Thursday, January 19, 2012

Things'll be great when you're Downton!


Oh, Downton Abbey. Where to begin. Where to even begin?

In the last few weeks, it seems as if the Internet has exploded with rapture over Downton Abbey. When I asked on Austin Eavesdropper's Facebook page if anyone was watching, tons of people wrote in to say yes.  A THOUSAND TIMES YES!  That was last Wednesday.  I had never seen the show before.

Now, I'm on season two.

Reader, there is just too much to love about this show. Let's start with the fact that it is Masterpiece Theater. Can you remember a time in your life outside of high school English when you sat down to watch some Masterpiece Theater?  Neither can I.  Almost makes you want to pick up the phone and dial your nearest PBS telethon, doesn't it?

The setting is early 1900's England in Downton Abbey, with gloves, corsets, and gowns losing their froth, shrinking into slimmer, 20s-style silhouettes.  And hats!  Man do the Brits love their hats. I now believe that Dame Maggie Smith's head is magical, and defies the laws of natural physics. You could place a live waterfowl on Maggie Smith's head, and not only would she not drop it, she would wear it with dignity.

Also.  A huge portion of the show takes place in the kitchen, as Downton Abbey is at its heart a domestic drama evenly divided between a titled family and its staff. And what is prepared in that kitchen? Why, crumpets and scones, of course! None of those boiled vegetable, bad English cooking stereotypes. Heavens no. The Grantham Family eats nothing but luscious tarts and aged wine.

Which brings me to the most important point of this blog post. Alamo Drafthouse: Let's schedule a Downton Abbey night.  What do you say? Macaroons and port on the menu, we all dress up in period garb?  Perhaps you could invite a certain Matthew Crawley to debut a screening ... ?  (Or Maggie Smith.  I'd be equally enthusiastic to witness a withering British backhand live, from the most honorable mouth of Maggie Smith.) 

I just think it would be pretty brilliant.

But back to Matthew Crawley, and the other characters on the show.  Downton Abbey is set during a period when time-honored Victorian conventions are slipping away, and things are beginning to seem more modern.  Sometimes frighteningly so, depending on who you are.  

In the titled Grantham family, there are three daughters and no sons, so the main conflict driving the plot is: Who will be the heir to Downton? The oldest daughter, or the oldest male cousin -- even if he's only distantly related?  That's where Matthew Crawley, the male cousin, comes in.  He's smart and good-looking and gentlemanly, but a little controversial to the staid Grantham family seeing as how he, among other things, pours his OWN tea!  In other words, he has little use for butlers and service people. Which modern viewers appreciate ... until you see how scared those service people are that they aren't needed by this individual. That his progressive self-reliance just might put them out of a job.

I won't even go into the love stories in Downton Abbey. Suffice it to say that Matthew Crawley enters into one of them with the eldest Grantham daughter Mary, whom you hate at first because she's icy cold and bitchy, and then you realize she's just conflicted. Lady Mary is the first victim of England's changing times: A girl raised to believe in "the way things are," until things begin to evolve, and she longs to evolve with them. 

There are also yearning, unrequited love plots happening among the staff, too: Stolen glances in the kitchen, whispers in the servants' quarters.  You want so badly for their romances to work out!  But everyone has a secret at Downton Abbey, and those secrets always get in the way of their union.

Every critic is basically saying the same thing about Downton Abbey: That it's the pitch perfect combination of soap and sophistication. On the one hand, there's dishy gossip, stolen kisses, and scandal.  On the other hand, you are being educated: About England's class system, WWI, property economics.  One magazine, I can't remember which, called it "pleasure without guilt."

You really must see it.

If you are already, then LET'S TALK.  And petition the Drafthouse for a Downton Abbey night.

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