I went to lunch and the movies with friends today. Good food, good people, and a good movie — Downton Abbey. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the outing and admired the film as a period piece, I must confess I am a bit too much of an egalitarian to truly appreciate the nuances of the film.
I do realize the movie portrays the end days of an outdated class system, with everyone knowing their place, ingratiating themselves with those who rank above them and condescending to those below: the lowest servants giving way to the higher servants, the lowborn currying favor with the highborn, the highborn doing the bidding of the highest in the land.
There was no merit in any of the folk portrayed in the movie — the highborn were highborn for the simple reason they were highborn or married someone of the upper classes. They didn’t earn their exalted status. The lowborn, though perhaps good at their jobs, were actually no better — adopting, as well as they could considering their positions, the petty ways of those they served.
Admittedly, the movie is geared for lovers of the series, and I’d only seen a couple of episodes somewhere along the line. (Don’t know where because although I do have a television or two, I don’t prescribe to any television programming.) The plot was thin, a mere veneer, probably because the movie is more a showcase for the characters people had come to know and love.
Despite the hype of having to know who the characters are to understand the movie, it wasn’t difficult to figure out what was going on. Every character wanted something. Every character believed they are special. The idle rich believed they deserve their good fortune. The lowborn believed they are somehow enriched by serving these folks.
Even worse, for me, none of the characters were admirable or even charming. In fact, most were appalling. Well, except for Maggie Smith, whose appallingness was part of her charm
If I’m really honest, what we have in the USA today is rather a reflection of that same world, though we all believe we are as good as those who think they are better than we are, and that with a bit of luck, the riches will even out. (Which is why it is so hard to get people to vote for special taxes for the richest folk — most of us believe that one day we will be rich and so to tax the rich is to tax our future selves; the rest of us are afraid that one day we will be bag ladies.)
Still, such a world as depicted in the movie seems utterly wrong and phony to these eyes. Maybe it would even have seemed phony back in those days — it’s hard for me to believe that people entrenched in the system truly believed that the aristocracy was better than they were and so deserved their adulation and servility.
In the end, this is what makes Downton Abbey a good movie: a couple of hours of light entertainment, followed by a couple of hours of heavy thought.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.