When it comes to the British aristocracy it is no secret that as a class they are not without their, shall we say, eccentricities. I guess when you get to be that rich and don’t have to mix with the rest of the riff raff (high society code for normal, hard-working tax payers) the world is your oyster and you get to act however you want. You only have to look at reality TV ‘star’ Francis Fulford of the ‘Fucking’ Fulfords, one of Britain’s elite landed gentry, for a good example of just how unaware and mental the country’s richest percentile really can be.
The innate madness of wealth and breeding becomes the subject of Andrew Sinclair’s 1973 witchcraft flavoured drama based horror Blue Blood. We join Lord of the Manor Gregory (Derek Jacobi) at his sprawling estate. Married to the bored by life singer Lily (Fiona Lewis) and having two spoiled brats in tow is a bit of a strain for the family. Lily would rather be on tour and Gregory- a child trapped in a man’s body- is more adept at having long sex sessions with his glamourous lover Carlotta (Anna Gael) than casting his hand at a bit of parental duty. Plus he would much rather be painting gaudy sexed up murals all over the walls of his opulent home than tending to two demanding kids. But then Gregory doesn’t have to trouble himself with much responsibility given that the running of the day to day trivialities are pretty much taken care of by the able butler Tom ( Oliver Reed); the hired hand who keeps a tight rein on his underling staff and the house, and proves to be quite the control freak on the side. When the family hire Nanny Beate this new member of staff finds out why her predecessors were reluctant to stay.
When you put the words Oliver Reed and Witchcraft in the same sentence, only one association usually springs to mind, Ken Russell’s masterpiece The Devils (1971). Maybe this was the thing that got Reed involved in this baffling little film, maybe not. But this is not another The Devils, far from it- there certainly isn’t even a sniff of a nun cavorting near phallic objects to be seen anywhere. Reed plays a very different role as a creepy little Satanic Butler complete with a curious cockney (?) or what could be perceived as a ‘yes, M’Lud’ general commoner accent. But you can’t ever fault the legend that was Oliver Reed in anything he did, even if his accent here is a little disconcerting at first and you wonder whether he is deliberately taking the piss; the guy was an enigma on screen even at his less than polished. Weird diction aside here, in a relatively low-budget potboiler, he still springs out some extra zest to flesh out his character into a vindictive, power hungry, snide, nasty and sadistic little worm. As a result Tom, as with all of the characters in Blue Blood, becomes something of a caricature; this is a large part of what gives the film such an incredible offbeat vibe.
Joining the ranks of the other bordering on cartoonish roles that populate the film is Derek Jacobi as the feeble minded Lord of the manor Gregory. This is the guy who drifts around drowning in unimaginable wealth, a beautiful family, a stunning home, and yet despite all this life seems to be a struggle for him. Jacobi is so believable in his role of disaffected prat you really just want to give the man a slap. Trotting around dressed like an 18th Century Dandy, Gregory epitomises the very essence of ‘more money than sense’.
As they say money talks and this is the only reason I can think of that wife Lily, played by a very glamourous Fiona Lewis, would bother with the first class pillock. Especially when the loon can’t even manage to stay faithful and the two have an open relationship status that allows Gregory’s lover Carlotta to stay over while she sleeps in another room.
The last major player is the poor Nanny who walks into this sham of a household, Beate, played by Welsh actress Meg Wynn Owen. Owen has had a long running career since this in mostly big budget period pieces- Gosford Park (2001), Pride and Prejudice (2005)– and fairs well here as a foreign carer trapped in a bewildering and potentially dangerous situation.
The film was directed by Andrew Sinclair who only made a handful of films. The circumstances of how and why he got involved in Blue Blood is a mystery- as are many aspects of the production- but he is also responsible for adapting the script from Alexander Thynne’s novel The Carry Cot.
In a case of art imitates life one of the most interesting things about this film isn’t (sadly) the actual content, but the background and it’s connection to the original novelist Alexander Thynne; or as he is otherwise known The 7th Marquess of Bath. The Marquess is known as a somewhat eccentric character, now in his seventies, he lives a very bohemian lifestyle in his huge estate at Longleat, dresses like he has just come back from Woodstock festival and is open about his polygamous relationship which features main wife Anna Gael. Gael plays the part of Gregory’s lover Carlotta in the film and it is no wonder she looks so at home because part of the story appears to have been fashioned on her own life. Gael and the Marquess, despite having two children, have shared an open marriage since 1969, and he is honest in interviews about bringing in over 70 ‘wifelets’ over the years. Even weirder the Marquess likes to fashion full body sculptures of his conquests and have these pieces of ‘art’ mounted on his spiral staircase. But the weirdness doesn’t stop there, the art we see in Blue Blood, weird daubings that dominate the walls of an otherwise elegant period home (as Blue Blood is filmed at Thynne’s home), are in fact the result of another favourite pastime of the Marquess’- painting scenes from the Karma Sutra to decorate around his house. Suddenly the film becomes so much more interesting, as does the character of Gregory given the obvious autobiographical aspects his creator has imbibed in him.
Blue Blood isn’t an immediately gratifying film by any stretch. It’s incredibly slow moving and builds to a climax that arrives with little explanation. Throughout, through the eyes of Beate, mundane routine is broken up with vivid hallucinatory flashes of a red infused Satanic ritual- Reed as Tom at the helm with a bloody dagger. Of the handful of people who have bothered to write about this, a large portion of them have dismissed this as boring because of the crawling pace. I would beg to disagree on that score. The nuances, the weird characters, and especially Reed’s quirk laden performance, were absorbing enough to keep me hooked. However if you are one of those who needs the whys and wherefores spelt out in Technicolor this will not be the film for you. What the film does do, if you let it that is, is seep in under your skin. There are some pretty nasty underlying concepts hidden in among all the aristocratic visual pomp and free loving hippy drippy stuff- bullying, an abuse of power, child abuse- and worse- are all there bubbling beneath the surface. Mostly these darker elements are delivered subtly, until the suitably unorthodox ending that is. This makes Blue Blood not necessarily a horrific film, but one which has some appeal to those who enjoy a drama with a sinister edge.
Another interesting performance by Oliver Reed- this time as a Satanic Butler- Blue Blood comes recommended as a curiosity piece if nothing more, and provides a weird portal into the semi-autobiographical (rituals aside I hope!) world of a real life eccentric British Marquess.