held by the public. Thankfully, Lady Kate left this world in the mid-1940s, and, while she has assumed great historical importance, much of that influence is behind the scenes and out of the public eye. I do not envy someone who has agreed to portray any of Britain’s leading political figures.

          However, with real-world personalities, there is a plethora of information at hand. For me, the archives of the Bennet Family Trust, the journals of Lady Fitzwilliam, and the twelfth Earl of Matlock’s biography of his mother and father were the foundation stones upon which I built my character’s persona.

          And, I was honored to have an opportunity to meet with Mrs. Mary Benton, known within the Five Families as The Great Keeper, to explore the inner workings of the Wardrobe. To help me understand her younger sister, Mrs. Benton offered information about that miraculous cabinet that has yet to be revealed to anyone outside of that closed fraternity of Keepers of the Wardrobe.

VFH: uuuhhh…

R: No, I swore a blood oath—seriously, here is the scar. (Rampling held up her left hand to show a modest pink line scoring her thumbpad.)

VFH: (sigh)…If there are to be no revelations about a secret on par with the predictions of Nostradamus, then allow me to quiz you about Lady Kate in this film.

          What drew you to her?

R:  Kate Fitzwilliam was a remarkably smart woman. She was legendary for her concentration. She would be in a room full of persons, but if a problem captured her attention, she would drift deep inside herself—sometimes eyes open, other times, closed—and work the situation until she arrived at a satisfactory solution.

          Beyond that, she had style. I think you will be amazed at the staging of the Madras House Twelfth Night Ball of 1812. While our production design team could have created a cinematic tour de force from the whole cloth, they depended upon the copious notes left behind in the Trust’s files. Our set designer immediately stated that she could not exceed that which had been originally created. Sarah Greenwood (Pride and Prejudice, Beauty and The Beast, Darkest Hour, etc.) said that the world that was created reminded her of the best of Jean Renoir (All Quiet on the Western Front).

VFH: As a living, breathing woman, how did Lady Kate differ from literary portraits of aristocratic females?

 R:  Authors tend to take countess’s tiaras as the defining nature of noblewomen. It is an all-too-convenient stereotype. I do not suggest for one moment that this is not the case in many instances. However, deep inside of this aristocratic woman, there was a wife, mother, daughter, and sister.

          I was drawn to Catherine—she despised that name—Marie Bennet Fitzwilliam’s own deep understanding of how these individual roles shaped her nature. She understood the seminal events of her life by looking through these lenses. That became the watch light for me.

          Consider, as just one instance, of how her work with Freud helped her to understand that her mother’s miscarriage in 1800 changed the course of the Bennet family’s lives and, actually, the history of the universe. That loss shattered every inhabitant of Longbourn, but most notably Mr. Bennet, Mrs. Bennet, and Kitty. In fact, without the miscarriage, if that child had been born (Mrs. Bennet asserted to her dying day that it was a boy babe), the Bennets would have remained a clan of modest means with a small estate.

          Whether the elder daughters would have married Bingley and Darcy would have remained a classic “what-if.” However, consider that the objections raised by Bingley’s sisters would have had only a financial basis rather than a behavioral one as well. And, Darcy may still have been attracted to Elizabeth, but he would never have had the opportunity to truly change into a man that Lizzy could love because he never would have really insulted her family in the Hunsford proposal—again having only financial objections and not behavioral ones before him.

         The entail set by Richard Bennet in the 1750s to protect the Wardrobe from the Collins line would never have been laid on because the Wardrobe likely would not have existed. But, I say too much…

         At this point Rampling stopped talking, a blush suffusing her dominant cheekbones. She paid close attention to her meal, offering only one-word responses to my further entreaties. Within minutes, Miss Rampling had risen, bade me a good day, and left me staring at my salad.

LINKS TO MERYTON PRESS BENNET WARDROBE BOOKS (Universal to all Amazon)

Volume One The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey mybook.to/keeperbennetwardrobe

Volume Two Henry Fitzwilliam’s War mybook.to/HenryFtizwilliamMP

Volume Three The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Epoque mybook.to/KittyBennetBelleMP

Volume Four Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess mybook.to/MPLizzyBennetMeets

Other Meryton Press Books by Don Jacobson

Lessers and Betters mybook.to/LessersandBetters

In Plain Sight mybook.to/inplainsightPandPvar

The Longbourn Quarantine mybook.to/longbournquarantine