Count me as one of the millions of ardent fans of “Downton Abbey." Light years beyond a drawing room soap opera, this finely lensed and brilliantly written and acted drama fashions such a rich tapestry of human interaction as to stagger and awe this happy viewer.
I watch it like a rabid football fan, aching for my favorites to move the heart forward; and booing the villains’ interceptions, fumble recoveries … and scores.
In "Downton Abbey" love is the prize and avarice the opponent. And when the yearning yields past pretense and love inevitably shines through, as it does even within this stilted, formal and pre-patterned hierarchy ... it’s absolute magic.
And startling so, without the usual cable compliment of car crashes, shootouts, stabbings and titty bars. What "Downton Abbey" does have is an anachronistic quality that is so sorely lacking in almost all productions on television or movie theaters as to render it a precious gem beyond value. That quality … is "sweetness."
I had almost forgotten this quality could be injected into a television drama today, so strikingly foreign it felt. And I believe this is the key to its success. Indeed, this is what audiences have been, and always will be, yearning for, pining for, praying for, from the deepest recesses of their hearts. Simple human sweetness.
And it’s not saccharin … or syrupy or in any way disingenuous. The sweetness in "Downton Abbey" is subtle and genuine. And absolutely lovely.
I realize at this point many of my military, sports or MMA buds will suggest that I’m now channeling my "inner Alan Alda" ... but so be it. "Downton Abbey" is filmmaking at its very finest, with or without the titty bars.
Now – it’s time to ground and pound.
Not the show, but the age. The Edwardian Age – that period in the United Kingdom covering the reign of King Edward VII, 1901 to 1910. It was the age of the rich Aristocrat, into which you were born; or remained an outside observer. The rich remained rich -- and the poor, well, they really had no way to climb out of their social status. You were either an aristocrat or a lowly member of the working class. And never the twain shall meet.
Times have changed … somewhat … in Britain. But as a friend of mine revealed, it hasn’t changed all that much. Back in the late ‘80s I worked in Europe on a Telly Savalas TV movie, and a British actor, Ned Vukovic, (he of Croatian background) told me of the barely veiled prejudices he battled daily. The discrimination he encountered based upon his family lineage, etc. … foreign to any American this side of the Hamptons. Ned would say, “What I like about America … is that it is a ‘meritocracy.’ It doesn’t matter how you spell your last name or where your family is from; you excel or fail based upon your own talents and personal effort. And I like that!”
I liked it too. When I talked to Ned, I felt proud to be an American.
Watching "Downton Abbey," I am struck by the similarities of the aristocratic Edwardian era and the Obama ruling class. Both systems foster class envy from the lower, entrenched classes. Upward mobility is very difficult. In both, the ultra rich and powerful are excused from many of life’s requirements of the lesser classes.
In the case of the ruling class, even though they arrived at their station by promising to work for the lesser classes, they somehow manage to exempt themselves from actually having to live under the constraints they force upon the rest of us. The ruling class regularly votes itself huge pensions for life and raises perks far outside the reach of those not within its fold. And I’ve never actually heard them utter the words, “Let them eat cake,” but you know they think it. Or at least, “Let them work and earn and make the cake, and then we’ll take most of it and they can eat what’s left of whatever we allow them to keep” … seems more like it.
Funny how, the more things change, the more they stay the same.