For several months I watched friends and family posting on Facebook and on Twitter about the PBS show Downton Abbey. I saw humorous quotes and intriguing insights from some good people about the show but was not watching it at the time. I am not usually a period-piece TV viewer. But I was getting pulled in by the gushing these folks were doing over the show. So I decided I would try it – and got on the VERY LONG wait list on Netflix so that we could view it at our own pace in our living room. It took a while but we got it and decided to watch it that very night.
To be honest, I was hooked the first five minutes of the show. I was intrigued by the upstairs/downstairs reality of the show. For the few not watching it yet, it is the story of the Crawley family and their lives in their majestic home, Downton Abbey. The Earl, Robert Crawley, his wife, their three daughters, and the Dowager Countess, the Earl’s mother, have ups and downs aplenty, but for the most part it is a story of their relationships one with the other. It is a gorgeous home and is a story of great wealth and privilege during a drastically changing time in history.
But it is also a story about the household staff that keeps Downton Abbey humming. From the butler, Carson, down to the first and second footmen and various house maids, we get to see the lives of the extraordinary people who kept the aristocracy of Great Britain alive and well in the early 1900s. And we get to see that they had extraordinary lives themselves.
The thing that is interesting about the show is the interactions of all of these people in the midst of a fast changing world – women’s rights, World War I, changing roles for the aristocracy, gender expectations, modern technologies (electricity, cars and the telephone), and shifting politics. Change is hard for everyone. Carson is not sure what to do with the telephone, Sybil gets into trouble trying to be a modern woman, war disrupts all of their lives, and the household staff is full of clashing personalities of both the good and evil varieties.
I resisted this show because I was not interested in the rich v. poor story I assumed it would be. I resisted because I did not want to watch something just because others were fans. I resisted because ... well just because.
But I am on the Downton Abbey bandwagon now. We have just finished with the first season. The Frist World War has just been declared. And I am delighted with my decision to watch Downton Abbey.
I am enjoying learning about a period of time that I studied historically but not very socially focused. I have learned that taller footmen earned more than their shorter counterparts. I have learned that while we are debating the rights of women to be their own persons today, this is indeed a longtime issue with much more progress needed.
I am a fan of Downton Abbey. But more than anything else I am a fan about learning about the lives of others. I am a fan about growing in my understanding of the world around me – even the world as seen through the upstairs/downstairs lives of the Crawley family in early 1900s Great Britain.