Upton: Personal appeal of 'Downton Abbey'

Upton: Personal appeal of 'Downton Abbey'

January 17th, 2013 by Tabi Upton in Life Entertainment

I must say, I'm a die-hard "Downton Abbey" fan.

A couple of years ago I stumbled upon this engaging miniseries on PBS, my new favorite broadcasting network. In it, I became intrigued as I watched the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants navigate the changing world of early 20th century England with class and impeccable manners, sudden bursts of raw human emotion, and understated humor.

Watching "Downton" has became my Sunday night delight, my moment of escape into a world long past (and one I'd never have lived anyway) before heading off to my own complex universe of a typical work week.

I thought it was sort of a hidden treasure in the world of television, but I've soon realized that this miniseries is now one of the most watched television series in the world. A co-worker has confessed to having a crush on Matthew, the husband/cousin of the eldest daughter Mary Crawley. A walking partner admitted to liking it so much she planned on hosting a party to ring in the newest season.

Of course, I graciously accepted her invitation to attend and joined a varied crowd of women in her living room. We spent the evening snickering knowingly at the characters' antics, admiring the costumes, and even guffawing when the dialogue wandered into unpredictable territory. We sipped on English tea in china cups and delicately munched on shortbread cookies.

There's a certain appeal to this Edwardian era of class distinction and contradiction, a culture built on the wealth of land holdings that span back a thousand years. Truly old money, the profits were made through investments, leases and wealth from colonies in the ever-expanding British empire.

Somehow, the creator of the show has made its world come alive with intrigue and vulnerability in a way history books simply can't do. The law kept the strict system in place, making it nearly impossible for common men to enter this world, and making marriage to the right sort of people necessary to improve one's situation if one got into financial trouble.

Aristocratic life was one of excess, extravagant house parties and costume balls, shooting and hunting excursions, and a general life of ease.

"Downton Abbey" is actually the name of the manor house in which the family and servants live. These huge houses, inherited by the aristocracy, surpassed what we would even refer to as mansions. In fact, they were the size of castles, which is what the actual building used for much of the filming of "Downton Abbey" actually is.

The contrast between the super-wealthy aristocrats and the working poor seemed of no bother to most in the upper class. For example, curtains woven with gold and silver thread in one manor house that still exists and functions today cost more than $1 million in today's money, while the servants working inside during the turn of the century might have made less than $100 a year.

The series has won six Emmys and even has a spoof attached to it already, called Downtown Arby's, to its tongue-in-cheek credit. Still we watch and laugh and cry, and somehow relate to this portrayal of life so different from our own.

Despite the gulf of time, class and breeding, we viewers somehow find ourselves amid the struggles and triumphs of the characters, showing us that, when the fluff and contrasts are pulled back, the lot of us are really only human after all.

Tabi Upton is a therapist and freelance writer. Email her at tabiupton@bellsouth.net.