Downton Abbey and the Grace of the Agitated Allegorical Swan

Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website Yonder and Home. Andrew is the host of Heard Tell podcast.

Related Post Roulette

15 Responses

  1. Richard Hershberger says:

    I have the minority opinion (though my stating it usually provokes some agreeing comments) that the writing is just terrible. The acting runs from OK to superb. The setting is gorgeous. But the writing would be embarrassing in an afternoon soap opera. Making the inevitable Upstairs Downstairs comparison, the cheesy Titanic story line was a low point, which they wisely moved away from. In Downton Abbey, the cheesy Titanic story line is the starting point. I watched the first season and started the second, but couldn’t take it anymore.Report

    • I was ok with the Titanic thing as a cultural touch point to start from, they didnt reAlly dwell on it and while a cheap pop does give the average person a reference point. My low point in the writing, criticism wise, was actually the main character of Mary, who is so annoying through most of the series. Where other characters got development and growth arcs she seemed to just wallow in the same flaws she started with and Mary Jane’d her way to greatness and hot husband, and so on and so on with no consequences or change. Report

    • Marchmaine in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      I’m an even smaller minority who thinks that the (early) shows by Julian Fellowes that were attempting to present a sympathetic Lord Grantham as a principled Peer would have been far more interesting than the eventual bathetic Peer he became.

      We lost interest somewhere in season 2 on account of all that.Report

    • I’ve never seen any of Downton Abbey, but have been curious how it compared to Upstairs Downstairs , which I saw quite a bit of. So, thanks for that comparison.Report

      • Richard Hershberger in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Downton Abbey has far higher production values, and hired some top acting talent. But Upstairs Downstairs had better writing. It was far from consistently good–recall when Mrs. Bridge’s kidnapped a baby–but it was generally pretty good, and I think handled the issue of class better. Upstairs Downstairs was appointment television for my mother–the one show where we were only allowed in the room on pledge of silence. I watched it about ten years ago, and was impressed at how well it stood up.Report

    • I’m inclined to be one of the agreeing comments. I didn’t see the movie, but I watched all the episodes. There was so much more that the show could have been. But at least in America (don’t know about the UK or the rest of the Anglosphere), it seemed to mostly have the “they’re speaking in British accents, so it’s a masterpiece theatre classic” cachet.

      On the other hand, I *did* watch all the episodes, so it must’ve done something for me.Report

  2. Saul Degraw says:

    I watched the first two seasons and then found it boring. The main fans for Downtown Abby are women over the age of 35 and this is not a group normally courted by movie studios. I took a film history course in college and the statistic I learned is that teenage and twenty-something boys have been the prime movie audience since the silents and therefore often the most courted to.

    The notable thing is that Downton beat Rambo which is more of the traditional blockbuster movie.Report

  3. George Turner says:

    This may be the best written review of anything ever. It’s superb Andrew.

    That said, there are apparently people here who don’t know that later seasons of Downton Abbey have murder, car racing, infidelity, more murder, hidden bastard offspring, and electricity. They’re missing out.

    For me, the lowest point of the series came when they botched the audio. I can’t remember what season or episodes it was, but the effect was jarring. Instead of having top notch, movie-quality scoring, somebody started cutting the orchestral music at the end of one scene, switching to a completely different piece of orchestral music to start the next scene, only a second later.

    Normally one scene of Downton blends in to another as if Spielberg and John Williams sweated over the cut. But due to the audio change, it suddenly had a soap opera feel, as if scenes are being spliced together willy-nilly to rush them out the door. Instead of an immersive viewing experience, a lush, high-budget, top quality production that could lead on Netflix or HBO, it felt like some low budget rerun on TV Land. I’m sure other viewers must have noticed and complained.

    But the movie we all really want to see is when Thomas and Arthur Shelby from the Peaky Blinders visit Downton Abbey, perhaps offering to buy it, perhaps seducing Lady Mary, or perhaps just killing everybody. Whatever happened, seeing them all sharing the same screen would be a brain twisting experience, since Peaky Blinders is Downton Abbey for thugs and retrobates.

    *retrobate: A person who would have loved being a reprobate in the past. Retrobates underpin the economic viability of amusement parks like West World.Report

    • More crossovers:

      Scored with Petula Clark songs: Downtown Abbey.
      Scored with Beatles songs: Downton Abbey Road.
      With Marty Feldman as Igor the underbutler: Downton Abbey NormalReport

      • George Turner in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        They could make a fortune if the characters could do commercials for any of those bizarre UK brands. with one of the maids bragging about their sheets, one of the cooks talking up Kerrygold Irish butter, or Lady Mary sipping a particular English tea. Lord Grantham’s seal of approval would probably be as lucrative as the Queens.Report

  4. Kolohe says:

    I figured out my problem with the overall arc of Downton Abbey.

    I did like it, quite a bit, especially at the beginning. Yes it was soapy, and the resolutions always a bit too pat, but as said by others above, the acting and (yes) the writing (as well as of course costume and set design) made everything greater than the sum of its parts.

    The problem I have is that over the course of six seasons, everyone became a diggit lifer.

    Now, I don’t have a problem with diggit lifers. *I* was a diggit lifer. But not everyone should be a diggit lifer. Especially those who don’t want to be diggit lifers *and* that have opportunity not to be diggit lifers.

    I don’t really expect ( and definitely don’t want) a scathing Marxist critique of UK class structures as the Edwardian era passed into the war & interwar years – but for the golden age of television, the show was remarkably unambitious.

    The inciting incident of the Titanic sinking was a great narrative and thematic hook, as it symbolizes the end of ‘innocent’ industrialization and the start of mechanized and social forces that would upend the world order over the course of the next 4 decades.

    But after the war, they never went anywhere with it. The show ends with dumb luck allowing everyone to live in a manner (and in a manor) little changed from a generation before. When in fact everything was changing, and the transformation was ongoing.

    Shorter me – I wish the arc of the show would see them through the Depression and 2nd World War and perhaps end with QE2’s coronation as the bridge to the ‘modern’ UK.

    Shorter shorter me – a lot more people needed to go to America, one fewer person needed to die.

    Nonetheless, will be seeing this movie this weekend (for almost certainly more than 6 bucks a ticket).Report

    • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Kolohe says:

      I guess my view is that the show was actually less than, instead of greater than, the sum of its parts. Maybe the writing is better than what Richard (and I) gave it credit for up above, but the show’s failure to do what shorter you (and I) would have preferred means, for me, that things just didn’t line up very well for the show.Report

  5. Slade the Leveller says:

    My wife is a huge fan of the show, and I must admit it hooked me, too. She’s also a fan of The Crown, which I watch with her.

    Both shows cause me to marvel that the British people put up with these aristocratic layabouts.Report

  6. Kolohe says:

    This SNL skit from last night is on point, but I still think in good fun.

    There are tbf 2 ‘high stakes’ plot lines imo, one of which is executed well (Thomas’s) one of which is not (Branson’s)Report