Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora #19

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.

I hope you have all been enjoying this streak of glorious weather we have been having lately! This is the kind of weather when it would be lovely to take a book outside and sit on that bench, under the big pine tree just outside Downton Abbey’s library. Then again, it seems that whenever anyone is anywhere near that bench, someone always approaches bringing bad news, leading to distraught conversations, doesn’t it? Ah well, better to stick to the red couches in the drawing room…

Sophie McShera as Annie

It’s a Hard Knock Life: Daisy is Rarely Fully Dressed: Masterpiece is starting to do its best footman imitation, passing around silver trays of hor d’oevres to the hungry masses yearning for Downton Abbey’s Season 4 premiere to get here already (we’ll, you’ll have to wait until January 5th). This tasty morsel comes in the form of a little video titled, ‘Five Things You Don’t Know About Downton Abbey‘. Very cute and worth a watch. You’ll learn, among other things, that Rob James-Collier is as mischievous as Thomas, though he’s quite a bit funnier than Thomas is (or is allowed to be). But I’d say the bigger tidbit of news is this: Before Sophie McShera started working for Lord Grantham, she sang for Lord Warbucks – as the lead in Annie in the West End, and apparently she loves to talk about it (well, who wouldn’t?) All her experience with Miss Hannigan must be the reason she’s handled O’Brien so deftly. Tomorrow might not be only a day away, but it will be here sooner than we think!

Road Trip: Ah, to be in…Delaware?: Yes, Delaware come March 2014. That’s when an exhibit of the costumes from Downton Abbey opens at the Winterthur Museum. As far as I can tell, this exhibit won’t be coming to New York, so if you want to see all those gorgeous costumes up close, you’ll have to make the two and a half hour trek to Winterthur, DE. This exhibit focus on country estates in both the US and the UK, with the Downton Abbey connection clearly being the draw that will bring the punters through the doors. Recently the curators had an adventure travelling to London to finalize the costume choices for the exhibit. You can read about it as well as many of the costumes that will be included here. I will definitely be making a road trip to see this! Will you?

Little Edith, Happy at Last?: Miss Laura Explains it All: In this video interview Laura Carmichael talks about the emotional growth of Lady Edith, teasing out some details about Season 4 (but don’t worry, no spoilers here). I am of two minds about Lady Edith’s future: Part of me really loves that she started coming into her own last season with a budding Carrie Bradshaw-like career and love interest. As I said then, with a shove from hopeless fate (more than choice), she might become the most interesting Crawley girl yet. But then again, if she becomes happy as a clam, another part of me will miss the old frustrated, teeth-grinding Edith. I’ll miss that Edith, in the same way I miss the old pre-pennant Boston Red Sox fans. Remember them? The ones with the decades-long curse hanging over them; the ones who had the rug of victory pulled out from underneath them in playoff after playoff, to the point they became almost comical to watch react as the Yankees crushed their dreams year after year. Is it wrong of me to find that entertaining? (Don’t answer that!) In my defense, even America’s sweetheart, Dorothy Gale, bid a certain friend goodbye with, ‘I’m going to miss the way you used to cry before you found your courage’ (which, now that I think of it was a little passive/aggressive wasn’t it?). Anyway, every drama needs at least one character who is unlucky and makes bad choices, and Edith has done a yeoman’s job across three seasons in that respect. If she now sits under a lucky star, I shall miss the way she used to pout and plot before she found her courage – and the ACME Anvil will have to start hanging over someone else. But who?

What Would Suze Orman Say? Dee-nied!: Save your shekels, Downtonians, because a company in the UK has tabulated what it would cost to live the Crawley way, on an estate like Downton Abbey, and it comes to a whopping £5,237,800 a year (that’s pounds, not dollars. In dollars it’s actually $8,380,480 a year), and that’s just to run the estate if you already owned it. If you don’t already own the gazillion dollar family estate, you’ll need to find the money to buy that lying around somewhere as well. Start by checking between the sofa cushions. So, can you afford it? See the breakdown here. If you come up short, take heart! To put it in perspective; that Crawley family country estate life is only slightly less attainable than a Classic Six with a view of Central Park – and the Classic Six really only comes out ahead because instead of fox hunting across English meadows, you’ll be rat hunting around Sheep Meadow, which is much more economical due to not needing such pricey things as horses or tweeds. Being a New Yorker does have its advantages. Tally Ho!

