Tag Archives: Dame Maggie Smith

Downton Abbey: Carry on Upstairs, Downstairs

Oh I say, I've gone all tingly below the Siegfried Line

I’m not an uncritical fan of Downton Abbey, but I have to say, this Christmas special was brilliant festive telly. It had about fifteen simultaneous plots snatched from the likes of Agatha Christie, PG Wodehouse, Enid Blyton and Barbara Cartland. For our viewing pleasure we had:

  • a murder trial, mention of which was being suppressed by The Press along with the Downton dead-Turk-in-a-bed sex scandal
  • the machinations of a charming bounder fortune hunter
  • the lingering family aftermath of a ‘phoney’ deathbed marriage
  • the thwarted ambitions of a talented cook
  • the stealing of a beloved family pet
  • the birth of a baby across the class (and Irish sea) divide
  • a convoluted love triangle involving a dead woman

Oh yes he did

All of these were woven neatly around use of the newfangled ‘game’ popular in 1919, the Ouija board. This was used as a veritable deus ex machina. Never has a glass being shoved about willy nilly done so much to promote the speedy tying-up of loose plot ends. I’m not sure if whole words were written on that board, but it seemed to communicate complicated messages at impressive speed. The Downton Abbey protype of Twitter perhaps?

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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. Continue reading


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Downton Abbey: soothing Sunday wallpaper telly

Hugh 'Mr Sausage' Bonneville

I was talking to my mum on the phone recently and she was extolling the virtues of Downton Abbey. She feels some sense of ownership, perhaps because she lives near Highclere Castle, where it’s filmed. Also she also somehow (she’s the owner of a failed Guide Dog, canine whispers may be the source) knew that the reason Hugh Bonneville’s retriever follows him around like a devoted, well, dog, I suppose, is that his pockets are stuffed with chipolatas. Or that’s his excuse for having sausages in his trouser pockets anyway. Can you imagine poking your hand in looking for a hanky? Eugh.

Anyhow, she says she tends to watch Downton Abbey twice because she often falls asleep and ‘misses bits’. My mum has been snoring through Sunday evening dramas as long as I can remember, and certainly decades before the invention of i-player. There she slumped, in front of the fire, missing scenes of huge emotional resonance in The Brothers, Poldark, and the Onedin Line. The Duchess of Duke Street too, but I think that was on Saturdays. And frankly, I’m dubious as to whether it really matters. I am really enjoying Downton Abbey too. I love Julian Fellowes, all the downstairs politics and intrigue, the upstairs machinations and dusky skinned Turkish Casanovas popping their clogs inexplicably (sort of) mid coitus. The costumes are fantastic too, and I particularly love the kitchen scenes, (and now I think of it, it would pep the format of MasterChef up no end if they went ‘period’ and set the Professionals a task where they have to produce a banquet using only those old fashioned devices that look like torture implements. I would do love the look on Jay Raynor’s face served a plateful of something nasty in aspic in a chrysanthemum mould).

But you know what? I’m not asleep, but I watch it half focussed. It doesn’t seem to matter. As with the Simpsons, other than dead walk-on priapic Turks, everyone largely remains the same at the end of the episode as they did as the beginning. The allure of a good Sunday night drama is exactly that. I don’t want to be mentally taxed or stressed. Monday will do that by itself. I need to be soothed by Dame Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton sniping over who whether peasants (AKA the nice old chap from the village who creates the most divine roses) ought to be allowed to win the cup in the village Best Flower Competition on merit. And hurrah for that. It’s utterly brilliant.

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