And as we learned to love them again, so a younger generation invented a new way to live in them. They simply saw the space and its possibilities. But this time, the family chose to occupy the kitchens in their own way, importing televisions and sofas and toys and making them right for the way we live now. Helpers did not sleep upstairs in the garrets but came in from the village and called the owners by their Christian names and felt, quite rightly, that they had a stake in making the house work.
In a way, the landowners reinvented themselves, as the aristocracy has done so many times before, and found a place, for themselves and their houses, in modern Britain. This was perhaps the main inspiration for the series, Downton Abbey , because we did all feel that were we to go into this territory, it must be right for our present zeitgeist to give equal weight, in terms of narrative or moral probity or even likeability to both parts of the community of a great house, the family and their servants.
The World Of Downton Abbey Text Only Fellowes Jessica (ePUB/PDF)
This I hope we have done, favouring neither group over the other, which I am convinced remains one of the principal strengths of the show. Like most of the good things in my life, Downton Abbey came about entirely by chance. I had been trying to get a completely different project off the ground with the producer, Gareth Neame, and when at last we realised it was not going to fly, we met for dinner to call it a day.
It was then that Gareth suggested venturing back into the territory of a film I had written some years before, Gosford Park , but this time for television, and that is how it began. Gosford was set in a large country house in November and it dealt with a shooting party and their servants, both those working in the house and for the guests, so it was clear at once what Gareth wanted. I was a little nervous initially, at the risks of asking for a second helping, but the idea grew on me and so Downton Abbey was born. Television — or rather, a television series, with its open-endedness, with its unlimited time to develop any character — held possibilities that the space allowed for a film narrative could not offer.
As to why I find the subject so appealing, I suppose it is because that half century from around to seems to me to form a bridge from the old world into the new. At the beginning, society was run along much the same lines it had been since the Conquest. Inventions had altered things, of course, but the strict pyramid shape, the idea that everyone had their different roles to play and that, to a great extent, they were born to play them, was still unchallenged, or so it appeared.
In fact, of course, beneath the smooth surface of the long Edwardian summer, a good deal was being questioned. New modes of travel would shrink the world, new methods of production would transform it.
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For most of the population of Monarchical Old Europe, at least for those who were young adults at the turn of the last century, the world they would die in would bear almost no resemblance to the world of their beginnings, whatever their nationality, whatever their class. My own great-aunt Isie, the model for Violet Grantham, was born in , making her more than ten years older than Lady Mary Crawley, and she would die at ninety one in , so I knew her well. She was one of the generation of young ladies who never went to school and her Mama would only allow her to attend university lectures in London if she agreed to two conditions: the first that she would never sit an exam, the second that she would be accompanied at all times by a maid.
She lost her husband in the first war, her only son in the second, and she would live to see men land on the moon. For most of them, the way of life lived at Downton would come to an end in Many of the houses were requisitioned by the services, some to their cost, and the debts and mortgages accumulated since the collapse of the agricultural economy in the s and 90s, made the idea of re-opening them when the fighting ended six years later, unalluring.
Their renaissance would not come for thirty years or so after the Second World War and then, as I have said, the new owners chose to live in them differently. Which brings us back to the Crawleys of Downton Abbey, but when it comes to how far we will travel with them through the decades of challenge and change that lie ahead for their civilisation, that must remain to be seen.
W elcome to the world of Downton Abbey, a place that has captivated an audience of millions, all following the lives of one family and their servants. Against the backdrop of a fading Edwardian society, we watch their personal dramas unfold and see them through the horrors and change that the First World War brought to Britain. This perhaps is what fascinates us: not just the beautiful scenery, the sumptuous costumes, nor even the skill of the actors, but the fact that we are experiencing something of how life was a hundred years ago.
We notice the differences between our lives and theirs; the rigid social hierarchy, the nuances of etiquette, the stifling clothes and the battle for women to be heard. But alongside this, we see something that is the same: family life. At the forefront of everything at Downton is family , whether this stands for the blood ties of the Crawleys or the relationships between the servants below stairs.
All of us can recognise a familiar character amongst them: Violet, the dowager Countess, the old-fashioned grandmother; Mary, Edith and Sybil, the squabbling sisters; Robert and Cora, the loving parents; or Rosamund, the interfering sister-in-law. Any of us who have left behind our families to make our own new, adopted ties with those we work with or with friends we choose are creating a new family, just as the servants do at Downton. Thrown together in cramped quarters, working long, hard hours, the servants nevertheless find security in their relationships with each other.
Like all families, they have their ups and their downs, their favourites and a few petty fights. Downton Abbey is more than just a house, it is also a home to both the family and the servants.
Everyone living here is striving to keep the house and estate in good order, ready to pass on to the next generation. So when the question is raised of who will inherit, everyone is affected — above and below stairs.
Even a miniature kingdom needs to know who is king. For the moment, of course, Robert, the Earl of Grantham, is still the master of his realm.
Not this one, though. It is at all times ridiculous — but, I have to admit, quite enjoyable. It is structured like any TV episode around a set of concurrent subplots, delivered in a series of little bite-size scenes, played in and out with strident little orchestral stings on the soundtrack.
Every so often you can feel the rhythmic thud of where the ad break would normally go — where it will go, in fact, when this goes to TV. The screenwriter is Julian Fellowes, who of course created the all-star country-house murder mystery Gosford Park in , which won him the Oscar for best original screenplay and whose aristocratic setting he cleverly converted into the global TV phenomenon of Downton. Downton Abbey on TV was much more lightweight, and this is a bit exposed in the cinema. All are very underused.
But oh dear, the downstairs staff are enraged when the monarch brings in his own royal servants who pull rank on them, while the formidable Countess of Grantham Smith is nettled to see that the Queen has brought her lady-in-waiting Lady Bagshaw Staunton , a distant cousin with whom she has a serious beef. Exasperatingly, many of the plotlines — the central royal drama and the confrontation between Lady Grantham and Lady Bagshaw — are accelerated and resolved with almost surreal speed.
Meanwhile, Barrow disports himself at the kind of secret establishment which Mr Fellowes imagines existing in Yorkshire in the s. Basically, the plots are rickety and the characterisation has the depth of a Franklin Mint plate, but there are some funny moments and Kevin Doyle, playing the overexcitable servant Molesley, pretty much steals the entire film with his embarrassing outburst of royalist love and Downton pride over dinner.