A VERY BRITISH COUNTRY HOUSE is a Channel 4 documentary giving us the first inside-look at the Cliveden Country House Hotel in its 350 year history.
May is the start of wedding season, and in this opening episode of the four-part documentary we catch a glimpse of their most important guest of the season: Meghan Markle. The focus, however, is less on the (then) bride-to-be but the preparations and impact of hosting her and Doria (her mother) the night before the Royal Wedding.
Expecting a filtered portrayal of the glamorous stay of those with the means to afford a night at this exclusive five-star hotel - A Very British Country House surprises by offering a real look at what it means to work at Cliveden.
There are still the usual shots of the expansive grounds, expensive cars driving up the impressive driveway and close ups of the designer clothing of the guests, but we also meet the down-to-earth staff who go above and beyond to provide the quality service they pride themselves on.
We empathise with the staff over complaints about branded water or late night gripes over limescale in the kettle. We see them run up three flights of stairs from the basement kitchen to ensure that the wedding party receives their meals adequately hot, the plates scalding even through their protective gloves.
Every need is anticipated and met, even if that means repainting a room before the VIP’s arrival or ensuring there is a quality dog menu, which includes a £27 fillet steak.
Throughout the documentary, there is an underlying sense of contrast. The contrast between the Primark shopping wedding planner Lydia Kenny and the lavish million pound weddings she coordinates. The sommelier Sean Arthur even confesses to a sense of jealousy at all the luxury he’s surrounded by but cannot afford.
Chefs are clearly frazzled, yelling at waiters who dared to chat near them, while guests expect to be served more than olives with their champagne.
There is also contrast between its exclusive origins when the country house solely catered to the likes of Winston Churchill to the modern day, where what counts is money - and social media influence. Even Cliveden House now invites lifestyle bloggers to stay in order to boost its online presence, and has to keep an eye on dipping online customer satisfaction ratings.
A Very British Country House manages to balance making us laugh at the guest demands that seem outrageous to the average viewer with an emotional attachment to the staff who make Cliveden House what it is, and the joy that they are able to bring to guests like Andy and Garfield on their wedding day. It may be a posh country house, but the people behind it are all still very human.
- Watched on Channel 4. 25/11/2018