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.
In Britain we’re very pleased you liked ‘Downton Abbey’. If you’d like to know more about some of our real life aristocrats and their stately homes, you may like my book ‘Duchesses: Living in 21st Century Britain’, which features ten of our non-royal duchesses today whom I interviewed. Each also chooses her favourite duchess from the past. More at: http://janedismore.com/
Like many others (no doubt) I sniffed and even wept at times through the final episode of Downton. I will miss it terribly, even though I already own the DVD’s for all six seasons. There is something special in watching when others are too. It was always a topic of much conversation with friends I met up with every Tuesday, and yesterday we were all saying how much we would miss it, even though we loved the way Julian Fellowes brought all the story lines to such satisfactory conclusions – even though some were only hinted at! I don’t think anything will ever compare to just how special it was and how the series was loved by so many, many people – men and women of all ages. To all those incredible people – cast and crew – who made us “addicts” a huge Thank You!!!
Sorry! I’m actually NOT anonymous
I’ve enjoyed lots of British drama over that past 45 years. Everything from ‘All Creatures Great & Small’, Upstairs Downstairs. Too many to mention, but was thrilled that Fellowes is doing a NYC Gilded Age drama!! I love that there’s such a commitment to realism in these productions. Watched the British award show and you could see the commitment of the entire crew to the production being the very best. Kudos to all who had a part of it.
For the snark, etc…. there are always people who can’t stand to see others enjoy something they don’t like. ‘You can please some of the people some of the time, but not all the people all of the time.’ I just figure that their parents didn’t instill the ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.’ good manners in them. Too bad for them and frankly, I don’t care what they think.
As for Fellows’ “The Gilded Age” being an NBC Network Production and not on PBS should make any Downton Lover worry. A Lot. Can anyone say “Reign” with a straight face and not expect something similar?
See Susan Branch’s blog for a great recap!
Great article. I feel a little lost knowing Downton is really over. It was such a wonderful series that ended so beautfully.
I’m so sad that Downton ended. My husband and I watched and loved every episode. Sunday’s became such a special night when the new episodes aired. I couldn’t get enough of the drama, the breathtaking landscapes, the immaculate attention to detail, the costumes and hairstyles, the food Mrs Patmore prepared (there should be a cookbook), the music, the clever and polite rhetoric that was very often humorously telling another to F off. Ugh…..I could list a thousand reasons why I loved Downtown Abbey. I cried my eyes out watching the final episode. Even though I was thoroughly elated with the ending I’m still devastated that I had to say goodbye. I’ll miss my friends at Downton. I already do! Thank you for so many wonderful hours!
Great writing! I really like your take! I have LOVED Downton Abbey from start to finish (although I wish some characters wouldn’t have had to die!) 😦 What a GREAT SHOW and a GREAT LOSS! I thoroughly enjoyed this last season and the last episode SO MUCH! YAY EDITH!!!!!!!!!! YAY EVERYONE!!!!!!!