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Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora #16

Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora is written for 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.

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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  • CatKinNY

    Thanks, Deb, I had managed to miss all of the above and very much enjoyed catching up, though I must admit to being somewhat shocked at Her Ladyship’s sartorial selection for an appearance on national television. Was she polishing the silver prior to the arrival of the CBS crew? Did she not realize that cameras would be involved? Has she never heard of Spanks?

    That Daily Mail article, and the photos, were a bit of a shock as well. 50 uninhabitable rooms is quite a number, isn’t it? ‘Damp’ is the plague of old houses like Highclere, particularly lethal to exquisite 17th and 18th century plasterwork. That castle in the Scottish Highlands I told you about had a dozen or so small rooms under the eaves that resembled those pictures, though not as bad. I’ve stayed with friends in England and Ireland who’ve inherited ancient, stately piles, and they have all suffered from it, to one extent or the other, though the houses belonging to families who’d lacked the money to do extensive renovations in the age of the Baroque or Georgian makeover suffered from it the least. Those Medieval and Tudor buildings, left to their own devices, have held up fairly well.

    Sounds like Dan Stevens has had time to regret his decision if he’s indicating he’d be up for a ‘Downton’ movie, as you and I both predicted he would. I can’t imagine there’s much call for a movie version of an ongoing television show. Even after it’s finished, I would hope that Julian Fellowes thinks very carefully before he decides to go back to the well – the results are usually dreadful, and dreadfully depressing. I loved the first ‘Sex and the City’ movie (but only because it was great to catch up with my old friends); I found the second one unwatchable.

    The sort of weather that makes me long for the Highlands has finally hit, but at least I’m not still using the subway! As you descend the stairs to the subterranean steam room, redolent of urine and garbage, that we call public transportation, wouldn’t you rather be boarding a plane for the UK, just a little bit?

    • http://www.thirteen.org/program-content/downton-dish-season-3-episode-1/ Gotham Tomato

      It isn’t just those stately old homes who are subject to ‘damp’. I recall the first time I heard the term used was watching EastEnders years ago when characters were discussing problems with their flats. I’ve also heard it used on British real estate and make-over shows. I guess with their climate, it must be a big problem all around. But it was a shock to see all the mold in those old pictures of Highclere.

      As for a Downton Abbey film, I don’t know. Getting to see it at a screening, on a big movie screen, it already does look like a gorgeous film. I would hope, if they make one, it isn’t as bad as the SATC movies are. But I think the reason they were so bad was they became just a big product placement; SATC lost the voice (and the Gay heart) the show originally had on HBO and the women became chariacitures – it was all about the stuff. Somehow I don’t think that would happen with a Downton movie. I’d like to see them give it a go.

      And with regard to the summer swelter, I don’t ride the subway, but there are lots of times I wish I was in London!

  • citygal65

    I hated Paul Giamatti as John Adams so am glad he is only going to make a tiny appearance in Downton Abbey. Being American he probably has money but then again if he is a bachelor brother with gambling problems he may be running away from the law and hopes to take refuge with his sister. After all , his mother is the nutsy Shirley McLaine. As if we don’t have better American thespians to involve in this show. As to Americans interlopers, Anglophiles would do well to study their history. Rich American women were eagerly sought by impoverished estate owners. And those ladies were delighted to revel in their new titles. I believe that to be the case with the current female owner of the ” Downton” estate, though I may be wrong. I certainly know that Jennie Jerome and her buddies were most welcome into Prince Edward’s circle and Winnie was so happy she was his Mum

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