World War I
To celebrate the release of the Downton Abbey movie, Jennifer shares the top 7 reasons she loves Downton Abbey.
If you would prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down for a transcript of the episode.
Transcript for Episode 21: 7 Reasons I Love Downton Abbey
It’s September 16, 2019, as I record this, and as the Downton Abbey movie is scheduled to release later this week, I thought I’d share with you the seven reasons I love Downton Abbey. Downton Abbey is the epitome of a sparkling vintage life, and while it’s not everyone’s fine china cup of tea, it certainly is mine. However, if you’re not a fan, you may feel free to skip this episode as it will simply annoy you.
I only have one bit of writing news to share this week, and that’s that The Highlanders novella collection is now available for preorder on Amazon. I’ll put a link in the show notes. My own contribution, a novella called The Violinist, is set in 1915, which happens to fall in the time period of Downton Abbey. But that’s just a coincidence. I promise.
I was a great fan of Downton Abbey from the beginning. For those who might not be familiar with it, it was a British television drama that aired in from 200X to 201X on PBS. Created by Julian Fellowes, it followed a similar pattern as a much older series called “Upstairs, Downstairs,” chronicling the lives of wealthy British people living lives of luxury juxtaposed against the servants who toiled for them below stairs. I loved watching these ways of life that were so foreign to me, both the nobles’ lives and the servants’ lives. Like all the best TV, movies, and books, it gave me a chance to escape my own reality and dream a little, in this case for an hour a week.
In anticipation of the movie being released later this week, I’ve broken down my appreciation for Downton Abbey into seven reasons.
- First of all, it was set in my favorite time period, the early twentieth century. From the first episode set in 1912 through the 1920s, it was an era filled with drama. One of the things I love about history is not only learning the facts about historical events, but learning how these events touched the lives of individual people and families. For example, long-ago events World War II or the Korean War seem so much more real and vivid to us when we hear how they affected our fathers, uncles, or grandfathers who fought in the war, or how our grandmothers coped on the homefront with rationing and shortages and war-bond drives. Well, in the same way, Downton Abbey lets me see historical events through the lens of one household. They got the ball rolling with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, which kicked off Season One’s storyline. We saw the impact World War I had on different characters in different walks of life. We watched the wild spirit of the 1920s roll in, and all along, the various technologies: electricity, the telephone, the radio, the phonograph. One of my favorite scenes was from Season One where the dowager countess, Lady Violet, declares she will never have electricity in her house because of the damaging rays. Well, some people actually felt that way, and some still do feel suspicious about every wave of new technology that comes along. So my number-one reason for loving Downton Abbey is the time period.
- The stories! Downton Abbey is great storytelling, pure and simple. There are mysteries. There are murders and suspicious and inconvenient deaths (poor Mr. Pamuk). There are jilted brides, sibling rivalries, conflicts and betrayals and treacheries of all sorts, punctuated by sweet and tender moments, sometimes from characters you’d least suspect of being capable of sweet and tender. And there’s romance and heartbreak and more romance and more heartbreak and more romance and even some happy endings. There’s good character development, with characters who grow and change over the course of the series. So my second reason for loving Downton Abbey is the storytelling.
- The costumes ! The costumes. The dresses. The hats. The sparkly headbands and slinky gloves and luxurious jewelry. I could watch the series with the sound off and just enjoy the costumes. Even the outfits I hated, I loved.
- Good values. In Downton Abbey, a person’s character wins out over their social status. In a world where rich people are often vilified like cartoon villains simply for being rich, and poor people are often considered virtuous just for being poor, Downton Abbey showed a world where rich people could be good and kind and generous, and the lower classes were not necessarily saintly just because they were poor. To be sure, some of the wealthy characters were disgusting human beings–hello, Larry Grey. And many of the below-stairs people were, of course, men and women of sterling character. But most of them were a mixed bag: clever Lady Mary and snobbish Lady Mary. Kind Lady Edith and revengeful Lady Edith. Treacherous Thomas and vulnerable Thomas. Most of the characters are multi-dimensional, which means they’re human, like every one of us. We can relate to them. And multi-dimensional characters also point back to good storytelling. I appreciated the fact that, at Downton Abbey overall, a person’s quality of character mattered more than their social status.
- Good manners mattered. Downton Abbey shows a type of civility that our world sorely needs today. To express anger with words, not fists or guns. To wash your face, get dressed, fulfill your commitments and keep your promises, even when the world around you is shifting. That’s what good manners are. When everyone knows what behavior is expected of them and what to expect from others, things tend to run more smoothly. Good manners aren’t all about using the proper fork at dinner, although that, too, has its place. At their core, good manners about treating other people with respect and kindness, no matter who they are. Carson the butler was often joke-worthy in his insistence on a proper way to do everything. And yet there’s something reassuring having clear ideas about right and wrong, proper and improper, good and bad. In today’s world where many people think everything’s relative and there are no absolutes, such ideas are comforting. So, reason number five is good manners.
- Downton Abbey is a multi-generational family saga, meaning there are storylines for characters of all ages, from the elderly dowager countess to the youngest child. (The dowager countess, played by the incomparable Maggie Smith, could constitute a reason all on her own.) I love a series that has interesting and even romantic storylines for older characters as well as those in the bloom of youth.
- Reason Number Seven: Top-notch production values. From the décor of the interiors to the English scenery, British accents, and great casting, and aforementioned fabulous costumes, Downton Abbey is a treat to watch.
So there you have it: seven reason I love Downton Abbey. I’ll check back later, after I’ve seen the movie, to share my impressions of it.
Today’s grace note is the 1928 Jewelry Company, and specifically their Downton Abbey Jewellery Collection. You’ve heard me mention the 1928 Jewelry Company before. They’re not a sponsor, and I’m not an affiliate, but I do like their jewelry.
According to the company’s website, the Downton Abbey Collection was inspired by the Edwardian and Art Deco jewelry worn during the time period of Downton Abbey. It was created in collaboration with 1928’s designers and the shows costume design team in England through an exclusive licensing agreement. From the earrings and necklaces, down to the bracelets and hair accessories, the Downton Abbey Jewellery Collection features authentic details and motifs from the late Victorian and early Edwardian eras.
As I write this in September 2019, they’re having a sale on their Downton Abbey collection. I don’t know how long the sale will last, but here’s a link to the company.
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And that’s it for today! I’ll be back soon to discuss another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.
I had the pleasure of watching Lucky Star on TCM the other night. It was produced in 1929, one of the last silent films to come out of Twentieth Century Fox before the talkie era. It is a sweet, if fairly predictable, romance about two World War I vets–one a rich scallywag, the other honorable but minus the use of his legs–vying for the affections of a young farm girl played by Janet Gaynor. The girl’s widowed mother pushes her to marry Rich Scallywag and thereby lift the family out of poverty. But the girl’s heart, natch, belongs to Winsome in a Wheelchair.
Interestingly, this film was believed lost forever, but a pristine copy of it was unearthed in Amsterdam in the 1980s.
If you’re in the mood for a bit of silent spun-sugar, you can catch it on YouTube.