Tuesday, January 17, 2012
The Ups of Downton
DEBORAH CROMBIE: As host Laura Linney says in her introduction to Series 2 of Masterpiece Theater's Downton Abbey, "Who knew that it would be so much fun to watch a houseful of magnificently overdressed aristocrats living under one roof with their servants?"
But we fell in love with Downton Abbey in Series 1, on both sides of the Atlantic. Wildly. So what's so special about Downton? After all, we've been there before, haven't we, with Upstairs Downstairs? And there have been loads of period dramas over the years since.
But nothing has captured audiences' hearts and imaginations like Downton Abbey. Oh, the clothes! The hats! (I wouldn't be surprised if Downton Abbey was responible for an upturn in the millinery industry.) And the house! Highclere Castle in Berkshire stands in as Yorkshire's Downton Abbey, and it is a star in itself.
Creator Julian Fellowes speculates that part of Downton's success may have to do with the fact that Downton is NOT adapted from a novel, so we don't know what's going to happen. And he says it may satisfy a modern longing for a simpler life, without mobile phones and Twitter and, um . . . blogs.
In Series 1 there is certainly the romantic element that I've always thought of as the Edwardian Dream, those few golden years when life was good--at least if you were upper class, and male. But even for women and the middle class, things were changing, and the future seemed full of promise.
Now, however, in Series 2, that promise has been blighted by a war more horrible than anyone could have imagined, and the rigid rules of the pre-war generation will die with it. No longer will people know their place, whether it be upstairs or down.
So will we still love the Granthams and their servants as much?
Do we care if Anna and Bates will finally get their chance to be happy?
If William the footman will come back from the war?
Do we care what will happen to Lady Sybil? Lady Edith? Lord and Lady Grantham?
And, of course, the biggest hook of all--will Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley ever see sense and admit how they feel about each other?
Yes yes YES! We do care, because Downton Abbey is more than gorgeous clothes and houses and wonderful acting from a fabulous cast. Julian Fellowes is a master storyteller, and the characters are complex and very human. Just when you think you've found the villain you love to hate, like Thomas the footman or O'Brian the lady's maid or jealous Lady Edith, Fellowes shows us another side to them. (Although I must admit I have doubts about Mrs. Bates . . .)
(And I have to admit a burning desire to know how the women could eat all those meals and stay so thin! On Sunday we're going to have an Edwardian dinner menu here on Jungle Red, so come back to see what was in all those covered dishes the servants had to cart up from the kitchen. You will be astounded.)
So, readers and REDS, who are your favorite characters? Would you go back and live in Edwardian times if you could, upstairs or down? (Downton Abbey has fired great interest in the publishing world for books set in both Edwardian England and in the Twenties, and I highly recommend our Rhys's Royal Spyness series, as well as books by Charles Todd, Carola Dunn, and Jacqueline Winspear, to name just a few.)
And, readers and REDS, if you could see yourself as ONE character at Downton, who would it be?