Why We Love Downton Abbey
Updated: Mar 8
I'm in world-wide good company with my addiction to all things Downton Abbey. I know it is a soap opera and as Saturday Night Live aptly demonstrated the same week that the movie was released (see link below), nothing earthshaking actually happens. But I adore the show anyway as it moves through 2-3 decades in the lives of the Crawley family at tortoise speed. I watched each of the 6 seasons (52 episodes) as they were released in the US, and at times was tempted to find a way to tune into British TV so that I did not have to wait for the winter (most of us already know that the Brits got the series a season ahead). I enjoyed the series so much, that I gladly sat with my daughter last year while she convalesced and binged watched it with her.
What about it was so spellbinding? It was slow paced, virtually empty of plot, no real action as we know it today, little blood or anything unpleasant to look at and God forbid, no overt sex. Well, it was all of those things, taking place in another time, another culture and another value system.
I am a total sucker for the historical settings. I love documentaries, books and films that are set in the past. I imagine how people lived in their time period with the limitations of communication, slowness of information, their time-specific technology, medicine, fashion and social constructs for behavior and education. I imagine how I would fare and how in 50 or 100 years ahead, people will look back at our time and characterize our day to day lives in 2019.
This morning, as I drove to my work-out thinking about all of this, I partly fault my school system for withholding so much history from our curriculum. In school we learned a bit about the ancient societies but mostly about the Revolutionary and Civil wars. Our curriculum seemed to cut off around the time of the industrial revolution. European, Asian, Arab, Indian, Central/South American and African history, all key to understanding the US origins and values were nowhere to be found. And it wasn’t until I began traveling abroad, reading and binge-watching Netflix series, that my appreciation for World War I and II (my father, a pilot in the Pacific, never wanted to discuss the war) grew and I began to absorb anything I could learn about world history. This lack of public education is particularly sad in the US, because we are the biggest melting pot country in the world - our ancestors brought an enormous blend of history and culture to our shores. How could we tread so lightly on this critical foundation?
Of course the disparity between ‘upstairs' and ‘downstairs' trials and tribulations ring true for all of us. In our country with lines of class much blurrier (don’t we all wear jeans on our day off), we get a sense of the opportunities or lack of societal movement connected to Downton lives from birth onward. In England, it came with titles and entitlements even if the money was vanishing. It exists everywhere but with different outward appearances.
And most interesting of all to me, are the big challenges; the way wars were fought, the introduction of electricity, telegraph, telephone, furnaces, cars and airplanes. Medical understanding, vaccines, antibiotics and supportive technologies to better sanitize and prevent infection slowly brought down maternal and infant mortality, surgical infection and of course battle-related mortality. These highly disruptive events were introduced gradually with much to-do. They were often looked upon with speculation and distrust before finding their way into the mainstream. And finally, just look at that lawn! Imagine the poor soul who has to mow it without a riding mower. Bring in the sheep and let them do it!
As a child, when I would marvel at the big mansions of yesteryear, my father would quickly remind me that no matter how much money the family had, none of them had air conditioning nor antibiotics, the two innovations that in his mind, truly changed the world for the better. So I often think about life without those two innovations. But, with or without, Downton with its ability to tap into our emotions and humanness, still ranks high on my list!
Watch the season trailer HERE.