Sunday, January 10, 2016

Downton on my Mind

RHYS BOWEN: I was planning to write something deep and erudite today about New Years, New Beginnings, but all I can think of is DOWNTON ABBEY tonight. I have never been a great fan of soap operas. When I first came to America and got my first TV set (yes, dear children, we lived for our first year without one, and miraculously we survived with no major psychiatric problems) I watched soap operas while I nursed my new baby. Watched them all for about a week and that was enough.

Then about ten years later John was recovering from a serious burn accident, so I sat on the sofa and watched them with him. And the interesting thing was that all the same characters were in the story but.... they were all married to different people. And all had secrets from each other.

So I've never watched another soap until Downton came along. I know it's a period drama. I know it's British television and therefore high class and erudite, but let's face it, it's a soap opera with lovely clothes. And I'm hooked. Some the story lines are ridiculous. No court would ever have found Anna Bates guilty on such flimsy circumstantial evidence. Remember when Matthew was paralyzed from the waist down and then miraculously gets a little twinge when he's near Mary? And walks again.

But in spite of any silly plot twists we care, don't we? SPOILER ALERT!!!!

We feel for poor Edith, left alone and pregnant and then having to visit her child being raised by someone else. We longed for Mary and Matthew to get together and then felt for Mary after his death. And we cried when Sibyl died.

So now it's the last season and we can't wait to see if all turns out well for the Bates, if Edith and Mary will find happiness, if Daisy will help Mr. Mason to keep his farm (another strange plot twist as I think that under English tenancy law he could not be turned out).  I hope Carson and Mrs. Hughes ride off happily into the sunset together.

Do you think Violet will die? She must be over 100 by now, surely? Whatever happens I know I'll be glued to the edge of my chair. Julian Fellowes has written some silly plot developments and hasn't always executed them well, but his dialog is brilliant and above all he has made us care about these people. What will we do next year.  I might be able to help out a little on that front, but more later....


  1. I think it's a bit more difficult to see a soap opera story end because, like the series books the Jungle Red ladies write for us to read, we are so invested in the characters and what happens to them . . . .

  2. Rhys... yes!

    I love the downstairs kitchen. I have an odd fondness for impractical separate kitchens. We had a summer kitchen on the ranch in California. And I had a few friends with downstairs kitchens. Most did not have the wealth of the families that built their houses. One girl I used to visit had a beautiful old house with over 20 rooms and many acres of land with just one housekeeper. When her father bought the house, they converted the servants' quarters to a set of small play rooms and a gym. I don't know what that was originally, but it had the best view in the house.

    When I was in high school I had a friend who lived in Louisburg Square in Boston. It wasn't Downton Abbey, but it had the feel of great privilege. One Sunday I was invited to dinner, and the whole family gathered around a table in the downstairs kitchen. My friend's mother apologized saying that they thought it would be more comfortable there. I've never been sure if she meant that or if I was not to be invited into the dining room upstairs!

    That friend had a grandmother like Violet. Her family had owned the house since it was built. This was during the time before the old Brahmins' started to leave in the late 1970s. It was very intimidating, but I did my best. Supper was like a qualifying exam. Who did I know. What did my father do. Was I driven there, or did I take "public transportation." I said my father lived around the corner on Myrtle Street, and we came from a family of mariners. No reaction. By then I'd had enough and could stop worrying. I knew I wouldn't be invited back. Just as well. Who could stand being looked down on like that>

    I get news of my friend, still, but always second hand. From my husband's cousin when he was the minister of King's Chapel. From other school mates. From the people I used to babysit for, neighbors of my friend's family further up the hill. I think I might have been used by that friend to upset her family. I suppose it might have been something else, but I only saw her once after that at Grandmother "Violet's" country home. I'm not sure why I agreed to visit there. I didn't get to go inside that house but was quietly ushered to the garden where we had chilled drinks, and I was grilled.

    Years later, was invited to a small museum/wildlife refuge with a lovely old house. It was "Violet's" summer place in the country. She must have left it to the foundation that operated it. Some good came of that, then.

  3. Nice twist at the end, Rhys! I hope Your Royal Spyness is the next Downton!

    I love the series and will be sad at the end. I watch so little television, it's hard to lose one of the few shows I adore.

