Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora #16

Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora is written for Inside THIRTEEN by Deborah Gilbert, a British television maven and editor of the E20 Chronicles, a free, weekly Eastenders e-newsletter, and an Eastenders column in the Union Jack Newspaper. Check back for updates.

Greetings Downtonians,

We are at the midway point in our annual trip around the sun; the point in our orbit at which we are the farthest from Downton Abbey—smack dab in-between the end of last season and the beginning of the next one. During these dog days of summer, it would be nice to take shelter from the swelter by escaping to a cool British country manor house, wouldn’t it? It would. But if you’re like me and ‘summer’ at tar beach, take a seat in front of your AC and check out these tasty treats, which should tide you over – at least for a little while.

Ca-ching!: We all know about Highclere Castle cashing in on its Downton Abbey fame, but this New York Times article brings some new information to the table. I have to say, the thing I find most interesting is something said in passing; a response to a request shows that her employees refer to her as ‘my lady.’ I don’t know if they say it with the resonance of Mr. Carson, but I found it to be equal parts interesting and surprising in this day and age. (I don’t know why.)

And as a side note: As you are reading the article, make sure you click on the link for the 2009 Daily Mail article, (that’s pre-Downton) which reports that Highclere Castle is ‘on the verge of ruin’ and questions whether it can be saved. What a difference a few years and a hit TV show can make! The pictures of the dilapidated Highclere are remarkable and so is the $18 million bill to fix the rampant mold issues and holes in the ceilings! Yikes!

Sunday, Sunday!: In case you missed this, CBS’s Sunday Morning did a piece on Highclere Castle with Lady Carnarvon leading a tour while dispensing all sorts of interesting bits about their stately home. The recurring theme of just about every story about Highclere is the amount of money required to keep it going. It’s no wonder that that same theme obsesses the Crawleys.

AC DC: Back when the Downton Abbey cast was on their pre-Season 3 publicity tour of the US, they stopped by Anderson Cooper’s daytime show for a chat. This one passed me by at time, and I’ve only recently discovered it on YouTube (in two parts – Part 1 & Part 2). If it passed you by as well have a gander. It’s fun to see Anderson say he is a Downton Abbey addict, especially given that he is a Vanderbilt. If his Mum had married one of the Lords of Carnarvon, she could have saved Highclere herself (with her estate or her Gloria Vanderbilt jeans!) But then Anderson’s show would be on the BBC. Anyway, it is always fun to see the Downton Abbey cast out of character. They seem like a fun bunch to hang around with. This is also the first time I heard that the Lords and Ladies changed their clothes six times a day! That’s a lot of laundry, in the days before washing machines! I remember hearing, in one of PBS’ period house reality shows (Manor House or 1900 House) that in the days before washing machines, thousands of children were scalded to death each year in laundry chore accidents. I wonder if that ever happened at Highclere back in the day?

Dan Does Dallas: Remember when Steve Allen got laughs by reading the letters written to the New York Daily News editorial page? (Don’t pretend you’re too young to remember!) Recently Graham Norton tried the same thing, but updated, when Dan Stevens visited his show (looking, maybe, a little uncomfortable). He read tweets sent out from despondent Downtonians the night Matthew ‘died.’ Perhaps even nuttier than this is something Dan said recently: If he was quoted correctly, he indicated there should be a Downton Abbey movie (for the big screen), and if they wanted to make one he would be up for it! Oh dear. Someone needs to wake the boy and break the news to him that he’s dead – or at least, his alter ego is. A minor detail. I suppose they could use him if they incorporated flashback scenes (something used very effectively in The Sopranos). Or they could give a Downton Abbey movie a ‘what if?’ storyline (ie; what would have happened if Matthew had kept his eyes on the road). I suppose they could pull a ‘Dallas.’ I can just see it now… Scene One: The camera follows Thomas into the bathroom and over his shoulder see a body from behind in the shower; Thomas opens the steamy shower door just as he turns around and it’s (gasp!) Matthew! His premature death was just the bad dream of a panicky producer, but now we see the way life would have been as he walks back into Mary’s hospital room with the family, like nothing ever happened, and it all moves on from there. I suppose it could work, but it would be kind of hard, no? And they’d probably have to kill him again at the end of the movie—otherwise the show wouldn’t make any sense—and who wants to relive that trauma all over again? No, sadly, if Downton Abbey does go to the big screen it will likely have to go without him.

