Emerald Fennell explains the sadism & masochism of the British class system

Emerald Fennell is an actress, writer and director. I actually love her as an actress, but it’s cool that she’s just barreled into the world of screenwriting, producing and directing. She wrote, directed and produced Saltburn, a sort of a knockoff of Brideshead Revisited and The Talented Mr. Ripley, but modernized. Fennell recently chatted with the Sunday Times (via the Telegraph) about the film and how it’s about the British class system, and the dysfunctional relationship which exists between the working class and the upper class.

The country’s relationship with aristocracy and the upper classes has become less reverential: “We have a sadomasochistic relationship with those who not only don’t care about us but don’t even see us… The British class system is so stratified.”

Saltburn is commentary: Saltburn is about how people can be enamoured with those who are better off, Fennell said: “It is voyeurism that is tinged with condescension. It’s this cycle: ‘I’m looking at this person and I want to f— them, but that makes me feel bad about myself, so I hate them.’ We can’t help ourselves and have never been so voyeuristic.” It is a constant tension “between desire and revulsion” and that it played out in this country in our relationship with “big houses”.

It’s about Eton-educated prime ministers: Fennell also mused that Britain’s relationship with “elites” had changed, blaming this “rightly” on our government, suggesting that respect had been eroded through various Eton-educated prime ministers. “Our relationship with [elites] has changed enormously, and that’s rightly to do with our government. But we still look. It is more sadomasochistic when you know better. And we as a country can’t stop picking that scab.”

Her own posh background: Her father is the Eton-educated celebrity jeweller Theo Fennell, leading her to admit that there “is always conversation” about her acquaintance with the upper-class world in Britain. “The thing is, because of my job as an actress and writer I’ve taken myself out of all that,” she said, but added: “I mean, I have to introduce myself to people with a straight face as ‘Emerald’. I’ve had to get thick skinned about how absurd I am as a person.”

[From The Telegraph]

I think she’s right about the voyeurism and sadomasochism within the stratified British class system, but I’d also like to point out that, from what I can see as an outsider, sadism is a feature and not a bug of the whole British class system. The glee with which sadism is an end unto itself, that the entire system is built on punishment, cruelty and harm. As for Emerald’s belief that she’s “taken herself out” of the posh world… I’m sure she genuinely thinks that, but that’s not how the British class system works. She’s welcome in those elite worlds because she was born into it.

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Cover Images.

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