Up, Up and Away: 56Up Coming to POV: Very exciting news here for any fans of Michael Apted’s ‘Up’ series of documentaries: 56Up will air on POV on October 14 at 10pm on THIRTEEN. If you have never seen this rather amazing anthropological documentary series, it started in 1964 when the filmmakers took a group of 7 year-olds from across all sections of British society to document their lives. And since then, every 7 years they return to the same ‘kids’ to see how they are faring and how their lives are unfolding. One of the featured subjects is Tony Walker, who was a rough and tumble kid from the East End, a Cockney who wanted to be a jockey. He did become a jockey, and he is now a London cabbie and a lovely bloke (as they say) whom, coincidentally, I happen to know. I interviewed him about his experiences in life and with the series for THIRTEEN. You can read the full interview here.

Paradise Found: Who’s Minding the Store?: To start out the autumn on Masterpiece, here comes a bit of retail therapy about a Victorian era department store called, The Paradise. It’s based on the Emile Zola novel Au Bonheur des Dames (translation The Ladies Delight or The Ladies Paradise), and was first made into a film in 1930. To me, one of the most interesting things about Emile Zola is he was a childhood friend of Paul Cezanne, and some say Cezanne always harbored a secret, unattainable love for him; reminiscing that skinny dipping with Zola was one of his happiest memories. The Paradise doesn’t speak of this, but it does have plenty of other unrequited love to spare. If you watched Masterpiece Classic’s Mr. Selfridge, you’ll see a number of parallels; from the enigmatic department store impresario who’s big on ideas but short on cash; the pretty, young ingénue shop girl with ideas of her own, who catches the eye of both the boss and the jealous mean girls. Throw in a pair of bitters – an older woman who sacrificed her life for her career and warns our ingénue to not ‘bring disrepute to the name of ladieswear’; and a creepy assistant who slinks around spying on everyone. Take all these characters and you’d think wow, there’s a lot in common between The Paradise and Mr. Selfridge, right? Yes, but these programs are VERY different.

The Paradise is actually a bit darker and more interesting than Mr. Selfridge, starting with the production design which often has the moody, atmospheric color story of a Malcolm Liepke painting. And the goings on at this store are more mysterious as well. Unlike Mr. Selfridge, this store owner, Mr. Moray, is a widower whose wife (we quickly learn) died under what may or may not be questionable circumstances. Then there is a young boy, a foundling who was born in, and lives and works in, the store – actually, all of the workers live in quarters upstairs like the servants in Downton Abbey – but we are immediately left to wonder why he is there? The series was produced by the same creator as Larkrise to Candleford and features a few Larkrise alums, including Sarah Lancashire, seen most recently in Last Tango in Halifax. And there’s a little something extra here that EastEnders fans in particular will love: One of the directors of the series is Susan Tully, the artist formerly known as Michelle Fowler, who is now a rather successful television director (another former child star who made good). I was lucky enough to screen the first two-hour episode and it left me wanting to see more! I can’t wait to figure out the answers to these mysteries and what makes these characters tick! Masterpiece Classic’s The Paradise airs Sunday nights at 9pm through November 17th. Catch up on pasts episodes online for a limited time at Thirteen.org/masterpiece.

Joanna Vanderham as Denise in Masterpiece Classic’s The Paradise

Misty Watercolor Memories: How much are you loving Last Tango in Halifax? There have already been some crazy twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. How about you? It seems that the lives of Alan and Celia’s families become more and more dysfunctional as we go along. As mentioned before, this series was inspired by the real life experience of the lead writer, Sally Wainwright’s mother Dorothy and her childhood friend and second husband, Alec. While some scenes are dramatized, there are specific scenes that came directly from real life, such as two we just saw last week; where Alan and Celia are next door laughing at Caroline arguing with her husband (something Sally caught her Mum and Alec doing), and the scene where Caroline is uncomfortable hearing her Mum talk about her sex life. This could be why the dialogue in this show feels so real. Especially when Alan and Celia are talking, you feel like a fly on the wall. While I will be sorry to see this series come to an end, I’m happy to report they’ve started filming a second season this summer! So stay tuned!

That’s it for now Downtonians! Make sure you check out my interview with Tony Walker of 56Up, and ‘til next time, your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to go out there and do what you can to bring disrepute to the name of ladieswear. Cheers!

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