Sunday, November 6, 2011

On Downton Abbey

I may or may not have planned my recent trip to the UK around the season premier of Downton Abbey.  Or maybe serendipity just loves English period dramas as much as I do.  And what's not to love?  ITV's award-winning series has all the sexual tension of BBC's Pride and Prejudice, all the extravagant costumes and country houses of a Henry James adaptation, and all the haughty Maggie Smithness of every other English film. The characters are compelling and complex, with a touch of mystery in every hero and a touch of sympathy in every villain. No one is ever what they seem, and no one is ever completely bad or uncompromisingly good, well, except for Mr. Bates.  Can't he be just a little bit evil, just once in a while?  Sometimes I want to punch him in his kind, handsome, crinkly eye.

If you haven't seen the show, here's the PBS trailer for the first season, complete with history lessons like "Girls can't inherit," just in case we Americans don't get it.

The second season began airing in the UK in September, but won't make it to the US until early next year. I've been watching it covertly, and since the last episode of the season aired last night, Downton Abbey is what's making me happy this week, but empty and impatient by next week.

The second season couldn't do a better job of showing the impact of  the "Great War" if it came with a reading list of Modernist poetry.  I don't want to give too much away about the second season, but there will be some of this:

Little hints of this:

And a whole lot of this:

I can't help but think that if I were to do a cross-spectrum study of identity politics in British media, the most unfairly misrepresented group would have to be older English ladies.  They're always curmudgeons, telling you how to live your life, scaring away your suitors, or generally sticking their noses in where they don't belong.  And why are people always mysteriously dying every time they're invited to a dinner party or weekend retreat? (See also: Miss Marple) You have to wonder what these women are like in real life.  In interviews, Smith refers to Judi Dench as "Jude," and you just know that when they get together they drink like fish, smoke like chimneys, and curse like a Winslet. There's probably scorching stares, undoubtedly. Smith has also been close friends with Carol Burnett for several decades.  Go ahead, blow your mind.

So, while your mind is still reeling, notice how much sultry sex appeal Dame Maggie has in this clip or how little Hugh Bonneville has in this one.  But be careful how much poking around on the internet you do, though.  There are a few interviews out there with Brendan Coyle, where he's casually dressed in a suit, the top two or seven buttons unbottoned.  I never needed to see Mr. Bates's chest hair. Never ever.

But really, everything about this cast and this show makes me happy.  And when it finally airs here in January, I'll rewatch the whole thing excitedly, and I'm already looking forward to a Christmas special and Season 3 set in the Jazz Age--really, so much, dorkily, looking forward to it, you have no idea.