Saturday, March 11, 2017

Saturday & Sundry Thoughts about Downton Abbey

As evidenced by my post of January 2011, Downton Abbey - Julian Fellowes, we watched an episode or two of Downton Abbey when first shown on PBS in the USA. I was not unduly impressed back then, gave the show a wide berth thereafter. When I noticed it now available via Amazon Prime, and having exhausted many other choices of binge-worthy TV series there, and on Netflix, we decided to give Downton another chance.

Perhaps I've mellowed some since 2011. On this sampling I'm enjoying the series, if still feeling a tad scratchy about it in places. After many nightly binges of 2 or 3 episodes a time we've finished season 4 already!

Wikipedia's page on the show has all manner of interesting detail. Among the information there's mention of complaints levelled at various aspects of the production: anti-Irish allegations, anti-Catholicism and some lack of general authenticity. As to the Irish and Catholic issues, I can understand where complainants were coming from, but when depicting a specific period, I guess it's not always possible to be both authentic and politically correct to standards often expected now. As to general authenticity, though, I agree with this:
Fellowes tries to be as authentic in his depiction of the period as he can. Despite this, the show features many linguistic anachronisms. The accents of characters have also been questioned with the Received Pronunciation of the actors who play the wealthy characters described as "slightly more contemporary" than would be expected among early-20th-century aristocrats, however, this "elicited more natural and unaffected performances from the cast."
The servants' accents are reasonably accurate for north of England in general. These servants are not necessarily native of Dowton's surrounding area. I often find, in TV drama, that Yorkshire accents tend to be drawn as from West Yorkshire, a quite different accent from East and North Yorkshire, but I suppose it takes a native to detect the subtle differences. In the USA, I think British accents are heard as all more or less the same: just "English".

The aristocrats in Downton Abbey are smoothed and sweetened versions of the real thing, essentially made palatable for the TV viewers - pleasant enough that their evening glass of ale and fish and chips would not have to be spluttered over. Even Lady Violet, played by the wonderful Maggie Smith, supposedly a class-ridden virago of the first water, is given a warm twinkle to go with her only mildly offensive one-liners.
I commented to my husband while enjoying one of Violet's acerbic exchanges, "I want to be like her!" His response: "But you are dear, you are!"

My main complaint is that, though Downton Abbey and a large part of the action outside of it takes place in Yorkshire, not a single real Yorkshire backdrop is used - at least from what I've read so far. How could that possibly be right? Downton Abbey is supposed to be in North Yorkshire, near to Ripon, Thirsk and York. There's much wonderful scenery in that area, lots of beautiful old towns and villages, numerous grand estates. But no - the writer and producer chose to use houses and backgrounds in the south of England! If that was his plan, or if that became a necessity for whatever reason, why not set the story in the south? I feel particularly miffed about this, being a Yorkshire gal by birth, more especially because many of my own ancestors came from that very area of Yorkshire; most of 'em were servants and labourers to the area's landed gentry and aristocrats, not far removed from Downton's Crawleys. For instance, my maternal great grandfather was a groom at Burton Agnes Hall in East Yorkshire - a beautiful grand old stately home, much older than that used to depict Downton Abbey.

We shall soldier on with the Crawleys and their pals, as far as Amazon Prime allows. Having trudged through World War I, numerous beginnings and endings, lives, loves, adventures and deaths, we've now reached the point, in the mid-1920s, where some aristocrats are losing their palatial homes and brigades of servants - an eventuality bound to put a smile on this particular viewing virago's face!


Wisewebwoman said...

Good review of the eye candy series which I wrote about in "Frocks". Lol. My trouble with it had always been Lady Crawley. She looks stoned out of her mind in most scenes and every time I see her I start to laugh imagining that this is the intent. To get through her empty privrliged days the lady needs a few bongs.


Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~ Ta! :-) I found your post headed "Frocks" - enjoyed the read and the comments there too.

Yes, the frocks (and hats) are an additional treat. As your commenters mentioned the "upstairs" females are all so stick thin, they could wear anything! It is a refreshing change not to be seeing huge boobs spilling all over the place though. Those 1920s styles make 'em look actually flat-chested! All the marvellous food they have "on tap" never settles on the hips and tum in DA.

Another thing : my own "law of TV dogs" is holding good in DA, as we found last night. It goes like this: if there's a dog in a film or in a TV series they'll kill it off one way or another. GRRRR!

Agree about Lady (Cora) Crawley looking stoned much of the time. Husband frequently mentions that the actress, Elizabeth McGovern, has a peculiar eye movement/expression she uses often in all her roles - and she certainly does so, all the time, in Downton Abbey.

LB said...

Hi Twilight ~ If you haven't already seen it, you might like the 2016 miniseries, "War & Peace" (no dogs):

Twilight said...

LB ~ Hi! Thanks - no I haven't seen it, nor have I read the book. I've become a bit interested in Russian history recently though, so I shall definitely seek out W & P once Downton is done - won't be too long now. Oh good - glad of no dogs to be killed off! :-)

LB said...

I was wrong. As I watched to the end last night, there was a dog (wouldn't you know???) Only a small one though, with a very small part.:(

Twilight said...

LB ~ Shucks! I'll still watch, but shall be ready for that.