Julian Fellowes France Interview

Oscar-winning Gosford Park screenwriter JULIAN FELLOWES first learned French in the Dordogne as a teenager. He tells Eve Middleton about his passion for French history and how Kristin Scott Thomas keeps him up to date with French cinema...

How did your relationship with France first start? My first meaningful trip came about because my mother was obsessed with us all learning French. I was sent away at the age of 14 to stay with a family in their very beautiful house near Rib�rac in the Dordogne – in fact I am still on Christmas card terms with the son I was exchanged with. What did you take away from the experience? For me it was my first introduction to real food, because the food in England at that time – I went over in 1963 – was simply �pouvantable! I wrote these letters back to my mother saying things like, "We had this wonderful creamy yellow sauce with cold chicken", and she would write back and say "You fool, that's mayonnaise!" I came away from that visit awoken to the pleasures that life might promise. What areas of France interest you? Well around the same time I was introduced to the series of novels called the Ang�lique books written by Anne and Serge Golon.They were set in 17th-century France and featured a young beautiful woman having adventures that led her to Versailles. I became tremendously interested in French history, and in my early twenties I wrote three bodice-ripper-type novels about it. Where do you tend to visit in France? I have spent a lot of time at Versailles and the Grand Trianon, and also enjoy visiting the Ch�teau de Malmaison. My favourite museums in Paris are the Mus�e Carnavalet and the Conciergerie (pictured below) because of their history - when I go there I have a sort of sense of coming home. For our last trip to Paris we found a rather extraordinary little bo�te hotel which was not far from the �toile called Le Dokhan's. It's not my usual stamping ground but it was very charming. Is there anywhere that you'd like to visit in France that you haven't yet been to? I once made a television series in France based on Arnold Bennett's The Old Wives' Tale for the BBC. We filmed much more inland – we also went to see the Ch�teau de Chantilly, and I've been many times to the Ch�teau de Fontainebleau which I love. I have a slight sadness that France is no longer a monarchy, purely because it is such a monarchical set-up. If France did have a monarchy, it would of course be the most chic and the most stylish of Europe! I am, however, content to keep finding new parts of France for the rest of my life - sometimes you go to stay with people, and suddenly there's this whole new area that you weren't all that familiar with. What's your favourite French food? I always admire the French for their simple food - the food a lorry driver might pick up on a long run is simply delicious. You can stop off in a roadside caf� and have a steak frites and a glass of the local wine and you have dined like a king! The French have retained the whole culture of the shared family meal and also an excellence of food, they really understand it. Are there any French actors that you admire or would want to work with? I always follow Kristin Scott Thomas's French progress - she is the one that takes me into French films because I always watch whatever she's just done, partly because I know her from working with her on Gosford Park, but partly because she's the only film star we have who has that kind of French sophistication. I loved her extraordinary film I've Loved You So Long where she played the mother of a murdered son. It was a wonderful film and she was wonderful in it. I always get my dose of French cinema by keepingup with her really. Do you have any secret addresses? I've always had rather a thing about the Place Dauphine on the �le de la Cit� in Paris. It's a wonderful square with a series of restaurants and a little hotel called the Henri IV. Whenever I'm in Paris I always have to go there for lunch or dinner and watch the locals play boules in the middle among the tree-lined gravel. It's like an oasis in the middle of the busy city.