  4. Although I haven't seen the BBC production and thus wont offer spoilers, here's what I can predict:

    • Robert will die—Foreshadowing: “I feel knackered,” he comments as he returns from the hunt.
    • Edith will move to London, snatch the publication from her whiny editor, make it a huge success, ultimately sell to Rupert Murdock and become the richest woman in England.
    • Mary will never find a man who meets her standards, and will morph into a bitter, unhappy shrew who loses her looks (Botox fails). To her credit, she will try to save Downton, but lacking the capital, will need to beg a loan from Edith, who will laugh at her. Eventually, Mary will turn DA into a movie location and gift shop.
    • Carson and Mrs. Hughes will finally do the deed, and build a second career with a consulting business on how to help seniors-who-want-to-have-sex (voluminous flannel nightgowns will figure prominently)
    • Anna and Bates will grow so bored with each other, after their endless dramas cease, that they will take up growing rutabagas and turnips.
    • Violet and Isabelle will realize that they are, by far, the most interesting women in Downton and decide to leave the rest of the motley crew behind and move to Portugal, where they will open a small hotel called The Second Best Marigold—oh, wait, that’s another movie.
    • Cora will move back to the US and take over Planned Parenthood and become a leading Senator.
    • Daisy and Mrs. Patmore will move to London and start a personal chef business; their greatest triumph will be to get a request to work for the Queen; they turn it down, as they’ve had enough with those hoity-toity folks.
    • Tom Branson will take Boston by storm, establishing a wildly successful franchise of Irish-themed bars, and marrying one of the Kennedy clan.
    • The controversy over local cottage hospital vs takeover of larger hospital resolves into creation of National Health Service—wait, that really happened, didn’t it?

    If you're a Downton fan, be sure to catch Louis Bayard's droll commentary on the show every Monday in The New York Times. Even more fun that the show!

  5. Edith yes! Her Royal Spyness the new Downton!

  6. Reine, such a story--I hope you're writing all this into your book!

    And Katie, wow, you have a book practically written:)

    Rhys, when are you going to tell us this news?

    We love Downton too, but I think it is time for it to go. But what a ride! Wouldn't we all kill to have written something so popular and appealing?

  7. I love Downton, and the more soap opery it gets, the more I love it. The idea that Robert will die. Hmm. That is very interesting.

    I do wish Lady Mary would have fallen off her horse IN the creek. I love to hate Lady Mary.

  8. Katie.... I love your predictions!
    And Reine-such a great experience. I grew up in an ancient kitchen. Love my modern one!


  9. ALthough I stopped watching abruptly near the start of Season 4 (moaning, "What, again?" yet again) I'm not averse to listening to snatches of plot discussed in my quilting class or by the Reds.

    I think the only one I ended up giving a toss about is Daisy. I can only hope she comes out on top of it all. Oh wait, these aren't real people. Are they?

    Um, Rhys, what's all this....?

  10. Ramona, I'm with you on Lady Mary. She's such a bully.

    Katie, those are brilliant, very much like the predictions at the end of each "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me". "And if any of these predictions actually come true..."

  11. AAaGGGHH! Please, post "spoiler alert" bigger and flashing next time. :-(

  12. Katie, brava! And yes, I'm a big fan of Louis Bayard's witty recaps for the NYTimes, too.

  13. Rhys, you are so tantalizing!! What are you referring to????

    And may I just say: I will never forgive Edith for season one. Sorry, but there it is.

    Oh, Susan, I love Louis Bayard's recaps--he is SO terrific!

    Katie I burst out laughing at the Best Marigold… hey, Marigold!

    And yes, LAdy Mary. I love her. xix

  14. The Countess of Carnarvon wrote two books about the real Highclere ancestors. I'm just reading about Lady Almina. You can see where Julian Fellows got some of the characters and their names.


  15. I'm one of the lucky few who watched this with the U.K. already. I find it fun to see what everyone predicts may happen. While some of the story lines have become quite tiresome (see Anna and Mr. Bates), I will miss the series. I was happy to see Call the Midwife had a Christmas special and hope that one continues.

    Don't worry...these were small spoilers. There is so much more to come!

  16. Why do they all tiptoe around Mary, anyway? I know she has a sharp tongue, but really. It would be great to see someone stand up to her.

    Reine, as ever, I love your stories. And Katie, enjoying all of your predictions!

  17. I will be quite mad at Fellows if he doesn't give poor Edith a break. And more than half the reason I am addicted to the show is the pretty clothes in that lovely house, and don't care if that makes me sound a bit shallow at all. It's TV after all.