TV and Film

Downton Thumbs Down

I am immensely relieved that Downton Abbey is over for the moment, although I am sure it will be back with a vengeance, bigger, better and all the rest of it. I tried to like Downton Abbey and I couldn’t. I tried to watch it and couldn’t stomach a full episode although one time I did fall asleep. Yet I was hit upon all sides by cries of adulation and delight and the declaration of it being the best and greatest thing to hit Romancelandia. Ever.

Now considering I couldn’t/wouldn’t watch the whole thing I know I’m not qualified to give an unbiased opinion. But here are the things I found objectionable:

1. A waste of good acting talent. Hugh Bonneville can do more than utter Brideshead Revisited-type platitudes; Maggie Smith can do more than throw out a one-liner. I’ve no objection to good actors making a quick buck, but they must have very bored and for the most part the script was dreadful.

2. As the granddaughter of household servants and someone who’s researched servants for several years, I found the oversentimentalized, syrupy representation of employer-servant relationships offensive. Some households may have been run on such democratic and caring/sharing principles, but most probably weren’t.

3. History cleanup. Oh dear oh dear. After attempting to watch an episode which included a world war one scene, I ended up at the history channel watching a series about archaeologists excavating the trenches. They’d found human remains, pitiful bones in the clay. The contrast between this and the sanitized “war is hell” of Downton was shocking and made me feel very sad.

4. People cleanup. Such nice clean polished servants. Really? No red hands? No stained clothes? No sweat?

It may be fun but it’s not history and it’s not the truth, tho I will grant you the clothes are nice even if the women are too skinny to carry them off. They liked their babes a bit more bootilicious then. What I find interesting is that the series was compared favorably to Upstairs Downstairs, which for the most part worked, even though it too was sentimental and twisted history around. I wonder if it was because of the origins of the show, the brainchild of Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh (who both appeared on it). Fay Weldon wrote the first episode. But it appears the show from the beginning had a feminist, definitely downstairs focus, which Downton never really had.

If you haven’t seen them, Red Nose Day (a comedy fundraising day in the UK) did two episodes of Uptown Downstairs Abbey: here and here.

And here’s some more fun stuff, first a list of signs for travelers, and if you have a yearning to own a real Austen-BBC costume the Jane Austen Centre of Bath is selling some on ebay.

If you want to share unfashionable negative feelings about Downton Abbey, this is a safe place to do so. Or tell us about a tv series that got it right.

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Maggie Robinson
10 years ago

Being superficial, I watched the first season for the clothes and furniture and to see if evil Thomas would get his comeuppance. Have only seen the last episode of season two, because I could not commit.

If one is interested in the general time frame of DA, a far more riveting and educational series is Manor House, a reality show where “civilians” become servants c. 1906 for 3 months.There’s plenty of dirt, sweat and tears there.

Diane Gaston
10 years ago

I loved it. Not in its “being the best and greatest thing to hit Romancelandia. Ever” but in its being an entertaining soap opera-ish TV show in a beautiful setting with beautiful clothes and interesting (to me) characters.

But I fully support others’ rights to not share my opinion!

Janet Mullany
10 years ago

Maggie, I loved the Manor House show too. It was such a great portrait of life downstairs tho I was amazed how people didn’t realize how dirty and hard life as a servant was–I remember they went through several scullery maids who didn’t take kindly to washing soda and grease!

Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

I definitely can see those points against DA…it was far, far from perfect (especially season 2, which seemed really slapped together in a hurry!) but there are some things I watch or read to find out about history/philosophy/life truths and some I read or watch because, well, they’re just plain filthy guilty fun 🙂

Elena Greene
10 years ago

I haven’t had time to watch Downton and I wish I had, just because of all the reactions.

Louisa Cornell
10 years ago

I haven’t seen the series yet. Being in the boonies with limited television access I don’t get to see much television at all.

Having worked as a housekeeper, house cleaner and in facility maintenance I have the rough, scarred and red hands to prove it. (Not to mention the knees.) Cleaning was a tough gig in the 20th century when I did it. I can’t begin to imagine how hard it was a hundred or so years ago or two hundred years ago. I probably could have done the job, but I don’t know if I would have been able to achieve the invisibility required of servants in those eras.

Margay Roberge
10 years ago

Oh, Janet, I’m so happy somebody finally had the cahunas to say they didn’t like Downton Abbey! I thought I was the only one! Like you, I tried very hard to like it because everyone else was in raptures over it, but I just couldn’t see it. I only liked a couple of the characters and I just loathed too many of them to care a whit what happened to them – not a good thing, in my book.

I had much better luck when I followed the raptures and watched North and South with Richard Armitage. Now there is something to get excited about!

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