Posts Tagged ‘Downton Abbey’

Lady Sinderby (Rachel Aldritch) at the point-to-point races — my very favorite for the season

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve put a link to Anibundel’s Hats of Downton Abbey for this year onto this blog (if you click you will be led to other years of hats), for fashion is a woman’s topic and the hats are mostly of the female characters. I add to it the observation that the one female character in Downton Abbey never seen with a hat is the utterly hatless Mrs Drewe (Emma Lowndes), not even when glimpsed coming from church or school:

The first shot, the first time we see her — we never see her from her own point of view, always it’s POV Edith

It has to have been deliberate — as is the state of Marigold’s unbrushed, tangled hair until “rescued” (snatched back?) by the POV biological mother, Edith.

Even Daisy has a hat (go look), and (another anomaly) Anna Bates (Joanne Froggart) suddenly sports a snazzy number in the line-up which sent her to jail:


While the best and most varied hats were the featherly creations for the Dowager (Maggie Smith); the most seemingly expensive (glinting with gold at us), those of Cora, Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern); and the most sheer number (click and you will see I am accurate on all counts) went to Lady Mary, who I was glad to see in a subdued number when visiting the Dowager:


the most quietly suitable for her looks, went to Samantha Bond as the supremely discreet Lady Rosamund Painswick

3 for one (to the other side, that’s Mabel Lane Fox’s cloche for dining out)

And the most indescribably wrong (deliberately so), somehow sweetly pathetically doing the opposite of managing to give her the youth it’s supposed to (is it perched too much?), went to Harriet Walter as Lady Shackleton who is trying so hard with Lord Merton, he oblivious to the poor woman’s efforts:


Unfunny uncles who insist
in trying on a lady’s hat,
–oh, even if the joke falls flat,
we share your slight transvestite twist

in spite of our embarrassment.
Costume and custom are complex.
The headgear of the other sex
inspires us to experiment.

Androgynous aunts, who, at the beach
with paper plates upon your laps,
keep putting on the yachtsmen’s caps
with exhibitionistic screech,

the visors hanging o’er the ear
so that the golden anchors drag,
— the tides of fashion never lag.
Such caps may not be worn next year.

Or you who don the paper plate
itself, and put some grapes upon it,
or sport the Indian’s feather bonnet,
–perversities may aggravate

the natural madness of the hatter.
And if the opera hats collapse
and crowns grow draughty, then, perhaps,
he thinks what might a miter matter?

Unfunny uncle, you who wore a
hat too big, or one too many,
tell us, can’t you, are there any
stars inside your black fedora?

Aunt exemplary and slim,
with vernal eyes, we wonder
what slow changes they see under
their vast, shady, turned-down brim.
— Elizabeth Bishop

Any one have a favorite hat poem?


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Dear friends,

If this were the 18th century, we’d call this an entr-acte, a burlesque to disrupt or end the evening with.

With a fugitive visit from Andrew Davies’s Mr Selfridge:


Take the few minutes to watch. Much of the cast of Downton Abbey and the star of Mr Selfridge plus the inimitable Joanne Lumley (perfect timing herself) as our ghost of Christmas Hollywood. No serious pointing out of the inequities of Downton Abbey nor, like this Guardian article by Polly Toynbee, nore does it begin treat of the harm such shows acually perform, but it does highlight some of the most egregious absurdities of behavior and thought and feeling:

In the spirit of that Christmas ghost tale, It’s a Wonderful life, Lord Grantham has lost his whole fortune, and knowing it’s just all his fault, he is thinking of taking a spin in his car (we know what happens to characters who take spins on Christmas Eve), but then the Hollywood angel appears and shows him what the world would have been like had he never been born. The same counterfactual nonsense is applied.

For me the two best scenes are in Part One: the servants downstairs with Mrs Patmore dead drunk, Mrs Hughes beating everyone at cards and the tatooed undershirted Mr Molseley (I heart Baxter), Thomas upstairs stealing the crockery piece by piece. But in Part Two: Lady Mary’s bitchiness put to perfect account. There they resort to self-reflexive direct mockery: as Fellowes says few do care about the lack of real sense in the show but everyone scrutinizes the cutlery (literal historical accuracy of epitomizing details which is after all what historical fiction and films rely on). In one of the companion volumes, Fellowes gives away what a sex symbol Elizabeth McGovern is for him.

What better for New Year’s: a mini- mini-series. Let us with Mrs Patmore break out the brandy and look around for Clarence who let us hope by this time has gotten several more promotions.


