British What happens above also happens below.

Published on July 20th, 2013 | by Tarzan and Jane

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Downton Abbey Addict

Jane here, from the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  This is a solo post as there isn’t enough fodder or food on the island to get Tarzan to sit through Downton Abbey, so he will remain silent; however, I do think I can channel his probable response which would be, “I hate historical British shows.”  His loss.  But then, he’d say the same for my dislike of the horror genre, so I suppose, that makes us even.

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I’ve been hearing for nearly a year how wonderful Downton Abbey is.  Its several Emmy nominations attest to the caliber of the show, and so when I was finally able to sit down to watch it, I was whisked away into the beautiful world spun by Julian Fellowes (the same writer of the Academy Award winning Gosford Park, which after watching again, I can see the beautiful comparisons of both worlds) and the talented team that produce this television drama.  Its fourth season airs on PBS beginning in January.

A brief synopsis:  Downton Abbey is the story of the Earl of Grantham, Lord Crawley, his family, the servants, and his estate, Downton Abbey.  As the family and their servants navigate the societal changes of the early 20th century, from WWI to women’s rights to the dawn of Marxist thought, and the blurring of lines between the social classes, the estate is the glue that holds them all together.

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I will admit that I became a very greedy watcher and within two weeks had devoured all three seasons from which I emerged a crying mess and haven’t been able to recover. I’ve taken to looking for a fix on other Masterpiece Theater, BBC productions, and PBS fare.  A week later with Mansfield Park, two versions of Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudice, a bit of Doctor Who and a few episodes of Sherlock later, I think I have come to an understanding of why this show has cast its spell on me and what I have been looking for in other productions.

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First, I have fallen in love with the characters.  In a strange way (and I promise I am a rationale human being that isn’t on her way to the psyche ward), these characters are family.  Each one is an archetype that, as human beings, we can relate to whether were from America, Amsterdam or Angola.  Fellowes has written characters so poignant that despite being locked in my two-dimensional HD television, I feel as if I have climbed into the show with them, or maybe they’ve come out to sit with me.  These people, or their real three-dimensional human being counterparts called my family and friends sit across from the dinner table from me, or phone me when they want to chat.  From Lord and Lady Grantham to Mrs. Crawley, to Miss O’Brien to Anna to Carson, there is a realism in their development that claws its way into the soul.  They are very real, very flawed, and one can’t help but cheer for their good fortune (or in some cases their demise).  I love Mary Crawley, her evenness, her brutal honesty, and her gumption.  I love the Dowager Countess, Lady Grantham played by the amazing Maggie Smith.  Her acerbic wit roots around in my heart and I can’t help but laugh while tears spring to my eyes.  And Matthew Crawley, the boy-next-door who heroically holds them all together.  These characters have climbed into my imagination and made a home there, and now, without them for the next several months, I am feeling bereft of their company.

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Which brings me to the writing – the plots, the conflicts, the words that grace the page – it is exceptional.  Each storyline spirals into the next with comfortable ease, but for the viewer it might resemble walking through a light fog.  I might predict that something is about to happen in the storyline, a part of me wishes it won’t and I keep walking through the haze viewing the outline and hoping that I am wrong (or right in some cases); then as the fog dissipates into the atmosphere, there I am, a voyeur to the action and still surprised it occurred even if I thought it might.

It is through the writing, that the truth in the story can be told, and one of the amazing things that this show does is NEVER withhold the truth.  Sometimes in all its uncomfortable glory, we see the characters walk down paths we wish they wouldn’t, but they go, they experience and then are changed.  And then another twist – a natural one that seems born out of the narrative and not derived for the sake of convenience – occurs and down another path we go.  Fellowes never withholds the truth from us and I appreciate that in all its raw beauty.  There is no gimmick in the writing; it is fresh and refreshing.

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The beauty of this show, or rather experience, is holistically that it is a work of art.  From the writing, the acting, the costuming, the location, the craftsmanship, the directing, everything about this show, each choice has been made with the effort of creating a work of sustainable and timeless beauty.  The point is taken and it is the reason for my addition.  As I flip through the television channels or scope through the suggestions on Netflix or pull a book from the shelf, I am looking for that next experience that will draw me in completely, much as Downton Abbey has done.  It is the reason that I am looking for the next “fix.”  January is a long time away.

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