Eltham Palace, 2011.

film and script – Becca Voelcker
sound – Alex Morrison

with thanks to Eltham Palace and English Heritage

Eltham Palace is a restored, periodised and ultimately, commoditised, building. It is a palimpsest of medieval, art deco and contemporary architecture. In this film, we hear Eltham’s staff preparing for a tour group’s immanent visit, via walkie-talkie messages and beeping. The Palace awaits its tour group as the sun creeps in, the film’s hesitant panning never quite offering us a full portrait. Continuing this idea of what is shown of the building and what is left undisclosed, a script accompanies Eltham Palace, existing independently as a text (see below). 
The film’s sound offers an aural illustration of the Palace’s present identity as a commodity, a historical site requiring maintenance, and as an archive of thematic space. By indulging ourselves in a periodised narrative, we affirm the pull of the past on the present, sometimes at the cost of parts of the Palace we’ve chosen to ignore.

colour film with sound  5’24"

This script is produced to accompany the short film entitled ‘Eltham Palace’. The script exists as a text piece independent of the film, and explores the idea of what is said and what is left unsaid in film.   

Summer. Daytime. Int: A hall with curved wooden walls, French windows and a white floor. Actual sound accompanying static shot of woman walking from stage right towards French window, centre stage. She closes the curtains, bends momentarily to straighten them, and then walks out of shot, also stage right. Dissolve to wooden wall with clock face. Music. Cut to medium close-up (M.C.U) of tabletop with glass vase and ashtrays. Cut to medium wide shot (M.W.S) of French window with alcoves in the wooden walls either side, a centrally positioned coffee table with two upholstered chairs and a rug.
VOICE OVER (V.O.): Mah-Jongg – or Jongy, as he was affectionately known – was Stephen and Virginia Courtauld’s pet lemur. He was purchased from Harrods in 1923 and stayed with them for the next fifteen years, moving into Eltham Palace ten years later.
Kais, Solfo and Caesar, the Courtaulds’ Afghan hound, poodle and Great Dane, are also documented as having been cherished pets, and indeed, there is a photograph of Caesar sitting on an Italian ‘doge’s’ chair in the Great Hall. However Mah-Jongg was the most well known pet and member of their household. He accompanied the Courtaulds on their numerous travels, staying on their yacht in comfort not dissimilar to that found at Eltham. Sound of footsteps and walkie-talkie.
V.O: Mah-Jongg once bit a guest on the yacht. The bite was so deep that it severed the guest’s artery and prevented him from departing on an expedition to the Arctic for a further three months.
A jungle scene was painted for Mah-Jongg in his heated bedroom, and a bamboo ladder led from this room into the flower room below. Cut to medium shot (M.S) of pink cushion on upholstered white sofa, with side cupboard and cocktail shaker in the mid-distance. In the background, a doorway and dining table with chairs is visible. Cut to M.C.U of the same scene, framing the doorway more this time.
V.O: Virginia had been married before, and had a snake tattooed above her right ankle. Cut to very slow leftwards pan, following the wooden wall with marquetry depicting various buildings in Venice, Florence and Stockholm. Pan further left, bringing a carpeted staircase into frame. The music and walkie-talkie continue.
V.O: Guests arriving for dinner parties at Eltham came into the Entrance Hall through large double doors with cloakrooms on either side. There was also a coin-operated phone booth for the convenience of the guests. Stephen disliked using the telephone, although an internal system was installed throughout the house, in addition to the external line. Cut to M.S. of the same wall with staircase, sofas and doorway. Cut back to the continuing pan of the wall and staircase.
V.O: The internal telephones were only one of Eltham’s centralised systems, installed after 1933. A powerful vacuum cleaner, located in the bowels of the house, reached the room with its tentacle-like pipes. The gramophone was another such device, connected to speakers built into the walls of the downstairs rooms. Cut to close-up (C.U) of glass cigarette holder on veneer table. Cut back to pan of wall and staircase.
V.O: Some evenings, Stephen would remain silent before his guests throughout the course of the meal, while Virginia, sitting at the other end of the table, marked the quality of the food in a report that was to be given to the cook afterwards. Cut to M.C.U of white wall in Great Hall, and a sunbeam casting a shadow of carving onto it. Slow pan out to reveal the woodwork. Sound reduces to near-silence. Cut to shot of carved eaves and pale stone tracery. Cut to M.S. of dark wooden settle, high-backed chair and throne, with pink curtain background. Sound of tour-guide’s voice in distance, barely audible.
V.O: The Courtaulds left Eltham in 1944 and moved to Scotland, Virginia upset by the bombing, and life having changed irrevocably due to rationing and a decreased staff. Where once there were fifteen or so gardeners, by the end of the war, there were two. Eltham’s paintings, antiques and tapestries had been dispersed for safekeeping, and during air raids, the household sheltered in the basement. Four incendiary bombs hit the Great Hall, and for a period after 1941, it was left roofless. Cut to C.U. of a chink of sunlight coming through curtains. Pale yellow, but warm in tone.
V.O: Parties at Eltham continued throughout the war, but on a smaller scale, and there was a feeling that times had changed for good. Extreme close-up (E.C.U) of curtain with sunlight. The curtain is moving very, very slightly. M.S. of French window in Entrance Hall. Voices in the background.
V.O: Virginia found Scotland cold and damp, and in 1951 the Courtaulds moved to Rhodesia, where they built a house whose interior resembled Eltham Palace. The house is now a hotel. Shot of domed glass ceiling, camera wheeling around, slow motion. Cut to M.C.U of yellow flock curtain. Cut to M.C.U of yellow silk curtain with sunlight, this time with a slow downwards pan.
V.O: Eltham’s clocks are synchronous and still going. Cut to horizontal leftwards pan across marquetry wall, more C.U. than previously. Camera jolty as if the buildings are being hand-reeled by. Cut to low-positioned M.C.U. of yellow and red curtains and a streak of sunlight touching the floor at an angle. Noise of tour-guide and walkie-talkies gradually fades out. Fade to black. Credits.