Down in the Downton Dumps
By Elyse Ashton
I’ve read several Downton postmortems and found a lot of snark, cynicism and dismissive superiority. I don’t buy it. Not for moment. Don’t even tell me what was wrong with Downton Abbey. Just don’t go there. The end of Downton Abbey is a loss and one does not trot out perceived shortcomings at a funeral. That beautiful final episode had tears flowing to ‘Auld Lang Syne” as if a dear friend were bidding me farewell forever. Downton Abbey will be missed.
Every storyline wasn’t created equal yet that never made me less enthusiastic about discovering what was going to happen next. My only real complaint was that we got the show so much later than the UK that I would act on hints, google my hunches and spoil my own surprises. I knew the car crash was coming. Earlier in the day on which that episode aired, I told my mother, who lives in another time zone, that if she needed to call me afterward, I would understand. She did. We commiserated. She wept over the phone as she mourned Matthew Crawley’s beautiful blue eyes.
Downton had become an obsession for us both, although not a shameful one.
Downton Abbey was a guilt-free indulgence shared by millions. I’ll confess to having diverting, fun trashy-telly pleasures and a little goes a long way. Downton Abbey does not fall into the same category. Something about the show being on PBS made being spellbound by Downton seem a cut above the usual television fandom. It led one to perhaps learning a little more about history and even re-examining one’s manners. It was almost edifying. A little Downton mania didn’t hurt anybody, although it could get expensive. I had to order all the dvds to binge on the last couple episodes of the season before they were aired. Many books were purchased and devoured. I spent too much for tea with Downton pictures and fanciful names on the tin. A visit to Highclere was in order. As the familiar rooftop became visible over the horizon I had to choke back sobs and explain to the taxi driver who was careful not to mock.
Downton became my happy place. I still can not get enough. I re-watch episodes and revel in the work of wonderful, well-cast actors, glorious scenery, “yummy” costumes, incredible attention to detail and brilliant writing that has had me gasping, laughing, wiping away the tears, and rooting for the one percent as if I had been to the manor born. The downstairs world was busy, yet had a romantic quality. Upstairs, all was perfection. The Dowager Countess said things that would have infuriated me in real life, but were endearingly funny in the context of the show and quotable amongst the cognoscenti. The Earl and Countess of Grantham had an exceptionally stronger sense of social justice and far more tolerance for ex-cons than I have although I spent many of my formative years in the projects. With that kind of background, you’d think I’d be on the side of Miss Bunting or Daisy at her most revolutionary. No. Absolutely not. Julian Fellowes had me so wrapped around his creative little well-born finger that I found in myself in daydreams slipping comfortably into this very foreign world, and, more incredibly, longing for a time which, realistically, I wouldn’t have enjoyed much at all. But as long as I was letting my delusions run amok, against all probabilities, I pictured myself living upstairs! I was not only imagining what I would do in Lady Mary’s impossibly elegant shoes, but I’ve even dreamed up my own role and story lines for the show.
I could be Lady Cora’s world-weary Charleston-dancing actress cousin from Milwaukee, disillusioned by life on the stage and very like Adele Astaire, being reinvented by love of English country life and transitioning beautifully into the elite drawing rooms. My character would weather a few comic faux pas on my way to loving and being loved by all. I’d lure my artistic friends north and stage slightly sassy amateur theatricals on the grounds.
Oh, and Mr. Barrow, I’d like to introduce you to the charming man who designs my gowns. I think you’ll really hit it off…But, alas, Downton Abbey has had it’s finale. I won’t ever be invited to join the cast, sugarfoot, shimmy and quip my way across the great hall. It’s time to face life without Downton.
As much as we hope the rumours and talk about a Downton Abbey feature film will bear fruit, it won’t be the same. Many of the cast are moving on to new projects and I’ll be cheering for them. Julian Fellowes has a new work of fiction coming out called Belgravia which sounds intriguing. Reports are that his television project “The Gilded Age” is in development for NBC and no doubt, it will be something special. Many shows have already been touted as “The Next Downton” and have only disappointed.Anyway, it’s too soon. It hurts too much. It might be a fabulous show. It might be as perfect as Poldark, but it won’t quite be filling the void which Downton has left.
Now, please excuse me. <sniffle> I’ve got to go upstairs and take off my hat.