Downton Abbey Dominated to the Big Screen
by Keith Lutz Staff Writer
As Downton Abbey wows audiences and rules the box office, many people are loving the return to one of television’s most iconic casts and settings but some of us are wondering what all of the fuss is about as audiences returned in drove to Highclere Castle.
If you haven’t gotten in on the Downton Abbey action, we’ll let you know all about Julian Fellowes’s critically acclaimed period drama – and why you might want to watch.
From its star-studded cast to its heart-warming stories, Downton Abbey has a certain magic about it that few series are able to create. It is both a comfort food, an escape, and a luxury. Whether it is the storylines, the compelling characters, or the true-to-life historical recreation of the early modern period, people just can’t seem to get enough of Downton Abbey. In this article, we’ll try to explain why that is and what Downton Abbey represents for different audiences.
When the series begins, it opens with a death aboard the Titanic. In many ways, this opening is both perfect and predictive of everything that is to follow: Tragedy alongside the fast pace of modernity. The Grantham family will weather the ups and downs of life while also enduring the changes that modernity brings. Emerging from a world of strict class rules and hierarchical organizations of society, the opening of Downton Abbey both mourns that past and gleefully says goodbye to it.
As a modern audience, we are both tasked with sympathizing with the changes they experience while also relating to that same feeling in our own lives. In many ways, the fast changes that the Downton Abbey crowd endures mirrors those of the Information Age and the coming “industrial revolution” where everything is automated and made by robots. The changes are fundamental, scary, and perplexing for many people – especially those of an older order. This blend of the familiar and the exotic makes Downton Abbey relatable and curious at the same time.
A recurrent theme throughout the series is the occurrence of historical events and how they impact people in the show. But melodrama isn’t central to the show and a superficial, cursory reading of it would make it seem that is the appeal. The melodrama is mixed in with a heady commentary and interrogation of societal norms and rules that are based upon “tradition.” From the varied cast and their many background stories to the way old ways are often discarded for new, pragmatic thinking means that, rather than mourning the past, Downton Abbey presents progress as an almost rational result of pragmatism and humanitarian logic. Critics of Downton Abbey often point to its strict class-based society and all that implies as somehow being appealing to people that want to “bring that back.”
On the contrary, Downton Abbey often reveals in revealing these notions to be foolish and predicated upon nonsensical notions from a bygone era. The characters of Downton Abbey never draw these conclusions, but their lives hint at it. From the central problem of Lady Mary not being able to inherit her fortune because of rules of inheritance to her becoming her own woman entirely, the audience both observes her change from her perspective and the lens of modernity. While she was married to the ideas that repressed her in the beginning of the show – even to the extent of showing disdain and contempt for later husband cousin Matthew – she later becomes a much more independent and interrogatory character willing to throw off the shackles of “what is proper” for what has to be done.
Yet we cannot question the comfort that Downton Abbey’s rules bring. Again, Downton Abbey is not advocating for an upstairs-downstairs society, but part of its appeal is that it presents a “seemingly” ordered society predicated upon unspoken yet widely understood rules. For a certain part of the population, this kind of constancy in the way life works is both appealing and nostalgia-inducing. Most of us have never owned a manor, but many of us remember a time when things that previous generations took as “foundational” were being questioned. Again, Downton Abbey presents these changes as the results of pragmatic, humanitarian processes of debate and dialogue.
But that doesn’t mean that the characters are not frightened by those changes or challenged by them. And just as Downton Abbey’s characters do not have the luxury of knowing what happens down the road, so, too, do we as a society have a huge deal of uncertainty about change and the future. What later appears logical may appear like pure insanity at the time of proposal. In this way, Downton Abbey helps people cope with change and see it as a part of a grand historical process that impacts everyone – even “masters of the universe” like Lord Grantham.
It is the characters’ collective humanity and the general vibe of the story that propels it into stratospheric heights. There is something for everyone here and it all done in such a grand, tasteful style that it is hard to find fault with production or direction. Within its genre, Downton Abbey stands out for never delving into the tawdry and the unnecessary. Even its more racy moments are presented as organic creations that exist within a logical framework introduced and explained – even if in cursory fashion – by the show. This is illustrated by the Kemal Pamuk situation introduced so early on as it is both understandable why Mary does what she does and why she reacts the way she does. It is a moment of modernity, dark comedy, and historical authenticity that few shoes have.
The show is a great primer for the movie and would probably explain a lot of the reasons why audiences are lining up to see it. As one of the most critically acclaimed modern stories out there, the Downton Abbey film is the logical result of a years-long wave of popularity that has not abated in the least. Many mainstream media outlets including Vogue have done great detail reviews on the movie.
For more of our top Falls movie picks and see the trailer for this one and Helena Grace Brand Top 15 must-see movies click the link.