Downton Abbey and You
April 5, 2013
To receive Newt’s weekly newsletter, click here.
I confess. I’m hooked. Callista and I have been staying up late watching Downton Abbey.
Our friends, Karen Olson and Darlene Petit, insisted we watch it and sent us the first three seasons on DVD.
One night this week we were up until 2:00 am because we wanted to watch just “one more” episode.
When I told a group of political reporters this week about my new interest, several of them wrote about it as though they were surprised.
This series seems to be catching the attention of many. In fact when Congressman Paul Ryan read that I was watching Downton Abbey he wrote me this morning, saying, “Janna has hooked me on this series as well. Best TV I have watched in a long time.”
So what makes Downton Abbey so special?
Great writing. The series is based on a terrific general plot and over a dozen subplots (more on this below).
Great casting. I find myself watching the actors as individuals, not as actors playing individuals. It’s amazing how true-to-life they seem. I find myself caring about virtually every person in the series.
Great acting. The acting in Downton Abbey is so good it seems effortless.
Beautiful scenery and costumes. This show is really enhanced by magnificent countryside, amazing architecture and furnishings, and exquisite fashion – truly transporting us to a time of deep and dramatic change from Edwardian England through World War I to the Roaring Twenties.
There is also a fascinating use of subplots and quick cuts in Downton Abbey. This is a series that creates a synergistic effect between a long overarching story and more than a dozen subplots. It is the best of the classic movie and MTV model with such short segments that you never get bored. I have never seen this done better. Since you don’t know which subplot is coming next, you can never tire of the larger story. Yet because there is a larger story you never feel the subplots are losing cohesion.
As someone who has studied and taught history, I of course love the historic drama — and this is a very solid one.
As someone who writes about the pioneers of the future and the shift from candle to electric light as a model for the transformations that are about to occur, this series could not be more timely.
Downton Abbey opens as electric lights begin to replace candles (horrifying the Dowager Countess). There is a great moment when the first telephone is installed and the stoic butler eyes it with suspicion and tries to use it without fully understanding how it works.
The shattering impact of the war is communicated vividly. The increasing economic stress on formerly great families is a significant part of the story. Prime Minister Lloyd George was for a lot more redistribution than President Barack Obama, and it permanently changed the face of the English countryside.
The suffering of the poor is shown, but not a major part of the show (although veterans seeking food, a single mother desperate for help, and the economic pressures on small businesses all play a role in the series).
Julian Fellowes is such a good writer that I went to Amazon and added his two novels to my Kindle. I will now have his books to tide me over until the next season.
If you have tried it, you will already know how good Downton Abbey is.
If you haven’t tried it, you owe it to yourself to start with season one.
You will learn some history, learn a lot about the human condition, and find yourself simultaneously educated, entertained and intrigued.