Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Doting on Downton

Ten Reasons to Dote on Downton
Laaleen Khan
If you aren’t (yet) a Downton Abbey fan, you might be surprised to learn that this award-winning ITV television series (link: http://www.itv.com/downtonabbey/ ), set in Edwardian England, has the “highest critical review ratings for a TV show” in history (a 92% Metacritic score) in the 2012 Guinness World Records (link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/8762842/Guinness-Book-of-Records-Downton-Abbey-is-most-critically-acclaimed-show-on-television.html ). For Downton’s fans, this doesn’t come as a surprise; in an era when popular international TV programming revolves around reality trash, soap opera mush, formulaic sitcoms, and dramas that tie up all loose ends within 40 minutes, it’s doubly delightful to savour the lush details and nuances of a well executed period piece, even if you aren’t a sucker for costume drama.

How is this relevant for a Pakistani audience, one might wonder. Well, Britain’s American cousins across the pond, who co-produced the series (PBS’ Masterpiece Theater), may share commonalities with the Brits, like sharing English, Scottish and Irish ancestors and names (with the exception of Nigel—doubt there’s an American with that name), but they spell differently (airplane, color, grey), pronounce differently (vase, vitamin, dynasty) are educated differently (don’t know what A levels and IGCSEs are) and are very easily impressed by accents (a Cockney accent sounds like the Queen’s English to some American ears). In Pakistan, on the other hand, many of us and our mothers and our grandmothers grew up on Enid Blyton and Georgette Heyer, speak in post-colonial British accents peppered with ludicrous catch-phrases (link: http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/7550/10-assorted-additions-to-pakistani-culture/ ), still employ ‘servants,’ lead lives like a Jane Austen novel with a society that still revolves around marriage (link: http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/7437/10-rules-to-marry-a-clooney-aire/ ), drawing room gossip and drinking tea, and, not to forget, still live in ‘mansions’ (link: http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/5752/media-madness-revisiting-osamas-fortress-mansion/ ) with our entire families. So, yes, there’s more relevance for us here than meets the eye, as well as the following ten reasons for tuning into Downton Abbey:

10. The sky-high production values: the £1 million spent on each episode ensures a rich visual reflection of Edwardian England with painstaking attention to detail.

9. The fun fashions: recycled vintage and specially costumed gowns, hats, jewels, and suits; formal attire for dinner each night—even the servants have impeccable livery. Enough said.

8. The memorable musical score: the haunting melody that marks the introductory credits is a superb rendition of emotive, historical romance.
7. The disparity between genders: it’s interesting to note the similarities between some of our societal customs with those of the Edwardian era, where gender bias was prevalent (such as the inheritance of Downton Abbey being entailed away from the female line and where single ladies are “stuck in a waiting room until we get married,” as Lady Mary puts it).
6. The perfectly trained domestic staff: can you imagine having everything cleaned and perfect by the time you wake up? Sigh…!

5. Mr. Kemal Pamuk: the smouldering Turkish diplomat in Season 1 makes for essential eye candy. Oddly enough, Mr. Bates the valet is also considered ‘sexy’ by UK viewers! (link: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2038106/DOWNTON-ABBEY-SPECIAL-Brendan-Coyle-plays-Mr-Bates-available.html ). 

4. The democratic characterisations despite the class system: while upper class appearances, middle class respectability, and lower class subservience is accurately conveyed, viewers are as interested in the elegant Lady Mary’s romantic interests as they are in the burgeoning romance between the likable housemaid Anna and the worthy Mr. Bates, valet to Lord Grantham). In other words, we care as much about the aristocrats’ personal lives as we do those of their servants.

3. The sisterly bitchiness: the three Crawley sisters (particularly Lady Mary and Lady Edith) have a ruthless, competitive streak with one another. There’s no vapid, wide-eyed heroine in this series; even their sweeter sister, Lady Sybil, hoodwinks her parents.

2. The exemplary humour: Julian Fellowe’s exmplary wit is rendered even more brilliant with Maggie Smith’s dialogue delivery as the formidable Dowager Countess of Grantham.  An example:
Lady Grantham (the snobbish Dowager): “You are quite wonderful the way you see room for improvement wherever you look. I never knew such reforming zeal.”
Mrs Crawley (her middle class relative): “I take that as a compliment.”
Lady Grantham: “I must have said it wrong.”

1. The spectacular Highclere Castle: home to the Earls of Carnavron, Highclere is the actual location that depicts the exterior and (upstairs) interior of Downton Abbey (the below-stairs segments are filmed at Ealing Studios) and has taken a life of it’s own (regarded as being the finest occupied Victorian castle in England). 

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