When you're alone And life is making you lonely, You can always go Downton! When you've got worries, An Edwardian surrey Seems to help, I know, Downton! Just listen to the music of the wine glasses at dinner Linger in the countryside where Mary's still a sinner How can you lose? The lights are much softer there You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and go Downton! things'll be great when you're Downton! no finer place for sure Downton! Escape is waiting for you
(Apologies to Petula Clark and Tony Hatch for the above)
This afternoon at Casa la Brilliant may have belonged to the Giants (YAY!), but after 9 PM, when the football is over and Mr. Brilliant has turned in for the night, it's all going to be about sober-but-still-awesome clothes and fabulous hats and World War I and the denizens of Downton Abbey.
I remember when the original Forsyte Sage played on American TV for the first time, ushering in what would become Masterpiece Theatre. This was a sprawling, 26-episode, utterly faithful rendition of Jon Galsworthy's six novels. It had sex and intrigue and family strife lo unto succeeding generations. The Forsyte Saga was all about the upstairs and not at all about the downstairs. It had great costumes and British accents and rigid manners -- all the things we now take for granted about costume dramas. But in 1967, there had been nothing like it on American television:
Today this version has lost none of its power, though it does play a bit stagey. But at the time, Forsyte was so successful that it begat Upstairs Downstairs (from which co-creator Jean Marsh insists Downton Abbey was shamelessly stolen), Poldark, The First Churchills, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Elizabeth R, Brideshead Revisited, and the greatest costume drama of all time, I, Claudius. The best of the Masterpiece dramas have two things in common: richly-drawn characters, and superlative production values.
As we are wont to do in our navel-gazing society, there is much hue and cry over why the very same people who support the Occupy movement are already assembling their tea and scones to enjoy over the premiere of season 2 of a drama that's all about inheritance of a huge English mansion -- the family that owns it and the many people whose purpose in life is to serve them. And let's face it, the people who have been screaming about defunding NPR and cheering Mitt Romney's assertion that Sesame Street is going to have to start advertising Froot Loops, are hardly likely to be planted in front of their local public television station tonight, for all that they have the delusion that if things were only just like they were in the pre- (and this season, current) World War I era, with everyone knowing exactly where s/he stands in the scheme of things, life would be a lot better.
But those of us who ARE glued in front of PBS tonight at 9 Eastern Time know what the attraction is. It isn't that we want to be waited on by people who have no lives other than serving the wealthy. It isn't that we want to, as Lady Mary said in Season I, have no life but going to socials and charity functions and wait around to marry. It isn't that we want to, as Maggie Smith's deliciously haughty Dowager Countess said last season, have no opinions until we marry and then our husbands tell us what to think.
No, the attraction is something far less profound.
It's all about the clothes. And the hats:
After Titanic came out in 1997, there was a rash of interest in Edwardian clothing -- the lace-up boots, the tea dresses, and yes, the corsets. I myself bought one, and while it would be horrifically uncomfortable to wear all the time, there's something about a corset that makes you carry yourself differently -- taller, straighter, and with a rack you could read Shakespeare from. Even among those of us who refuse to take any vacation where we have to dress up, there's something appealing about watching people wear gorgeous dresses to dinner, and outfits with matching hats to garden parties. Even Boardwalk Empire, with it's Scorsesean gangsters and graphic violence, had some of the most fabulous costuming we've seen in popular culture in recent years.
There's something about wearing the clothing of a particular time that gives us a vague sense of what it was like to be there -- the constriction of corsets and hobble skirts. The pointed toes of lace-up boots. The feel of a summer breeze blowing through the straw of a hat festooned with the better part of an entire florist's inventory
The darted sheath dresses, suits, and fedoras of Mad Men have never quite caught on, perhaps because there are far too many of us alive who still remember them from the first time, or because there is nothing about the lives of ANY of the characters on that show with whom we'd want to change places even for a day, for all that we find them so compelling. Nor would we want to trade places with Lady Mary Crawley either, for that matter, despite her gorgeous dresses, because Michelle Dockery so expertly portrays the despair of a woman born just a few years too early for the changes that will come after Season 2 of Downton Abbey ends.
Yes, Downton Abbey may seem like just another Austen-esque thwarted romance story with a big house. But if you ask a fan to dig down deep and reveal what the appeal is, yes, it's about the house p0rn. But more than anything else it's about this:
So if you're inclined to shop for clothing inspired by this time period, Victorian Trading Company has some lovely garments and accessories.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go dress for dinner. Consider this an open thread for All Things Downton.
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