Where was Ellen Love on the night of June 6?: I’m not sure if they had smash-and-grab robberies back in 1912, but they have them now and Selfridges was recently the target of a brazen one. It happened while the store was open and full of customers. Crazy!

Get Your Darcy On: Recently, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Pride & Prejudice, the BBC recreated the Netherfield Ball from Jane Austen’s much-loved novel for a TV special. This article gives all the historical details of what the ball would have been like, including an interesting tidbit about the party dresses the women wore: The popular fabric of the day was muslin. Quite surprising when you think of where muslin stands today on the fashion totem pole. Though, given that scene that’s in a couple of the film adaptations, where Darcy emerges from the water in all his splendor, it seems that the men must have been wearing muslin as well – and thankfully so! Let’s hope we get to see this special here in the Colonies.

Entail this!: In the UK, the recent passage of a law giving Will & Kate’s first-born child the right of first in the line of succession (among their children) whether it be a boy or a girl, has given oxygen to a movement to end primogeniture for all the aristocracy (and by the way don’t you hope the impending royal baby is a girl named Diana?) While we are all lucky that primogeniture has been the law of the land up until now, given the great stories in literature, movies and TV shows it has given us all, in real life it has caused a lot of heartache and there is a growing number of children of the aristocracy, whose family estates ‘don’t have to leave them a bean’ who are making the difficult decision to go against their families and try to change things. According to The New York Times, legislation was recently proposed and sponsored in the House of Lords by a man whose title is actually, ‘Lord Lucas of Crudwell and Dingwall’ (how can you not love that?) If this had been the law of the land in 1912, the story of Downton Abbey would have been completely different: Instead of the threat of a distant cousin inheriting Downton and tossing the Crawley girls out, Mary could have inherited and tossed Edith out. It could have ended up being a little more ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’ While some may relish the thought of Lady Mary being served a rat for her tea, I myself prefer the ordinary, unfair, aristocratic gentility.

Burying the Lede: Back to Downton Abbey and what’s happening with Season 4. Last week brought the surprising news that Oscar nominated character actor Paul Giamatti has been cast as Cora’s ‘playboy’ brother, Harold Levinson, and will appear in the season finale. OK. Giamatti is an American (I know, that’s troubling to you Anglophile purists who don’t like American interlopers in our British dramas), but what I find promising about this is, Giamatti is as adept at comedy as drama. Always a plus in my book. But he’s only on the season finale? Hmm… What’s that about? Of course, this leaves us to speculate what it means and what he’ll be doing there. Given the history of these country estates we can guess that there will be more financial troubles ahead for the Crawleys. I’m thinking that with Matthew gone that puts Lord Grantham back in the driver’s seat (unfortunate metaphor #1) with Downton’s finances, so they’ll likely be driven into a ditch (unfortunate metaphor #2) again. Maybe Harold is there to advise/save the day. Since it’s the season finale, maybe he shows up and conveniently dies, leaving sister Cora all the dosh, thus saving Downton yet again. Or maybe he’s just there for a holiday – or maybe to continue a clandestine relationship with Thomas. We simply don’t know. All we know is this: In a recent interview, Brendan Coyle promised that Season 4 is the best season yet and that Bates will not be killed off in a car accident (or any other way). So that’s something. Maybe Bates kills Cora’s brother and we find out that the noble Mr. Bates has been a serial killer all along. As much as I love Mr. Bates, I’ve always believed there is something else (a secret) there. Or maybe Harold doesn’t get killed; maybe he falls for Daisy, marries her and goes all Pamuk on their wedding night, leaving her with all the dosh and Lord Grantham with no option but to come begging to her. Or then again maybe Harold can’t save the day; maybe he shows up at Downton broke himself. Who knows? All we know for sure is we’ve got six long months to think about it. Sigh…

What do you think, Downtonians? Are you down for passing the Downton-less summer with a guessing game? What does your Ouija board say about your predictions for Season 4? Do tell!

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