Whether waiting in line for a caffeine boost or sitting in a lecture theatre, the chit-chat of Monday morning is reserved for one notorious topic: last night’s Downton Abbey. Currently in it’s third season, the British drama has captured the hearts of men and women internationally, with 100 countries acquiring the rights to broadcast the show. With numerous awards and nominations to its name, Golden Globe for ‘Best miniseries’ topping the list, it begs the question, why is everybody mad for Downton?
One naughty Nordic lady on Campus claimed her obsession with the programme was merely due to her infatuation with the leading man. Not the young dashing, Matthew Crawley as I am sure some of you assumed, but in fact Robert Crawley, the older Earl of Grantham. While I don’t quite empathise with her attraction to a man that is not a dissimilar age to my dad, I do see the appeal of the 1920s man: polite, respectful and wistfully romantic. Downton Abbey shows the appeal of a ‘slomance’. In a day and age where sex comes before marriage and often before a first date, it is refreshing to be able to feel the excitement and apprehension of a blossoming relationship. Whispered conversations, lingering eye contact and feather-light touches are far more enticing than anything that is over in a night. In Lady Violet’s wise words, “Vulgarity is no substitute for wit.”
A would be hard-core member of EUBC, who was slightly more reluctant to discuss his obsession with the drama, similarly remarked that he enjoyed watching a “time when manners and decorum were highly valued in society.” Perhaps chivalry is not dead after all, it seems the male population wish for simpler romances too. (Although I am slightly more convinced that this particular male just enjoys watching it with all the girls) I am not suggesting that most people would be keen on their parents choosing whom they marry or that any of us are really that keen on marrying our cousins. However, there is something attractive about knowing where you stand with someone, receiving written love letters and being confident that your loyal butler will support your chosen beau, no matter who he is.
Another wise international relations student remarked that “the notion of happiness deriving from success is not always true, and I think we are starting to realise that.” Downton Abbey heralds a time where life was simpler and perhaps there was more appreciation for things we take for granted today. With less young people being able to move out of their parent’s house, dare I suggest that the nation’s obsession with Downton is an unspoken appreciation of our families? Or maybe we just watch in wonderment at a family that can happily co-exist in one house despite there being three generations. Moreover, what is truly unique about Downton is the cross class and generation representation. It would be deceiving and unsuccessful if the audience were only shown one side. If Earl Grantham’s twitter read ‘Might have to sell my stately home #firstworldproblems.’ it would hardly prompt sympathetic responses from the online community. However, the TV programme shows the interactions between all ages and classes meaning we can better understand what repercussions an issue like this can have. With this myriad of characters and story lines there is always a character we can empathize with.
As with a lot of television programmes there is also an element of escapism. With the country in an economic recession and having to work harder than ever, it is comforting to lose yourself in a world where the problems are very different from modern society. It may seem odd that a large number of female university students are so enthralled by a time when women were so oppressed. This is also part of its appeal; the show doesn’t try to convince us whether or not this is right or wrong. It is an honest drama, and the audience certainly values this. I dare anyone to find a woman more honest than Lady Violet, played by the insatiable Maggie Smith. Her remarks always make the unspoken spoken and would be rude if they were not so hilarious.
However, the popularity of Downton Abbey goes beyond escapism. Even when sitting in a freezing cold student house with aching feet from last night’s Itchy Feet, writer Julian Fellowes has somehow made it possible for us to relate to the characters in a 1920s stately home. In this third season we know the characters intimately as individuals; their motivations, their history, their context, and this makes them more believable. Part of this appeal is also that we don’t know what the next episode will bring; unlike the majority of period dramas, it is not based on a novel. Or maybe we do. One Downton newbie was less than enthused by the programme, on her first viewing she claimed it was “predictable’”. However, I would argue that this is half of the reason we love it. Perhaps this is a sensitive subject given the shocking and heart-breaking death of Lady Sybil last week; nevertheless, we can usually guess what the ending of an episode or season will bring. Was there really any question over whether the family would have to move from Downton, or whether Mary and Matthew wouldn’t end up getting it on? We all know that Fellowes could not be so cruel as to deny us these happy endings, but we love the sense of theatrics that surrounds these horrifying possibilities. My nerves are tested just as much on Sunday evenings as they are during the ‘death trap’ that is the timepiece queue.
Whatever the reasons for its appeal, there is no stopping the growing popularity of Downton Abbey. It is a show that has the ability to both pull on your heartstrings, and make you laugh with its wit. Whether you watch to escape the dreary days of the 21st century or to hear Maggie Smith’s brilliant one-liners, there is no shame in being a Downton fan. With 11 million views each episode, you’ll soon be an outsider if you don’t watch!
Downton Abbey is broadcast on Sundays at 9pm, ITV1.