Saturday, January 15, 2011

Downton Abbey ~ Julian Fellowes

A new TV drama, Downton Abbey began a 4-episode run in the USA, on PBS, last weekend. I understand that it is currently being shown in the UK too, albeit in a rather longer version. It was thought that American audiences would balk at the UK version's rather more stately pace and emphasis on the archaic law of entail (estate inheritance), quite foreign to the USA. A foreshortened version of the series is fine by me. I can stand a slow-moving tale if written by an icon such as Charles Dickens or James Michener, this is not one of those, so will probably be better taken at a trot!

The series is in fact written by Julian Fellowes, a rather upper-clahhss actor/ screenwriter/director, soon to be a member of the House of Lords on the Conservative Party benches.

In a nutshell, Downton Abbey, set in the early 1900s in Yorkshire, England, tells the story of an aristocratic family who face future problems linked to inheritance laws, following the death of their only son, a passenger on the Titanic. They have 3 daughters but according to the then laws, women were not allowed to inherit an estate.

We are promised tales of love, betrayal, domestic politics, and the challenge of waves of incoming change bringing in feminism, socialism and other -isms which threaten to shatter a class system solidly in place for many centuries.

There are tales from both above and below stairs - the residents above, their army of servants below. The servants have their very own self-created class system, almost as insidious as that of their masters.

With better choice of TV programmes on Sunday evenings I'd have given this one a very wide berth. My husband usually enjoys anything at all from British TV, but I suspected this particular series might baffle him more than somewhat! It doesn't baffle me, it irritates - a lot. I'll probably continue to watch it all the same, at least it's set in Yorkshire, with a few Yorkshire accents (among the servants, of course) so it can't be all bad!

Why does it irritate me? It depicts everything I despise: the class system of Britain as was, the remnants of which survive to this day.

Before I lapse into soapbox mode, better have a look at the natal chart of Julian Fellowes, the series creator (photograph below). He was born in Cairo, Egypt on 17 August 1949, son of a diplomat.

His Leo Sun with 3 personal planets in Virgo nicely describes this actor-cum-writer.
Leo is traditionally the sign of show-biz; Virgo, ruled by Mercury is a writer's sign. I'd bet, too, that at the time he was born Moon was in Gemini, the other sign ruled by Mercury. At noon on the date of Fellowes' birth the Moon was in the last degrees of Taurus, ready to slip into Gemini at around 2.00 PM. Without a time of birth it's not possible to establish a rising sign or midheaven, which is a pity. I'd not be a bit surprised to find Leo rising....second choice, Taurus.

According to an October 2010 article in The Mail Online, "Julian Fellowes insists he's no snob... but would never dream of wearing jeans to lunch"
As to snobbery, the reader must draw their own conclusions - as I have done (wink).

Now, the couple’s parties — often including world-famous actors and European aristocracy — are legendary. And it’s all good fun, so long as the rules are obeyed.
‘Julian doesn’t like jeans to be worn at lunch,’ says one guest. ‘His view is that casual clothes are acceptable, but jeans are always a no-no.

‘And if he’s denouncing some politician, or expounding on why the Falklands’ airport should be named after Louis XV’s mistress, you won’t get a word in. You have to hold your hand up and wait for permission to speak. Even his wife does this. Not that Emma is downtrodden — she’s the great-great-niece of Lord Kitchener of Khartoum.

.........‘Julian’s also superstitious. He won’t have 13 round the table. Once, their son Peregrine — now 19, and the godson of Princess Michael and Sir Anthony Hopkins — came home unexpectedly and would’ve been the 13th guest. He was made to eat in his room.’ And Emma is just as careful of social nuances. She reads all her husband’s manuscripts for errors. ‘Julian got a ticking off for a gaffe in one of his books,’ says a friend. ‘He described a marchioness wearing a silk dress at Ascot.

Emma told him, “Everyone knows you go to the designer Tomasz Starzewski

Snobs or not, manners do seem to obsess the couple. Julian once spent an interview demonstrating how socially inept it was to grasp one’s knife like a pencil, while Emma described the signs she uses to spot the nouveau riche. She said that the soup course was an unfailing test, and admitted she and Julian did award black marks afterwards if they spotted someone tipping the soup plate towards them.

And then there’s a right and a wrong way to leave the table. ‘I would hope never to judge somebody because they folded their napkin after dinner,’ Emma says. ‘But I’d never pretend I didn’t notice. Isn’t that awful?’

Read more:

It's hard to differentiate between fact and Downton Abbey, is it not?!


Wisewebwoman said...

Ye gads and little fishes there, T!

Doesn't it all sound so fwightfully pwetentious and boring?

I can't imagine wanting to dine with these twits.


R J Adams said...

