Oct 08

Downton Abbey: PBS Television series ★★★

Downton Abbey was a TV series that ran for 6 seasons, and was most popular during its time. It is the story about the life from about 1910-1925 of one of the remaining great houses in Yorkshire area of England. The movie presents life of both the aristocratic family in contrast to the servants in the manor, or to say it differently, of the working class as compared to the leisured class. Each season presented the tensions and problems of the two classes or people in the Abbey estate. It was intended to paint a sense of sympathy for life on both sides of the class divide. The story line left suspense and tension with each episode, until the very last episode of season 6, where everything is resolved, friendships and feuds resolved, the appropriate people married to the appropriate spouses, and the Abbey is at peace while celebrating a new year.

A most appropriate change to the name of this series would be Pride and Prejudice on steroids. The entire story line ultimately evolves around only two issues, 1) will Downton Abbey survive in the new world?, and 2) who will marry who, and when? To the first question, the answer is, “yes”, Downton Abbey survives, but with a loss of the Pracht and Herrlichkeit (splendor and elegance/majesty) of the past. The movie attempts to evoke sympathies for the aristocratic classes in their “loss” of their leisured world, and disappointed that they can no longer have people dressing/undressing them, having their regular elegant garden parties and life on the fox hunt, and massive banquets of white tie affairs, surrounded by maids and butlers, and a host of staff jumping to their every whim. They failed to claim my sympathies. To the second question, if one of the actors survived, they were all able to eventually get married, and usually within the desired class and to the “right” person.

The story line held one’s attention. Oftentimes, the story was a bit too contrived, such as people dying simply to create and maintain the appropriate flow of the movie. The story and scenery tries to maintain historical accuracy, and to that end I presume they did superbly. The setting was in one of the now retired great houses. Do I feel sorry for the aristocrats of the past, or possess some secret desire to wish I could have filled their shoes? Hardly not! I mentioned that this was Jane Austen on steroids, and that indeed is exactly what it was, without the hidden comedy of Jane Austen. The storyline is a seemingly endless repetition of the Jane Austen novels, yet is a little more crass at demonstrating the arrogance, as well as the hypocrisy of the British elite, especially in terms of their moral/sexual behavior. The issue not that they were more sexually loose than one would like to think, but that they maintained a stringent desire to cover up their dalliances with a gloss of moral righteousness. In this regard, they excelled over Jane Austen.

I don’t regret watching Downton Abbey. It was long. Betsy (wife) definitely enjoyed watching it again, and found it better to watch the entire six seasons in one long setting, rather than having to wait for each episode week after week. So, I’ll cease my criticisms and await your thoughts on this series.

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