Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tessa Arlen's "Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman"

Tessa Arlen, the daughter of a British diplomat, had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Cairo, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the U.S. in 1980 and worked as an H.R. recruiter for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. She lives in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Here Arlen dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman:
Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman is a mystery of betrayal, blackmail and revenge set in 1912 Britain when the Empire was beginning to fray, a little, around the edges. The English aristocracy led such privileged and protected lives I wanted to stage a murder at the country house of one of their most elite families, causing embarrassment and scandal among a class of people who made the meaning of the term ‘double-standard’ gilt-edged. My family and I had great fun this Thanksgiving casting characters for the movie of the book.

The old Merchant & Ivory producer/director partnership would depict the time and place of my novel wonderfully, as in Howards End and The Remains of the Day. But I wouldn’t be averse to the talented Ang Lee’s direction at all. His Sense and Sensibility was superbly directed in what I consider to be the only movie of Jane Austen’s books worth seeing.

Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman’s main character Clementine Talbot, the Countess of Montfort is a word-perfect aristocrat’s wife, but she has a head that tends to think otherwise when it comes to society’s more strait-laced conventions. Clementine is our amateur sleuth – along with her housekeeper – in a subterranean murder enquiry which comes about because Clementine’s son, Harry Talbot, is the most likely suspect for the murder of his cousin. It was not a stretch to cast Emma Thompson. She brings terrific range, intelligence and sympathy to her craft and is extraordinarily humorous and self-aware as is Clementine - and they both have a dash of impatient energy that keep things interesting.

Edith Jackson, Iyntwood’s housekeeper and assistant sleuth, is the novel’s most multi-faceted character. There is a serenity and dignity to Edith that is unusual in the humble servant class. She is composed, self-contained and subtly beautiful in the same understated way that Nicole Kidman is in her strangely unglamorous role in The Railway Man. Kidman’s stillness as an actress would bring great credibility to her portrayal of Edith’s complex and hidden character traits.

We all want to be in-love with our leading male and Ralph Talbot, 6th Earl of Montfort born into a world of immense privilege, wealth and responsibility has a reserved and wry sense of humor that rises above the conventional world of manners that prevailed at the time. Ciarán Hinds would be a perfect Ralph Talbot. His role as Julius Cesar in HBO’s Rome was played with a marvelous combination of gravitas and humor that would be perfect for the character of Ralph Talbot – without the toga and the laurel wreath of course!

The murder victim, Teddy Mallory, is a degenerate and callous opportunist. Who other than Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley with his perfectly shaped blonde head, wide gray eyes and enchantingly charming and boyish face could play this part? Law’s sociopathic self-absorption and feline cruelty made his death in Mr. Ripley almost acceptable. And this is exactly how I want people to feel about Teddy Mallory.

Harry Talbot, the Earl of Montfort’s impeccable son and heir, embodies the Edwardian ideal of the faultless male. Jeremy Irvine as he was in Warhorse is a perfect choice for the role. Irvine’s portrayal of early 20th century naiveté, candor, honesty and honor was perfectly portrayed and these are the same values that exist in the character of Harry. You would want your youngest daughter to marry a man with these qualities.
Visit Tessa Arlen's website.

The Page 69 Test: Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman.

--Marshal Zeringue