Monday, January 16, 2012

Downton, Everything's Waiting for You

©2012 WGBH Educational Foundation

Roughly fifty years separates "Downtown," a 1960’s song that became a surprise hit for singer Petula Clark and the circa World War I setting of Downton Abbey, a costume drama that’s been a surprise hit in Great Britain and in around the world.

We can forget all our troubles, forget all our cares and go
Downtown . . . .

Nowadays, we've watched our savings dwindle and cope with pay freezes. We've seen friends lose homes to foreclosure and worry about soldiers in Afghanistan and school kids in crowded classrooms.

We do not, however, curtsy or bow our heads. We choose when and whom we'll marry, our daughters may inherit whatever we choose to leave them, and class is not destiny.

When we switch on the television to the second season of Masterpiece Theater's Downton Abbey, we can forget our troubles and immerse ourselves in the lives of characters strait-jacketed by their birthrights--or lack thereof. We watch as war and small, private rebellions loosen the “rules” that once governed behavior upstairs and downstairs. The old order is changing before our eyes.

Here, in the U.S., Wall Street may still hand out bonuses, but, at Downton, the aristocracy is in eclipse. Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, is powerless to stop the family seat from being converted into a hospital for wounded soldiers and can’t prevent her granddaughter from inviting a man in trade—a newspaper publisher—to visit the family home,.

While military service now is voluntary in most parts of the world, in Downton Abbey's era, class didn’t insulate the titled from war. Matthew Crawley, the heir, goes off to fight, and Robert, Lord Grantham, a veteran of the Boer War, is disappointed when he's deemed ineligible for active military service. He, his wife, and daughters do their part. Indeed, the Crawleys show what's meant by noblesse oblige. Lady Edith betrayed her own sister in season one, but the Crawleys look out for those who rely on them for a livelihood.

The character of Lady Mary has softened as she’s acknowledged her mistakes and realized, too late, she cares for Matthew. Love, meanwhile, has emboldened head housemaid Anna Smith who is willing to risk her job and reputation for Bates, Lord Grantham’s former valet. Who knows how Lady Sybil's affair with Irish chauffeur Tom Branson will end? The fact it started and still simmers signals the social changes to come.

Part of Downtown Abbey's appeal is the glimpse it offers of a long-gone lifestyle. We admire aspects of it while thanking our lucky stars we weren't born into that era. The Edwardian period makes our own look better.

Downton Abbey has inspired a line of gift items, ranging from books to tea sets and replicas of jewelry worn on the show. Fans of the show tweet using the hashtag #DowntonPBS, and viewers can vote on characters' “likeability” here.

So, maybe I'll see you there
We can forget all our troubles, forget all our cares and go
Downtown . . . .


Lark Howard said...

We don't have TV, Pat, but our English friends sent us season 1 and we got hooked. In fact we watched the entire season over the weekend and were bummed out we didn't have more. Love the characters, and the story and dialogue are brilliant. Too bad we don't have more TV and movies like this jewel!

Sheila Seabrook said...

I've never heard of the Downtown Abbey show, Pat, but I do love the song. Did you notice the resemblance between the lyrics -- or maybe it's the beat -- and the theme song to Cheers?

Okay, now I'm going to have this song in my head for the rest of the day, LOL!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Lark,
So far, I'm enjoying season two even more than season one. The war has forced people to cooperate and many characters show growth. I'd better stop blabbing now before I toss in spoilers.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

And you call yourself Canadian, Sheila!

It's running in the U.S. on Public Broadcasting Stations, and in Great Britain, it was an ITV production. I know the first series was shown in Scotland later than in England, so it should make its way to you before long. You'll like it.

Every time I see the name Downton, I think of Petula Clark's "Downtown"--a fact that shows my age and convoluted thinking.

Emma Burcart said...

Sounds fun, but I'm trying to cut down on TV shows, not find more to watch. That's a hard thing for me. I kind of love TV.

Jennette Marie Powell said...

I think it's the dichotomy of the social pressures vs. the lovely clothing and romanticism of the period that draws so many to historical romances. I love the early 20th century - it still had the above, but more opportunities for women and an easing of the social expectations. I don't watch TV generally, but next time I don't feel like getting on the computer, I just might have to see if I can find this series on the 'net and give it a watch!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

I hear you on cutting back, Emma. I've sworn off tv except for Downton Abbey, Top Chef and Project Runway. Of course, I've also sworn off chocolate, so we'll see how long I keep my promises--one week, two?

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

If you find Downton Abbey, I think you'll like it, Jennette. Now, in season two, the female characters' opportunities have widened and, you're right, the societal pressures on them begin to ease.

Anonymous said...

I was considering watching Downtown Abbey just yesterday, Pat. Taking this post as a sign - moving from 'maybe' to 'definitely.' ;)

Alicia Street said...

Great post, Pat! I love this series and love how you so clearly pointed out the roles and challenges of each character in that changing cultural milieu. If you bring that eagle eye to your fiction writing it must be really good!

Karen McFarland said...

Pat, my husband and I love, love, love Downton Abbey!

We don't have TV either, but you can watch it on Netflix. So looking forward to season 2.

The writing is amazing and the costumes are breathtaking! The actors talented. They are really spending a lot of money on this series.

But so worth it. Thanks Pat! :)

Patricia said...

Hi Pat. I don't watch the show Downtown Abbey, but heard that it's really good. I'll have to check it out sometime.

I did, however, sign the Petula Clark song in a Best of Broadway show a few years ago. It was fun and so many people remember that song.

Patricia Rickrode
w/a Jansen Schmidt