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Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey is an extremely popular British period drama, set in the years 1912 to 1926, which ran six seasons (the Brits call them series) on television and is now a feature film set in 1927.

I very much enjoyed the first two seasons of Downton Abbey. Like many Downton Abbey fans, I felt an intense nostalgia for a country I had never known: George V’s England, an overwhelmingly white, unapologetically Eurocentric society ruled by a glamorous aristocracy and monarchy that had not strayed too far from its founding warrior ethos. I was particularly taken with the series’ treatment of the First World War, which I have always found far more moving than the Second. I especially loved Maggie Smith as the scheming, sharp-tongued dowager Countess of Grantham.

Although the series did try to inject as many modern, politically correct tropes as the story could bear, the creators of the series had the good sense not to push it too far, for they knew that absolutely nobody watched Downton Abbey to see black faces, just as nobody chooses to visit London today because they want to see Jamaicans or Arabs or South Asians—and many people now skip London precisely to avoid them.

Like many series, Downton Abbey went on a bit too long. There was a natural story arc which ended with the marriage of Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) sometime in season three. It should have ended there. But they managed to drag it out for six full seasons by doling out romances and tragedies to every major and bit player, to the point of farce. I was disgusted by the end of season three. I was curious to see if the show would recover in season four, but it didn’t, so I stopped watching.

I had absolutely no desire to watch the Downton Abbey feature film, but spending the holidays with family tends to change one’s mind. And in this case, I am glad. The Downton Abbey film is a triumphant return to form, with all the period charm and vivid, likable characters of the best parts of the series, without the soap operatic padding and empty calories. Beyond that, the politics of the film, such as they are, are decidedly wholesome and conservative, even when it tries to be progressive.

The story is set in motion when King George and Queen Mary are on a tour and decide to stay at Downton Abbey. There will be a lunch, a parade, and a banquet, plus a ball at the nearby house of their daughter Princess Mary and her very difficult husband, Lord Harewood. Naturally, the whole estate and village are aflutter, even the most cynical hearts drawing meaning and pride from the event.

Conflicts break out between the Downton staff and the royal servants. Conspiracies are hatched. Eggs and carpets are beaten. Dresses are hemmed, suggestions are hawed. Feelings are ruffled and assuaged. Cheeks blush, eyelashes flutter, men and women whirl around dance floors. Old ladies trade barbs. The dowager Countess schemes to bring home an inheritance. A republican assassin is foiled. Unjust pretensions are deflated by just pretensions, and somehow the grand structure of pretensions is upheld.

The most touching scenes of the movie involve Lady Mary, whose son will inherit Downton. When Mary raises the possibility of selling Downton and downsizing, her maid Anna begs her not to because Downton is the center of the whole community. Later, when Mary’s grandmother, the dowager Countess, tells her that she is nearing the end of her life, they have a very moving conversation about how, despite the inevitability of change, the dead live on in their posterity. It is a life-affirming and deeply conservative message.

Even the republican characters, Tom Branson and the silly scullery maid Daisy, end up being conservatives of a sort. Tom is an Irish revolutionary, but he is also the son-in-law of the Earl of Grantham. In the end, he is more loyal to is adopted homeland and family, foiling an IRA assassination plot against King George. As for Daisy, she has no truck with kings and queens, but she takes care not to deflate the pride of the local grocer who is honored to provide provisions for the royal visit. Daisy does not tell him that the royals are bringing their own supplies.

Even the one PC subplot is somewhat conservative in the end. The Earl’s butler Barrow (Robert James-Collier) is a homosexual. He is somewhat put out when, for the duration of the royal visit, his retired predecessor Carson (Jim Carter), is called back into service.

So, the night of the ball, Barrow goes into town with one of the royal servants, Ellis, who is also homosexual. The two get separated, and Barrow ends up at an underground gay nightclub dancing with other fellows—all this intercut with the ball at the Harewoods—until the police arrive and arrest the lot.

Ellis uses his position on the royal staff to get Barrow out of jail. As they walk off into the night, Ellis tells Barrow that he just needs to be a bit more discreet. Barrow remarks on how good it is just to be able to talk, one man to another. It is clearly the beginning of a relationship.

