Monday, January 28, 2013

Addicted to “Downton Abbey”

Addicted to “Downton Abbey”

Before the advent of cable TV with hundreds of channels telling “tales told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (what’s a little bastardization of Shakespeare to make a point?), there was PBS and Masterpiece Theatre hosted by the ever-melodious Alistair Cook. The theme music even today calls to mind those magnificent British series we first enjoyed from 1971. My first memories of Masterpiece Theatre include “The Six Wives of Henry VIII”, which instilled in me a fascination with all things Tudor and caused me to read everything that has been published regarding the Tudor Dynasty in the years that followed. The productions “I, Claudius”, “The Jewel in the Crown”, and “Upstairs Downstairs” were so far superior to what was produced for American television that I eagerly awaited Sunday nights.

But Masterpiece changed. It dropped the “Theatre” and premium cable stations such as HBO and Showtime brought us “The Sopranos”, “Deadwood” and “Rome”. Masterpiece had lost its luster. It was no longer must see TV for the intelligentsia. It had become ordinary TV. That is, until “Downtown Abbey”, the classy soap opera for TV snobs telling the tales of the Crawley family of Downton Abbey at a time when the aristocratic families of England with manor houses were having to face the changes in society wrought by the sweeping changes following of WWI.

It fascinates me, in part, because I once had the privilege to spend a year in the UK living in a smaller version of Downton Abbey outside Grantham, England (no relation to Lord Grantham, but the hometown of Margaret Thatcher). The architecture was remarkably similar at Harlaxton Manor. The Duke of Rutland lived nearby. My university had purchased the property that had been built by (I kid you not) Sir Gregory Gregory.

And I love the clothes. I love the elegance. I love thinking of a time when one used bouillon spoons and knew what they were. It is romantic. People at Downton write letters.  I love the Dowager Duchess portrayed by the incomparable Maggie Smith.  Doesn’t every family have an eccentric aunt of similar ilk?   I love that despite the apparent wealth, and privilege, and sophistication, and beautiful clothes – families are still families with the love and disdain and frustration and celebration and tragedy that we mere mortals experience. There is something comforting about that.

Each Sunday during the Downton season I sit glued to the TV feeling part of the Crawley family. Feeling joy when they feel joy, feeling sadness when they feel sadness, wanting to kick Lord Grantham in the @#$%,  cheering on Lady Edith when she is published, and waiting, waiting, waiting for the next elegantly snarky comment to pass Dame Maggie’s lips.

Ok – I am bored to numbness by Anna and Bates. Yawn! Just kill them both and move on.  But with this singular exception, I am ever so hopeful that Downton Abbey will survive at least until Lord Grantham must open the house to the general public on weekends to pay the taxes.

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