FAIR WARNING! This post contains spoilers about Downton Abbey, season 3, so read no further if you are not wanting to know how the season ended. And if you are not a Downton fan, I think you’ll want to sit this one out.
It’s the show we all either love, or love to hate. For the most part, I enjoy watching the show, but I’ve become increasingly irritated by all the bad history. I guess you can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the classroom out of the teacher.
There has been so much discussion about clothing along the lines of are they or are they not properly attired. As in most costume dramas, there is a combination of the good, the bad, and the downright silly. For the most part I think that costumers today are much more aware of the need to be historically accurate than they were in the past. All you have to do is watch a few episodes of M*A*S*H* or Happy Days to see how bad TV costuming was in the 1970s.
Generally speaking, the clothing in Downton Abbey has been pretty much correct to the era, but it is in the details that it goes awry. After the sinking of the Titanic, Lady Mary complained about being forced to go into mourning and wear black. But then, even when released from it, she continued to wear black on many occasions. Of course, black began its move toward chicness during the war, but it is unlikely that she, a young woman who was not in mourning, would have worn it out of choice.
Then there is the problem of the same clothes being seen over and over and over. A family as rich as the Crawleys would never have been caught dead in last year’s clothing.
But I think that the worst case was this season when Cousin Rose sneaked away to meet her married boyfriend in a “jazz club”. This was 1921, I believe, and all the pretty young things in the club were dressed like a bad version of 1926 flappers. Dresses were to the knee and much too tight. Yes, I know that people automatically associate the 1920s with a wild, frenzied party of flappers, but this is just bad history.
There are also problems with the characters exhibiting modern sensibilities. Would Lord Crawley have discouraged a suitor for his 26-year-old daughter merely because he was a little old? Would an older man actually have defended a homosexual saying it was not his fault as he was born that way? It seems unlikely.
I’ll only touch on the speech anachronisms because there are entire websites and blogs devoted entirely to exposing the dozens of them found in each episode. Some are pretty obvious, but in order to find them all, some people are using a function of google that isolates English expressions by date of usage. We all can isolate phrases and expressions that have come into the language during our own lifetimes, but the ones that predate us are just a natural part of our language. So I didn’t realize that the word “rematch” was not used until 1941, but the usage of “I’m just sayin’” and “steep learning curve” and “a lot on my plate” were more obvious, and frankly, distracting.
Which is the problem of bad history. It irritates the people who know better and ill-informs those that do not.
But if it is so bad, then why do we keep watching. My guess is because it is so pretty. My favorite scenes continue to be the ones that really don’t have a lot to do with the overall story line, but that show the Crawleys engaged in the leisure pursuits of a wealthy family of the time. They are at their best when shooting or playing cricket or just rambling about. It helps that they pick spectacular backgrounds. Anyone care to join me in a trip to the Scottish highlands?
There were rumors that the show would have only three seasons, but the overwhelming and unexpected popularity of the program shelved that idea. I’m thinking that it just cannot go past four or five, as there is just not going to be anyone left to inhabit Downton Abbey. I suppose they could move the venue to Heaven, where so many of the characters now reside.
Why is there so much death on this show? I guess we should not be surprised considering that it was the deaths of the heir and his son that form the basis of the series. There have been 24 episodes and at least 12 deaths, for an average of a death every other week.
Poor Matthew. The moment I heard that Dan Stevens was leaving the show I knew that Mary was destined to be a widow, so I watched the entire finale peeking out from under a blanket that I used to shield my eyes from the impending doom! I feel bad for the little heir, as he sure looks expendable to me. With the succession secure, who cares about who Mary marries or how she and Edith spar? Yep, that baby is toast.
All photos copyright Carnival Films for ITV