Downton Abbey: Playing doctors and nurses

I’m still watching Downton Abbey during the current First World War period of action, but with less joy and pleasure than the previous one. There’s a rule Qwerty once explained to me about sitcoms and soaps. To work for the viewer, the action needs to take place in one setting. Downton isn’t a quite a soap or a sitcom, but the same applies as far as I’m concerned. I can cope with the Abbey becoming a hospital for injured officers. I watch Holby and Casualty, and know full well how much fun can be had from people playing doctors and nurses.

What I’m less keen on is all the moving of action between Downton and the tiny length of ditch representing the horrors of the trenches in France. It was batty that Matthew seemed to keep popping from place to place anyway. There wasn’t either Eurotunnel or regular weekends off as far I know from my visits to the Imperial War Museum.

Actually, do you know what? I don’t like the war setting full stop. I like my Sunday evening drama to be benign and predictable, largely taking place inside a lovely house, with pretty frocks, elegant soirees, lots of subtle interplay between the characters and bags of flirting and sexual tension. I don’t want Sunday night drama to be comprise, well, too much bloody drama. I don’t want my heroes to come back from the Front with a spinal injury and no operational sexual organs. It takes all the fun out of it.

Shallow? Why yes.

The subject matter of life, injury and death during any war distresses me, as it should of course. Poetry by Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon has enormous emotional resonance. I don’t take it lightly. In fact, I think we’re a nation still scarred and traumatised by war. During the First World War, shellshock was not recognised as a mental condition until long after many men had been shot for ‘cowardice’.

This is important stuff, but I don’t watch drama to be educated. I watch to be soothed and to be distracted from thinking about everyday troubles.

And in Downton Abbey, no-one can be happy in love. Everyone and everything in this series seems to be about being thwarted. The evil scheming Mrs Vera Bates, who looks like she might be quite a laugh to get hammered with, is hellbent on destroying her tedious estranged husband’s chances of happiness with saintly Anna. Earnest Nurse Lady Sybil wants to cop off with Tom the troublemaking Irish chauffeur but can’t because of their class differences.

Poor Footman William, fatally wounded from damage to his lungs on the Front, married poor Daisy on his deathbed, who didn’t love him, and he never even got a kiss out of it. Edith snogged a man by the tractor she was getting great pleasure driving, until her fun was curtailed. And Lady Mary’s Matthew passion got her nowhere, he was engaged to Lavinia, now he’s returned from the Front with a spinal injury which has rendered him impotent. Bummer eh?

Maggie Smith continues to be marvellous. And maybe it’s because I work in the world of journalism, but I also rather like the character of the powerful, scheming newspaper mogul, Sir Richard Carlisle. But what’s happened to Hugh Bonneville? His character has gone all petulant because he’s not allowed to go and fight. And as for Ethel, the stroppy maid, who got herself knocked up by the pantomime villain, moustache-twirling Major Bryant, well bloody hell. Why can’t anyone have sex in the Downton Abbey environment without it all ending up so grim and disastrous? Mary Wesley’s characters seem to be able to have a fine time against the backdrop of war.

Buck up Julian Fellowes. Less of a downer at Downton please.

Posted by Inkface


Filed under Downton Abbey

7 responses to “Downton Abbey: Playing doctors and nurses

  1. pauseliveaction

    I disagree. I’m loving this series of Downton even more than the last.

  2. inkface

    Well I’m glad you are. The ‘setting’ issue might just be me trying to find a rationale behind not enjoying it as much as the first one. I don’t find a backdrop of a (relatively recent) war easy to deal with.

  3. Corumba Love

    “I say Pause, shouldn’t you be working on your Holby review?”
    “Now look here CL, it’s my blog so I’ll do what I want, when I want. You watch lumpishly, I review with wit and élan – that’s the deal right?”

    (Sorry for taking your rather excellent review Downtown Inks (I read it even though I don’t watch the prog).

  4. remotecontrolled

    I’m loving new Downton – differently but as much as I loved the first series, it’s getting towards Cranford depressing but I think it’s exquisitely done even though it’s harder hitting than the last. I agree that Bonneville’s character has gone a little wet though and getting mildly fed up of Branson trying to be so persuasive without actually saying anything different to her.

  5. Richard

    Matthew’s popping back and forth was, I felt, preposterous, and well done for picking up on that in your review.

    Mr Bates giving more than enough hints to say “I’m going to London to kill my wife,” and then returning and saying, “It went far worse than you can possibly imagine,” with a deep scratch above his eye – Why aren’t the detectives knocking down the door?!

  6. inkface

    Well indeed, it does seem a bit odd!

    And ‘remotecontrolled’ – I have watched every episode & I am ‘enjoying’ it, kind of. But this series, I’m very aware of being constantly bombarded with “issues”, of class, social change, women and pregnancy etc. Frankly, I think it’s been a bit heavy handed.

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