The whole sequence has the best of liberal intentions, but it is nevertheless a rejection of radical gay liberation ideology, which holds that homosexuals can never find places in existing societies, thus they must burn it all down in a disco inferno.

Since it is based upon six seasons of television, Downton Abbey is not exactly a stand-alone film. I am sure those who have never seen the series would be quite lost, although I had not seen the latter half of the series and had no difficulty picking up the thread.

I highly recommend Downton Abbey to Anglophiles, lovers of costume dramas, and people who just want a vacation from multiculturalism. It is not great drama, but it is well-crafted escapist entertainment: romantic, nostalgic, visually sumptuous, with a witty and literate script and a wholesomely conservative message.

 
• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: Britain, Movies 
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  1. I saw part of one episode, and it was about a white woman with jungle fever for a black jazz player.
    That was enough. I wonder if the woman Mountbatten’s wife who had flings with darkies of all stripes.

    • Replies: @Dexter
  2. It’s been said that some animals will only survive in zoos.

    It may be that White Society will only survive in movies.

    • Replies: @SunBakedSuburb
    , @AceDeuce
  3. It’s Downton Abbey, not Downtown. That’s more up Petula Clark’s alley.

    • Agree: kikz
  4. Downton Abbey is chuckle-headed crapola.

    But people are so starved for anything with a little class they went for it.

    One example. It’s supposed to be an Upstairs/Downstairs kind of thing. Obviously. But then there is this subplot where a Downstairs guy rapes a Downstairs girl. Thus revealing the pathetic loving sweetie-pie ass-kissing of the upper classes that the writer’s only real purpose in life. FYI, it should have been Upstairs raping Downstairs, because, I’m sorry, that’s the way it went, all the time, in real life. But heaven forfend we swerve into realism or anything. Just worship the imbecile rich and laugh or wag your fingers at the ridiculous and/or venal worker.

    Fie on that asshole writer.

  5. The way to improve the Downton Abbey TV series and feature film is to make it Haunted Downton Abbey.

    • Replies: @flyingtiger
  6. @Priss Factor

    “It may be that White Society will only survive in movies.”

    Or we can be exhibits in a museum. See the first Planet of the Apes film with Chuck Heston for an example.

    • Replies: @Priss Factor
  7. @SunBakedSuburb

    Or we can be exhibits in a museum.

    Or maybe whites will be farmed and cloned indefinitely for the sexual pleasure of non-whites.

  8. Onebornfree says: • Website

    Regards, onebornfree

  9. Anon[891] • Disclaimer says:

    “FYI, it should have been Upstairs raping Downstairs, because, I’m sorry, that’s the way it went, all the time, in real life.”

    How do you know?

  10. AceDeuce says:
    @Priss Factor

    Once the whites are gone the groids will use the celluloid films as kindling, or to light their crackpoipes. Do you think they have any interest in preserving that stuff?

  11. RJJCDA says:

    My favorite was Carson. The scene where he rejected and dismissed a modern convenience, an electric toaster was priceless.

  12. Anonymous[355] • Disclaimer says:

    I loved the series- all six seasons- and loved the movie. The two world wars destroyed England. Too bad Churchill was ever born.

    The book The End of the House of Alard by English author Sheila Kaye-Smith (1923) covers the same subject but is probably better done. I assume Fellowes borrowed from Kaye-Smith.

    “We only know that the last sad squires ride slowly towards the sea,
    And a new people takes the land. . .”

    —G. K. CHESTERTON.

    https://archive.org/details/houseofalard00kayeuoft

  13. Michelle says:

    Nah, Maggie Smith has creeped me out since I saw “Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”. Her actor son, Toby Stephens is just as creepy. I can’t stand to look at either of them and Maggie seems to be the same character in every movie. A brittle faced, sour puss. I watched the first season of Downton Abbey and my local PBS station went haywire on the last episode and I never knew the ending and I did not care. Same with Game of Thrones. Sean Bean’s character died and after that, I was done.

  14. Dexter says:
    @Priss Factor

    Not really. I think I know the episode you’re referring to. There certainly nothing racey in the attraction between the characters nor was there anything unacceptable.

    I think the language you choose reveals a potential bigotry I hope you can learn to outgrow.

