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.