Synopsis by Sarah Ing
Perhaps inspired by a growing appetite for reality-based programming, The 1900 House is an experiment in emotional manipulation. The subjects for this time trip were the Bowlers, a fairly average British family who volunteered to live on-camera for three months. The hard part of their decision lies in the challenging setting: a completely restored Victorian house outfitted for 1900. Take away the television, central air, and the water heater and the result is hardly liveable. Indeed, in one episode, the family was treated for smoke inhalation from the wood stove. Far from the attention-deficit production that characterizes American programming, this series focuses on the family's slow burn. Each member of the clan experiences an awakening of sorts. Most changed by the harsh conditions is Joyce, the matriarch, who is neither allowed to work outside the house or to change clothes to go to market. Her four children, nine-year-old Joe, 17-year-old Kathryn and 11-year-old twins Ruth and Hilary, escape each day to school. Even the father, Paul, maintains his updated employment. When the housework becomes unbearable, Joyce undergoes a transformation from corseted maid to turn-of-the-century feminist. Without the ease of modern technology, the Bowler family struggles tirelessly to find both pleasure and meaning in a less defined world. The 1900 House video, broken down into four episodes, captures a paradox of modern cravings in a primitive setting, leaving the viewer grateful for the remote control. The Time Machine, the first episode, documents the construction of an absolutely accurate setting for the Bowlers. After removing all modern conveniences, the workmen redo the wiring, plumbing, and appliances to mirror those used a century earlier. A highlight of the episode is the search for a realistic stove big enough to feed a family of six. In preparation for their summer in the house, the Bowlers undergo a historical crash course at the Armley Mills Museum.
turn-of-the-century, Britain, middle-class, townhouse, family, lifestyle, Victorian, experiment, social-change