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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What I've learned from watching "Downton Abbey"

I am a huge fan of British period shows and movies. Let me repeat it for emphasis- I AM A HUGE FAN of British period shows and movies!  I have watched “Sense and Sensibility” more times than I can recall, and am teased about it by my family.  
I started watching PBS Masterpiece Theater as a pre-teen and have followed it religiously over the years. I have worshiped at the church of Anglophile television with a passionate fervor that most people can’t begin to understand.  I don’t know what it is about the British that appeals to me so much. To my knowledge, I don’t have a drop of British blood in my veins.  So you can only imagine the joy and excitement I experienced upon embarking on my “Downton Abbey” experience.
For those who have been living in a cave for the last year and haven’t, shudder, heard about “Downton Abbey”, I will enlighten you now.
"A star-studded cast (Dame Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Brendan Coyle, Dan Stevens) round out the glittering, gossipy, and beguiling men and women of this epic tale!

After a tragedy at sea claims the life of the presumed heir, Lord Crawley is faced with the possibility that the house he's loved his whole life might someday belong to a distant cousin he's never met. But before that can happen he must deal with his scandalous daughter, Lady Mary - considered by many to be the rightful heir to Downton. Even the staff has opinions on the family's affairs. And while most are devoted to the Crawleys, there are others whose selfishness and scheming do more than simply disrupt the well-oiled inner workings of the estate. As the servants' mischief escalates, even the most faithful employees begin to imagine a different life.

Pitting hundreds of years of British aristocracy against the tides of social upheaval and technical progress, under the looming shadow of World War I, will the fate of Downton and its family - above and below stairs - be resolved? Or will life be altered so dramatically that its master no longer matters? " - PBS website

The many hours I spent watching “Downton Abbey” were a wonderful escape into another world, another era, another culture. But what truly moved me about the series was the emphasis on the value of ties that bind people together, year after year, through hardships and triumphs.
The servant-master relationships are very difficult to relate to or fathom from an American, twentieth century perspective. The turn of the century was a harsh and unforgiving time and place in which to live, especially for the poor and uneducated.

The show was balanced in portraying both the wealthy and privileged, and lowly and poor alike with character flaws.  The rich folk were portrayed as mostly kind and fair, and servants were shown to have just as many character flaws and evil intentions as the wealthy, titled crowd. I found that to be refreshing and more sophisticated than many programs or movies which portray servants and poor people as completely free of malice or misdeeds.
“Downton Abbey” has a wealth of fascinating lessons and great deep insights to impart. I will list a few:
Lesson #1- If you are going to marry for money, make sure you can tolerate the person on some level.
Lesson #2- If a doctor tells you that you will never walk again, make sure you get a second opinion.
Lesson #3- Servants have much more interesting lives than their masters.
Lesson #4- Having only daughters can be an expensive proposition. Especially when they can’t inherit any of the money or titles upon your death.
Lesson #5- Greedy, scheming, and nasty people will get what’s coming to them in the end.
Lesson #6- Dowager Countesses get all the really awesome lines!
Lesson #7- Class matters, especially in times of war and hunger, but it can’t protect you from tragedy.
Lesson #8- Sometimes the chauffer gets the heiress, but not usually.
Lesson #9- Watching outrageously wealthy people attempt to perform mundane tasks is endlessly amusing.
Lesson #10- Being the father of three spoiled, indulged, daughters is a challenge, even if you have a castle.
The greatest one of all: Lesson #11- Good, loyal friends and family bonds and are the things that truly get us through the difficulties and trials of life.
“Downton Abbey” may not appeal to everyone at first glance, but I promise it has entertainment value beyond the historical and cultural. There is plenty of humor and universally understood emotions that most people will be able to understand and appreciate.

Praise for Downton Abbey
"An instant classic."
The New York Times
"Compulsively watchable from the get-go."
Variety
       "Impossible to resist."
  Wall Street Journal