Don’t be Down on Downton

13 Oct

In this week’s issue of New Statesman, Rachel Cooke (who I am generally a fan of, and in agreement with) writes about the inane predictability of Downton Abbey and wonders at the popularity of a programme that reinforces old class systems.

Surely that is the joy of it? I won’t deny that class boundaries are still very much an issue and the idea of ‘social mobility’ (to quote the political spin) is just as pressing now as in the early 20th century, but Downton demonstrates the shifts in social structure that have led to a less rigid society.

Set in 1912, it portrays the clashes between the old way and the new. Not just socially speaking of course, but also between the generations, nationalities (the English, American and even Turks got a look in this week) and those from the ‘old world’, such as the Dowager, and those fresh from the industrial revolution, as the Crawleys are. To argue that the show is politically out of step is to analyse only the surface.

Cooke’s argument that it is predictable is an even easier criticism to swat. It’s a period drama. It’s meant to be comforting, cosy and easy to digest – much like hot chocolate. Yes, it was clear from the get-go that Thomas played for the other team; it’s all part of the language of a period drama. Just as soaps must include steamy affairs and comedy panel shows must have at least one ‘outrageous’ star, period dramas carry certain tropes that entertain their audience, and hidden homosexuality is one of them.

My final beef with Cooke’s piece was this: she claimed that Maggie Smith was woefully miscast as the Dowager. Considering Julian Fellowes wrote the piece especially for her, this is a tough assertion. It’s simply not true. No one can deliver a withering putdown disguised as a compliment quite so well as this Dame. What’s more, I am certain that as the series develops we will see another side to the Dowager. I’m not expecting hugs and counselling sessions, but as more lives are upheaved in Downton, I think it is safe to say that she will find reason enough to cut back on her sharp tongue.

I only hope that doesn’t come too soon.



One Response to “Don’t be Down on Downton”


  1. Downton Abbey – Episode 4 « Telly And Tea - October 18, 2010

    […] the point, but Dame Maggie Smith is sublime in Downton Abbey. Put that in your pipe and smoke it Rachel Cooke. Violet had me quite literally LOLing last night as I tucked into the latest installment of my new […]

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