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Anna (Joanne Froggatt) goes to buy an ice, with John Bates (Brendan Coyle) looking on

The canonical song sung near the end of season 2

Dear friends and readers,

For a third time I’m gathering in one place a handy list of the blog reviews I’ve done for a season of Downton Abbey. Here is the previous one where I gather up blogs from Under the Sign of Sylvia as well as Ellen and Jim have a Blog, two.

The fourth season:

A sombre season
1 & 2: Defense of Grieving
3 & 4: House Party
5: Mr Bates no Hamlet
6: Uptick
7: Strangely Moving
8: On a green sward, in a darkened room
Coda: The Advantage of Kindness; the Kraken of Rage
Hats: Cloches and Tiaras, Season 4


Mr Bates as dark hero, alter ego for Fellowes
Bates and Thomas as outsiders

From Under the Sign of Sylvia, Two:

A dream — much bewidowed Downton Abbey in need of a pussycat
Respite through Downton Abbey
Sunday: Downton Abbey in the NYC Subway & Pedro Pieti’s Underground Poetry

I’ve done most of my blogging on Downton Abbey on Ellen and Jim have a Blog, Two, but thought I’d transfer over here for this year’s list because I want to end this season with a few thoughts on the centrality of bonding with characters in this mini-series, and some characteristics it manifests and shares with most of movies in the Austen film canon — which transform them into catalyzers for cult memories. It’s not coincidence that the audience for Austen films is coterminous with that of Downton Abbey.


In his Travels in Hypereality witing of Casablanca, Umberto Eco offers a persuasive explanation for why some movies — or groups of movies, and their source too, become cult objects. He agrees with the folklorist of film, Propp, motifs and characters these are attached to, the narrative function of these are crucial — we bond with a presence whose underlying archetype, stereotype appeals personally and deeply. Fellowes offers us a cornucopia — as does Austen — of heroines.

As I admitted in talking of the lacunae of Breaking Bad for me, the core heroine is Anna. It’s she I care intensely about — and Fellowes has said he assumes she is centrally liked. I don’t like her political stance, but she is closest to my experience. How I see my place in that world — if I were lucky. It’s her story I am following, and I am drawn to her charitable character, liking for order, security, and peace; I see why she clings to Mr Bates who means to shelter and love her utterly. Anna doesn’t expect anything; she just hopes things will go okay but knows often they do not. A key to this identification is her low expectations as well as Bates’s.

But this figure or these figures in the carpet do not leave their gratification without that carpet, which must display certain magical features. Some of these are that we should be able to break, dislocate, unhinge a totally realized world. Austen wrote and rewrote her books, so they carry many layers and fruitful opportunities for de-construction. Fellowes’s screenplays are unlike what the handbooks tell you screenplays should be like: they don’t go anywhere, much less rapidly but are imbricated, and the large vision realized auditorily and visually through them seen in the companion books, with their exquisite detail, insider information and insight (“behind the scenes”), multi-generic assemblage of elements and documents from the history of the film. Downton Abbey is also thick with stereotyped images, frames derived from the traditions of costume drama. Intertexual collage Eco calls it.

So when we approach this work we can (as Eco says) “quote characters and episodes” as if they were aspects of our world, enjoy a riot of images: say the people at the railway station, the dinner party, the male fight to the death (if only the other characters would let them), holding hands. The snatched epitomizing line of dialogue. These movies create themselves and speak to one another. I noticed yesterday in Death Comes to the Pemberley Mrs Reynolds’s, Elizabeth’s housekeeper at Pemberley, finds a place for Louisa Bidwell’s illegitimate daughter at her sister’s boarding school in Highbury (we are to think, Ah! Mrs Goddard). When Lady Glencora announces she is pregnant in the Palliser series, Plantagenet is so excited he cites a number of doctors they must visit, including of course Dr Thorne (from Barsetshire books). Evelyn Napier is easily brought back from Season 1 to be important in Season 4. And since we have bonded with these images, it is a difficult business 5 or 25 years later hiring a replacement actor or actress; shall you chose some like, someone utterly different, a compromise? (that is the hurdle the makers of a new Poldark are trying to overcome).

It really did hurt the Downton Abbey world when Dan Stevens insisted on leaving at the close of the third season.

And what the scripts and direction of these movies invariably show is an inner life that comes straight from the experience of the central film-makers and some of the principle actors and actresses. Fellowes’s notes to his scripts show how aware he is of this; Andrew Davies openly discusses his pouring of aspects of himself into his material.

It’s important for our era that the Abbey and Austen worlds present community as a strong value and ethics of compassion even if qualified by the class system outlook, but it’s not necessary.

This is my accounting for the continued success of Downton Abbey; it is central to the way I am studying the Austen film canon — as well as Andrew Davies’s or Sandy Welch’s films (to name two of my favorite film-writers).


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