    • Replies: @Gleimhart Mantooso
  15. @Dexter

    Dear Moral Arbiter of the Universe:

    What’s wrong with being disgusted by the portrayal of a pretty white woman supposedly being attracted to a darkie?

    • Replies: @Dexter
  16. Dexter says:
    @Gleimhart Mantooso

    What’s wrong with being disgusted by the portrayal of a pretty white woman supposedly being attracted to a darkie?

    Other than the fact your viewpoint openly assumes certain races are naturally superior to others and thus openly racist? Nothing I guess.

    I’m a life long conservative Republican…and one who adheres to the original party platform of liberty and freedom for all outlined when the party was established in the 1850s and enhanced when US Republicans fought the Democrats to end the Democrat’s practice of slavery.

    Slavery and race politics are a component of Jacksonian Democrats. Things like the KKK, red lining, lynching, jim crow laws, poll taxes, etc. are elements of the Democrat party. In 1860, just prior to the start of the Civil War, there were just over 4,000,000 slaves in the US. 98% were owned by Democrats. The remaining 2% were owned by members of the Cherokee Nation and other tribes of the 5 Nations. ZERO, 0%, not one, none, nil were owned by Republicans.

    Slavery, racism, race politics, intersectionality, etc. are components of the Democrat party and the party’s collectivist/socialist philosophy.

  17. eah says:

    I very much enjoyed the first two seasons of Downton Abbey.

    Exactly what I was going to say when I saw you had written about Downton, although I am not normally all that interested in such things on TV — after the first two seasons it got somewhat too schmaltzy and melodramatic, with crap like running away and marrying the chauffeur — the staging and especially costumes were always fantastic, as was most of the acting.

    (Oddly, part of the URL of this article is “downtown-abbey”.)

    • Replies: @Dexter
    , @Buck Ransom
  18. Dexter says:
    @eah

    If you ever have a chance to visit the Biltmore House in Asheville, NC, built by Cornelius Vanderbilt in the late 1800’s…and it still remains the country’s largest private residence.

    If anyone likes DA…they’ll be blown away by the Biltmore.

    • Thanks: eah
    • Replies: @FPD72
  19. Liza says:

    @Trevor Lynch.

    Kind of off-topic, but those interested in English period dramas might want to have a look at the remake of British series “Poldark”. The original came out in the 1970s.

    This historical fiction consists of 5 seasons of several episodes each, beginning in 2015. The series finished airing in 2019 on British and US television. The story takes place in late 18th century/early 19th century Cornwall and London, wherein the aristocrat liberal Ross Poldark, with his outsized sense of nobless oblige, is shown to be a more complicated character than just your regular type liberal who loves the Poor Rural People, trying to protect them from Bad Rich Folks. Lots of engaging characters not always behaving completely as you might expect.

    However, the eight episodes which make up the last season went goofy, with its two new prominent characters – an important white Englishman, Col. Despard, stationed in British Honduras, and the black slave, Kitty, who he married, this woman having all the manners of the royal family and then some. Not to mention a little predilection for speechifying and pamphleteering in London in the service of anti-slavery. So our noble Ross Poldark, his entire clan and his circle of friend get drawn into the slavery debate through these two characters. It is a major part of this fifth season departing quite a bit in tone and storyline from the previous for years. There is quite a bit of mushy 20/21st century style romance in the first four seasons of Poldark but this changes to pure politically correct politics in the fifth and last season.

    While the negress Kitty is also a historical figure, it is not clear (to me) if she actually was included in the Winston Graham books on which the television series is based. I would not be surprised if the TV writer inserted her into the plot by being the wife of the man who more or less “saved” Poldark’s life during their stint in the American War of Independence. How sly.

    The final two episodes of this last season are embarrassingly bad and outright boring, though only moderately worse than the entire fifth season taken as a whole. There is even a major scene with that wearisome trope where a character (Poldark in this case) is saved from imminent death by dint of the evildoer and he deciding to have a conversation c/w fantastical shenanigans. And at the last moment, a head shakingly impossible rescue straight out of Hollywood TV shows.

    There doesn’t appear to have been much of an attempt to weave a finale at least loosely in keeping with the books. Nearly all the major characters have become 21st century types in their behavior and attitudes, whereas in the first four seasons, they came across as more genuine people of their time. Available on DVD.

