Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Why We Love Downton Abbey

Okay, maybe that “we” doesn’t include you, but for all my friends and family who are loyal watchers of this BBC Masterpiece offering I want to put this out there.

People like me have always been captivated by depictions of life “the way it once was.” A period costume drama invites us to experience another era in a way unlike any other; beyond the pages of  dusty history books or poorly remembered stories from old relatives. No, on the screen it all comes grandly to life, appealing to most of our senses and delighting our imaginations. For women  there’s the added charm of dress, hair style and demeanor. We love the study in contracts a period drama allows. From the high plain of our own era we can weigh the pros and cons of things like . . .

Long dresses. The fact that women have worn them for most of history still astounds. Okay, maybe not in the Fiji Islands, but you ladies know what I mean. We feel ultra feminine in a long dress. Swishing around our ankles, created from yards of enchanting fabrics with a pretty slip or petticoat peeking out. Sheer sleeves and beading. Dropped waistlines and covered button trims. Of course fashion was changing rapidly at the beginning of the last century, the era of Downton Abbey, but Flappers in short skirts were still a few years off and our indulgence in long dress fantasies can hang around for a bit yet. We can’t even imagine wearing a dress every day, or even a couple of times a year, now but it’s so much girly fun to re-visit the idea on the screen.

Servant and served. We can live in both worlds. Upstairs with the Persian rugs, gleaming silver and family portraits. Downstairs in Mr. Carson’s orderly domain where food is prepared, linens washed and ironed, and where exciting flirtations begin. As dependent on the upstairs crew for employment as those upstairs depend on them for every function of daily living. And in both cases there is hierarchy. I imagine myself the Dowager Countess, played exquisitely by Maggie Smith, in one scene and then I’m Anna or Mrs. Hughes in another. I congratulate myself on not being stuck in either lifestyle. Rich and rigid, bound by tradition. Poor and subservient; bound by ignorance. In my imagination I’m delightfully able to inhabit either place, passing judgement and tsk-tsking at this behaviour and swooning or laughing at another. 

Women particularly love Downton Abbey because the men there seem closer to what we want them to be. Interested in us and frequently seeking our advice and wisdom. Pining for us in a more old fashioned and romantic way than now. Not so engrossed in sports (although Cricket came into play recently), or politics or business all the time. Being involved with us in the life of a busy household.

And the thing that enthralls most of all is the fact that the human problems of one hundred years ago are still the human problems of today. Families growing and changing. Wars disrupting. Industry and technology defining a frightening and challenging future. Anger, love, lust, humor, joy, social change,dastardly deeds, and unexpected kindnesses – all of it. No matter how we dress it up, or down, the drama on Downton Abbey is drama we can relate to and watch in the comfort of our cozy chairs, sipping hot tea with a crumpet in waiting. It’s just wonderful.

So, fellow Downton lovers, what do you think?

Image: Free Digital Photos


  1. Oh, I LOVE watching Downton Abbey and I love the characters. Why this past week I even felt sorry for Thomas and I don't do that too often. I agree with your thoughts, Sue. It's a fantastic show and brings us a fantasy in our day-to-day lives. I find I want to be as sweet as Anna, as quick witted as the Countess, as open as Mrs. Crawley is, as forgiving as Mrs. Hughes, as loving and hopeful as Sybil was.

    And do you know what's strange? I DO wear dresses every day, longer than short, but not as grand as those women in Downton Abbey. (I try to hide what I can, while their dresses accented the positive.) Perhaps I have a heart and soul of those women from long ago.

  2. Cindy, You're a rare and beautiful bird. I wear dresses so seldom - once in a while to church. And I echo all your sentiments about DA. You would also love an older BBC series called Larkrise to Candleford. Simple wonderful.