Chatsworth Review: “Like Coachella, But With More Flowers”

CHATSWORTH: Monday 21st May, BBC1, 9pm

Do you like drama and excitement? No? Okay, good. Do you like excessive preparation and shiny, expensive-looking things? Yes? Then this three part series about Chatsworth House, or as it’s sometimes known, ‘The Real Life Downton Abbey’, won’t disappoint.

On tonight’s episode there’s some intense, high-octane tablecloth ironing action set to a galloping prestigious-sounding musical score that refuses to quit. Viewers are granted backstage access to the Chatsworth flower festival, Florabundance (kind of like Coachella, but with less rock, more flowers), and the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire attend the Chatsworth International Horse Trials. All of these events, of course, are spliced together beautifully with aesthetically pleasing transitional shots, featuring chandeliers and other expensive things, like cutlery, leather bound books and rich mahogany.

It’s enough surely to prompt you into making a little impressed “oohâ€? noise. That, I imagine, is what defines the main demographic of people that enjoy watching Chatsworth—it’s a programme for people who make little impressed “oohâ€? noises when watching expensive and historic artefacts being polished for long periods of time. Now, there’s nothing wrong if you do enjoy that, obviously. But if you don’t like that, then you’re probably not going to like Chatsworth. In fact, you’re probably going to switch to another channel within the first five minutes, though you’d perhaps be wrong to do so—unless something genuinely good is on the other side.

As it happens, the programme does have its moments, and these come mostly from the people who work at Chatsworth House—the maids, the cleaners, the mahogany polishers, the tea towel folders, etc. For example, the tablecloth ironing scene sounds more boring than it is to watch. The two ladies that have been asked to iron an incredibly large dining tablecloth bring a lot of humour to the episode. They’re kind of like the middle age, female equivalent of Abbot and Costello.

As you can imagine, they try their best, but ultimately do a terrible job. When silverware is laid out on top of the table for an event happening later that evening, it looks even worse.

“I think it detracts from the silverware,â€? comments one lady. “It would be better if it had been ironed.â€?

“I think no cloth at all would have been better,â€? says another.

The comments left me pondering what is indeed best: a more thoroughly ironed tablecloth or no cloth at all. Then I realise that Chatsworth has done this to me. An hour of television about a big house, horses, statue polishing and ironing has turned me into somebody who seriously considers whether a more thoroughly ironed tablecloth is better than no cloth at all.

Perhaps some viewers will find the Chatsworth International Horse Trials a bit more thrilling than the tablecloth bit. There are at least a few clips of horses jumping over big things, which is cool for a minute. Mostly, however, it’s preparation—lots of preparation. We see the Dutchess preparing. The Duke preparing. Staff preparing the trials. And so on.

Unfortunately, despite it’s occasional charms, it is difficult for me to recommend Chatsworth. It’s not so much a series that you choose to watch, but one that you end up watching and then surprise yourself by watching it all the way through. That is, unless you’re genuinely really interested in big houses, horses, statue polishing, ironing and tea towel folding. Then you’ll love it, I’m sure.