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Friday, June 19, 2015

Watching "Downton Abbey"

We are currently watching "Downton Abbey." We are watching the 'box set' of this highly popular and successful I.T.V. series through Sky +. We had watched an early episode when it was first broadcast but gave up because it had so many commericials in it. I realise that I.T.V. is funded by the sale of advertising, but they really have too many breaks within an hour's programme. It actually runs for around 45 minutes so there's a least 15 minutes-worth of commercials. You can record programmes and then fast-forward through the commercials, but there are so many adverts for sofas and car insurance you can take, believe me.

It's an enjoyable show, if a little slow. Nothing much really happens. It is actually little more than a soap. The sinking of the Titanic as well as the First World War comes into the story, along with some other historical points in early Twentieth-Century history, along with such things as the Spanish Flu epidemic which kills off some of the central characters along the way. The 'downstairs' characters are far more interesting than the 'upstairs' characters. They seem to have far more interesting storylines. The Hugh Bonneville character, the Earl of Grantham, is somewhat one-dimensional. He is rather passive and as such a bit boring. He never seems to have much to do. He's dominated by the women around him. He has all daughters (hence the longwinded storyline regarding the succession to the title.) His mother-in-law, his wife as well as his mother, as well as his daughters, all know exactly how to wrap him around their little fingers in order to get what they want. He doesn't seem to have a great deal of control of his family, his household or the estate. He can't be much good at financial matters, hence the storyline about how his investments have gone pear-shaped and the threat to the future of Downton Abbey. How on earth would anyone be advised to invest all their fortune in just one company, and an American one at that? Just doesn't ring true somehow. And a member of the aristocracy? Please. I know it's only fiction, but it's a bit far-fetched. Also, why is it none of his household staff are unable to iron his nightshirts? Whenever we see him in bed, or preparing to go to bed, and he's dressed in a nightshirt, it looks so creased and obviously un-ironed, or even poorly ironed. I realise that in the early 20th Century there weren't the kitchen gadgets we take for granted today in our homes, for example, electric steam irons. But are we to honestly believe that the male head of the household will put up with so poorly ironed clothing? How many staff are there in the kitchen? Why is it that the Head Butler, Carson, makes such a fuss of the slightest thing, even insisting that His Lordship's newspapers are ironed, but not his nightshirt? This is a real slip-up. Having worked as a supporting artiste on various television shows over the years I know that the wardrobe department is generally very particular about the standard of their costume-care, so to have the central character's nightshirt looking so shabby is really poor. Also, the storyline concerning the mis-laying of His Lordship's shirts. Not realistic in the slightest.

We love the Dame Maggie Smith character, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. She seems to get all the best lines. She manages to out-act virtually everyone else on-screen when she has a scene, along with up-staging everyone. A sheer joy. Love her to bits. I remember seeing her on stage with her late husband, Robert Stevens, when they were acting together on stage in Noel Coward's delightful play "Private Lives." It must have been in the 1970's. She was also in the film version of "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie." Also, another film I enjoyed called "Hot Millions" with another favourite actor of mine, Peter Ustinov.

What also makes watching "Downton Abbey" so enjoyable is the fact that we know so many of the locations they used to film it. Some scenes were shot at places we've been as members of the National Trust, such as Waddesdon Manor, West Wycombe Park and Basildon Park, which we visited only a a couple of months ago
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