‘I would hope never to judge somebody because they folded their napkin after dinner,’ Emma says. ‘But I’d never pretend I didn’t notice. Isn’t that awful?’

Yes, bloody awful! Sounds to me like Americans will lap it up - even with their short attention spans. ;-)

Anonymous said...

It's a pretty good show and not at all what I think you're thinking - no idea how it will survive butchery, of course.

Julian Fellowes won the writer's Oscar for Gosford Park, this is in similar vein but with a much harder edge.

Rossa said...

And we have just had a revival of Upstairs Downstairs over the Christmas period on BBC1.

It takes over the story of the house from where the original ended and has been written by Jean Bridges who I think played the maid in the first one.

She comes back as the housekeeper to new owners. I've recorded it but not watched the 3 programmes yet.

Like all the Dickens and Austen adaptations the Brits have always had a fascination with period dramas.

We also have the 3rd series of Lark Rise to Candleford a tale of a village (Lark Rise) of "peasants", the labourers, and the small town up the road of Candleford with its forge, hotel, Post Office, ladies fashion shop etc.

Explores the relationships between townies and villagers and things like the introduction of the railway, a local newspaper etc.

Somehow, despite your reservations T, I think we all have an interest in seeing how things were done and in many ways we do still live in a feudal system do we not?

So nothing has really changed. There is still an elite that believes they have the right to rule over the rest of us. It is just in a modern context.

Twilight said...

WWW ~~~ The real life ones you mean I think - me neither. I'd rather starve!! And I DO mean it!

Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~~~ Some will, I'm sure, RJ. They are conditioned over many decades to revere "their betters" (based on wealth and fame rather than lineage - but no difference really).

Twilight said...

Anonymous ~~~ Not sure what you think I'm thinking, Anon. Having seen only one episode so far I'm thinking that I'm not sure I'll be watching after the next one.
I haven't been convinced yet that I care about any single character enough to continue longer. We'll see.

Twilight said...

Rossa ~~~ Oh did you? I used to watch 'Upstairs Downstairs' many years ago. Memory of it has dimmed, but I think it had a much "softer" feel to it than Downton Abbey does (so far) -and I seem to remember caring about a couple of characters, at least.
It's all in the writing!

BBC (and ITV) are at their best with period dramas I always thought. They can't make a silk purse out of the proverbial sow's ear though.

I quite fancy 'Lark Rise to Candleford' - was thinking of getting the DVD set of season 1 to sample.

Well yes, we do have a fascination about how things used to be, I agree. I agree also that nothing changes much, decade after decade - apart from the players and costumes.

I read a nice quote the other day by Mark Twain I think:

"History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes."

We're living through a "rhyme" of feudalism now alright! :-)

Vanilla Rose said...

He. Named. His. Child. Peregrine.

I didn't watch this. I think it clashed with Five USA's "CSI Sunday". A lot of people did seem to enjoy it though, particularly (Dame) Maggie Smith's performance.

Twilight said...

Vanilla Rose ~~~ We watched the 2nd episode aired here last evening.
It was a toss up - that or 3 hours of the Golden Globes Awards. We did a "sandwich" and watched Downton Abbey as the filling. :-)

Maggie Smith is the gem of the cast, for sure. She's really enjoying hamming it up in her role as a vintage upper-class harridan.

There was a scene of "the hunt" in last night's episode. YUK!!! Another thing I despise. I think the nasty tradition has been outlawed now - if not it ought to have been!
Some wag once described the hunt as "the unpeakable in pursuit of the uneatable".

Vanilla Rose said...

Yes, it was Oscar Wilde.

In theory, hunting with dogs was outlawed in England and Wales in 2005 (Scotland took the lead if memory serves). However, some still goes on because (a) hunt saboteurs do their best to monitor hunts but cannot be everywhere and (b) foxes are still seen as "pests" who eat lambs and chickens. Of course, the farmers who breed them weren't keeping them as pets, so it might be more accurate to say foxes are seen as competition.

Just saw on the digital text news that "Downton Abbey" is returning in the autumn and that there will be a Christmas Special. That is a sure sign of success. A Christmas Special on Christmas Day itself is the jackpot, but a Christmas Special in the days before and after Xmas Day is seen as an honour.

PS The word verification is asking me to type in "cehab". Surely "cehab" should become a real word, as in "CElebrity ReHAB"?

Twilight said...

Vanilla Rose ~~~ Hi! thanks for the updates - on both accounts.

Hmmmm - I'm not surprised Downton Abbey has been a success over there. It's ideal 'Christmas Special' material too, isn't it!
It'll be interesting to see how well it is received on this side of the Atlantic. The movie "The King's Speech" is being very well received it seems - so appetite for stuff about royalty/aristocracy still interests Americans. Very strange, seeing as they kicked 'em all out, back in the day. ;-)