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Downton Abbey: A decidedly British affair

I must admit this post has a distinct lack of science and horror in comparison to my usual fair. I’m afraid I’ve gone a bit astray as of late. My wife and I have been enjoying a little British drama known as Downton Abbey. My wife is quite a Jane Austen fan so the idea of a show, or program as the Brits call them, about an Earl and his family fretting over inheritance and the latest social soiree was right up her alley. For me it was the dapper dress and the historical accuracy. Like one-million-pounds-an-episode historical accuracy.

I’m a sucker for period pieces and reasons I don’t fully understand myself I’ve developed a fascination with the 1920’s and this has spilled over into World War I. I’ve mentioned before my findings on that war. Particularly the senselessness of it all. Fortunately Downton gives me a microcosm of life in Britain leading up to and during the war. I feel fairly confident in mentioning the war and the sinking of the Titanic without worry of spoiling the plot. After all if you don’t know the dates of these occurrences then quite frankly you won’t enjoy the show. The historical significance of the period for the British Empire is worth noting as well. In 1910 London was the financial center of the world but as the 20’s and 30’s came on her power waned. Similarly the social climate was changing very rapidly in the period. The industrial age was beginning to final produce a society where women could consider their station in relation to men and those born to the lower classes could rise up to see the rich eye to eye.

In addition to the greater historical interest there is the depiction of the traditional British upper crust and their servants. I’ve always known the well to do English had butlers and maids. According to Cinderella they also had something called footman, but I never really knew what they did. Based on the mice I assumed it had something to do with helping ladies into pumpkins, or carriages rather. It turns out footman are glorified waiters. Still, I find the hierarchy intriguing. Particularly their insistence on standing on ceremony. I’m a bit of a traditionalist myself, or as Tophat would say, pretentious, so learning the proper way to server four kinds of wine at a meal and when to wear a dress coat to dinner is simply fascinating to me. Now if only I had good reason to put this knowledge to use.

Given that the show revolves around a noble family and their servants living in one giant house, you can assume much of the plot focuses on their own personal drama. Like a soap opera you say? Well, you might put it that way. But it’s a more sophisticated soap opera. No absurd melodramas. Just simple Austenian, or perhaps Alcottian drama. I freely admit to reading Pride and Prejudice. My wife and I are both book worms and I couldn’t hardly marry the girl without reading her favorite novel. But now that you mention, it was for a class. Still, I did enjoy it. Austen had an ironic sense of humor that I found entertaining. The humor in Downton is less profound, or at least less of a parody, but there are funny moments to enjoy as you would expect in the daily lives of real people. The realistic depth of even the most minute character is what really makes the drama intriguing.

The simple fact of the matter is, we here at Faceplant are all about pointing you in the direction of good stories, and here we have Downton Abbey. A treasure trove of interweaving tales that I for one thoroughly enjoyed. The first season is streaming on Netflix, the first and second can be rented from Amazon’s streaming thing, or you could break down and buy both seasons from Amazon for less the $40. I’m told a third season has begun filming and won’t air in these United States until 2013. But no matter.

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4 Responses

  1. Loved the first season! I hope the second season eventually comes to Netflix, otherwise I’ll have to rent it from Amazon. I love the understated British humor! And watching the upper and lower class interact is quite intriguing.

    • Intriguing indeed! Even more so in the second season with the war in full swing. My wife couldn’t stand the wait and actually bought the DVDs. Now she’s officially a PBS supporter after freeloading for YEARS. She’s waiting for her free Grover tote bag now.

  2. Footmen were dapper soldiers that wore full armor crafted like distinguished suits, who waited just out of sight for some angry dude to try to off their lord and master. They were so named because they always wore gigantic boots and had a tendency to hold post at the foot of their master’s bed at night. They were eventually combined with handmen in the early 1930s, who were actually just dudes with enormous hands, all the better for serving tea and crumpets with. This is where the term “waited on hand and foot” comes from.
    Over the years they also assumed the roles of legsmen, armsmen and torsomen to form almost an entire person. The position was dismantled in the late 1940s when they also, by accident, assumed the role of headsman. The British parliament determined that no servant should serve as soldier, waiter AND executioner, and declared that servents should only serve in maid, chef and butler roles, and should refrain from performing executions.

    #totallylegithistoryfactsItotallydidn’tjustmakeup

    • Tophat makes me lol 🙂

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