How do we love Downton Abbey? Let us count the ways. Before we laud the merits of the left’s most guiltiest of pleasures, it might be wise first to acknowledge the guiltier parts before diving into the pleasure bits. Where does one begin?
With so many shameless stereotypes its hard to fix focus. One could always start with the evil gay footman, poor Thomas Barrow, played brilliantly by Rob James-Collier. This varlet knows no bounds, which is part of the fun. In the first season, the connection between Thomas’ standing as persona non grata paired with his homosexuality was excruciatingly uncomfortable. Since then he’s had less romancing to do and many lives to ruin. Then there’s Thomas’ partner-in-crime, the conniving spinster, who’s name signifies her “otherness,” Miss O’Brien, portrayed by the wonderfully apt Siobhan Finneran. Her treachery wobbles back and forth with as she grapples with an undying devotion to Lady Crawley.
The usual suspects of “Others,” a parade of cliched villains, walk the perp line, trying their best to bring down The Earl of Grantham and his brood of heroines, including Allan Leech’s Irish upstart chauffeur, Tom Branson, who dares to love above his station and dreams of taking down the English monarchy. We have the ginger-haired seductress, Ethel Parks, who thought she could snag a husband by giving herself to the first wounded veteran who smiled at her. Was Fellows softening his stereotypes with newspaper magnate Richard Carlisle? Did any viewers feel a twinge of sympathy for him, or is he just an out and out bastard? Only time will tell when the chips start to fall in season three. Will he go to press with the juicy scandal of Lady Mary’s conquest of the Orient, when she done in Mr. Pamuk? Will her engagement to cousin Matthew be in danger? Need we ask?
The wonderland of Downton is supposed to be Yorkshire, yet, funnily enough, this viewer can’t recall a single drop of rain that’s fallen throughout both seasons. There was the second finale with dear Matthew and Mary shaking off snowflakes like its no big deal. Who has time for winter chill when you’re in love? Downton is filmed in Southampton, which looks nothing like the cold, damp, dreary northerly reaches of England, where its supposed to take place.
The stereotypes and harmless fibs about time and place are easy ways for writer and audience to fall quickly into the story, effectively getting to the good stuff without having to cover too much background or stick too close to the messy, gray, ugly truths of history and weather patterns. In pure craft sense, its a bit of laziness served with a few hearty helpings of old school bias. Still, the moment the camera sweeps across the grand estate of Highclere, the engine is revved; the conflicts at full throttle, and those who’ve caught the Downton fever can only chase the white rabbit down the hole, eager for the drug that makes the show so addictive. All we can hope for is that young Thomas finally transcends beyond gay and evil come third season.
Despite all the flaws, Downton Abbey shines exquisite and beautiful, and we’re hooked on the costumes, the color palettes of the dining room, the library, or the salon. And oh those tweed numbers for the hunting scene!