The Skin Game

A common situation in Dornford Yates’s stories of post-war England is that some outsider (foreigner, nouveau riche, war profiteer or all of the above) has bought or wants to buy some cherished English estate. Yates’s authentically upper-class heroes always manage to send the bounder packing, and reclaim the countryside for the right kind of people.

I’ve just been watching Alfred Hitchcock’s 1931 film of The Skin Game, an adaptation of the play by John Galsworthy, first produced in 1920. From what I can gather, the film is pretty faithful to the play. This gives a much more even-handed handed and complex version of the same situation.

Hornblower is a bumptious industrialist who has bought an estate near the old-established Hillcrists. He shows his ignorance of social obligations by evicting some old-established tenants, and the Hillcrists declare their hostility to him. At this stage the audience’s sympathies are very much with the conservative Hilcrists.

The battle escalates, and Hornblower is on the verge of building a vast polluting factory right on the Hillcrists’ doorstep – but then we discover that the ancient gentry can be even nastier than the incomers. Ladylike Mrs Hillcrist has found a discreditable secret about Hornblower’s daughter-in-law’s past, and uses it ruthlessly, forcing Hornblower to back down utterly. But the daughter-in-law is driven to suicide, and the whole thing ends horribly.

The Skin Game

The Skin Game – suicide discovered

“Who controls the estate?” is a metaphor for “Who controls England?” in plenty of English novels and plays, but this is a particularly troubling example. Nobody comes out of it well, and the future is left looking bleak. The play was written just after the war, and must have been intended as a warning about the fracturing of post-war society. I must look up the original.

In a cameo role as the auctioneer is Ronald Frankau, younger brother of Great War novelist and poet, Gilbert Frankau.


  1. Posted July 15, 2006 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    this website is sick the skin game what the hell? all i was wanting to look for was how rhyme is effective in Julian Grenfell’s poem ‘into battle’ pls tell mwa cos i need to no by mon if u dont tell me well f**k off

  2. Posted July 15, 2006 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Importunate Ella, oh how can you ask
    A mere stranger to give up his time
    To do all of your homework, especially this task
    Of adjudging the worth of a rhyme?
    Simple reference facts might be found on the net
    (Or in books from the library shelf)
    But judgments of value are different, my pet –
    Those you have to think out for yourself.

    This task is quite easy, and shouldn’t take time –
    Simply ask, “Would the poem be wrecked if
    Other words were put in there instead of the rhyme?”
    If it would, then the rhyme is effective.
    If it’s not, say it’s not – speak your own honest mind –
    Is the poem pure gold or mere prattle?
    Decide for yourself, and report what you find –
    So go, Ella go! “Into Battle!”

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