    • Replies: @Jim Don Bob
  20. @Liza

    The original Poldark was better than the latter one.

    • Agree: Liza
  21. Any historical drama made today will have a black person in it (as a good guy or gal), and damn historical accuracy, just as most police dramas feature strong, feisty, competent lady detectives of the sort conspicuously absent in actual UK police forces (where they tend to feature in shooting electricians or expenses scandals).

    “A Christmas Carol” on BBC this year featured

    a) Scrooge as a victim of childhood sexual abuse
    b) a black Mrs Cratchit (mother of Tiny Tim) who
    c) is #MeTooed by Scrooge, who wants his evil way with her if Bob Cratchit is to keep his job

    I lasted maybe 15 minutes before turning off.

    (the only black woman I can think of in pre-1950s English literature set in the UK is Long John Silver’s wife, who doesn’t actually speak or appear in the book)

    • Replies: @Miro23
  22. All who have commented on this thread are urged to play this exquisite Noel Coward composition and rendering and to listen to it all the way through –

    As for interracial hanky-panky, check out the shenanagans of Nancy Cunard of blessed memory.

    • Thanks: Liza
    • Replies: @Anonymous
  23. @SunBakedSuburb

    The show could have used a few vampires or a zombie attack.

  24. FPD72 says:
    @Dexter

    And right now there is a Downton Abbey exhibition at the Biltmore. I haven’t seen the exhibition but my wife say it while we were vacationing in NYC a couple of years ago and she lived it. We watched the TV show on Amazon Prime after she saw the exhibition.

  25. Anonymous[388] • Disclaimer says:
    @Billy Corr

    Lol…

    “…The stately homes of England
    How beautiful they stand,
    To prove the upper classes
    Have still the upper hand.
    Though the fact that they have to be rebuilt,
    And frequently mortgaged to the hilt
    Is inclined to take the gilt
    Off the gingerbread…

    Here you see
    The pick of us.
    You may be heartily sick of us.
    Still, with sense
    We’re all imbued.
    Our homes command extensive views,
    And with assistance from the Jews,
    We have been able to dispose of
    Rows and rows and rows of
    Gainsboroughs and Lawrences,
    Some sporting prints of Aunt Florence’s,
    Some of which were rather rude…”

    • LOL: Liza
  26. bjondo says:

    I highly recommend Downton Abbey to Anglophiles

    What’s recommended for those who
    feel England should have vanished from
    the pages of history with the Black Plague?

    5ds

    • Replies: @Lurker
  27. Miro23 says:
    @YetAnotherAnon

    “A Christmas Carol” on BBC this year featured

    a) Scrooge as a victim of childhood sexual abuse

    b) a black Mrs Cratchit (mother of Tiny Tim) who

    c) is #MeTooed by Scrooge, who wants his evil way with her if Bob Cratchit is to keep his job

    I lasted maybe 15 minutes before turning off.

    Like in the Soviet Union, everything had to be interpreted through the lens of Marxism. Totalitarianism has a standard modus operandi including hunting down dissidents.

    Did the public appreciate the Soviet Marxist dialectic? No, but they didn’t have any choice in the matter.

  28. @eah

    …after the first two seasons it got somewhat too schmaltzy and melodramatic, with crap like running away and marrying the chauffeur —

    Wasn’t that absolutely absurd? How can they expect us to buy into such schlock?

    Next thing you know, they’ll be trying to sell us nonsense about the reigning monarch’s grandson up and marrying a fortyish American grade-D actress, who is incidentally also a divorcee and a mulatto, who drives the Prince her husband to secede from the royal family and move to “North America” without his government stipend.

    I mean, really!

  29. Lurker says:

    Even the one PC subplot is somewhat conservative in the end. The Earl’s butler Barrow (Robert James-Collier) is a homosexual.

    If all the rumours are true – homosexuals are over represented among the royal servants (and among the crew of the Royal yacht Britannia too, when she was still operational). As far as one can tell, they seem fanatically loyal to the royal family.

  30. Lurker says:
    @bjondo

    Then you have the enfolding disaster of the real life present day to comfort you.

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