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The Ashford Household
Tied to Dido Belle's bid to enter society is the posh Ashford family, headed by the powerful social climber Lady Ashford. The filmmakers were thrilled to be able to cast Miranda Richardson, the lauded English actress recently seen in HBO's "Parade's End," HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS and THE YOUNG VICTORIA.

She was drawn right way to the role. "Lady Ashford is a high-society lady of the 18th Century with a job to do. She has two sons and they need to be married. Her main goal is to get her boys married off in a match that will enable them to go further than the generation before - and in high society, that has a lot to do with land and money," says Richardson.

When she first meets Dido and Elizabeth, Lady Ashford makes the assumption that Elizabeth is the girl who will carry the biggest dowry and dismisses Dido entirely. But when the truth of the situation is revealed, she has second thoughts.

"What's so interesting about Lady Ashford is the dilemma she faces about Dido," says Richardson. "Dido is refined, beautiful, highly accomplished and she has recently come into a fortune, so Lady Ashford has to persuade herself that Dido is white enough to marry her son. She makes that turn-around with great facility, because she can see the advantages of the match. And, indeed, there is no downside - except that the social conventions of the time mean that her son has no business marrying a woman who is deemed as black."

Lady Ashford's two sons - James and Oliver - are played by Tom Felton, best known as Draco Malfoy in the HARRY POTTER series, and James Norton, who will also be seen in this year's RUSH from director Ron Howard. The brothers are equally bewildered by the arrival of Dido on their social scene, though both are undoubtedly attracted to her. While Oliver begins to develop feelings for her, James is hostile, offended by her very existence in the Mansfield household.

"James, I think, represents the status quo of the time," says Felton. "I'm sure many viewers will be shocked by his opinions, but that really was quite the norm, so it was interesting to explore. By modern standards, James would be considered vile, but back then he would have considered himself keen to keep his tradition the way it had been for the last 100 years. My job was to explore why he feels so threatened by Dido. And I think half of it is because she's so attractive. That is something that clearly infuriates him; that someone 'of color,' as he would say, can be so beautiful."

Oliver, on the other hand, finds his prejudices challenged by his emotions. "Oliver goes on quite an interesting journey," says Norton. "At first you think of him as a player, a bit of a cad who is perhaps after Dido for her money. But, like everyone else, he falls in love with her. He's not a stock-character villain at all. Yes, he's a man about town, and he's had a history with the ladies, but he's genuinely taken with her. The thing about Oliver is that he's completely conditioned by society, by its conventions and propriety - and that's his downfall. His values are very different from Dido's, and when he reveals his true self to her, she knows she can't marry him." ,,

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