I’m not the only one saddened to see this award-winning British TV series end. It’s been six years of pure joy and escapism. For the past six glorious years, we’ve been transported to the opulent ancestral home of aristocrats Robert, the Earl of Grantham, and his wife, Cora, Countess of Grantham and their daughters, Mary, Sybil and Edith.
Mary, the eldest daughter, elegant and graceful but headstrong, opinionated and daring to strike out on her own. Darling Sybil, the middle daughter who defies the family by falling madly for the politically-active chauffeur. Edith, the youngest daughter for whom love and affection are always an arms-length away.
We’ve experienced the joys and heartbreak of life during this time as we’ve watched the Grantham family and the household staff experience love, marriage, childbirth and death. We’ve stood hand-and-hand as they lost family members in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 . . . faced the direct, hard-hitting impact of the war years on their home, their lives and their future . . . coped with the changing morals, dress and labor landscape of the Roaring 20’s . . . and struggled with the decline of finances, lifestyles and ever-changing political climate.
We’ve become part of the in–service family below the stairs as well, watching as the fiercely loyal Mr. Carson, butler to the Earl of Grantham, manages the house and staff with discipline, integrity, and on occasion, patience. His stern demeanor masks the soft, squishy teddy-bear interior that we all know exists. Firmly planted in the traditions of the past, Mr. Carson painfully and slowly must adapt to a new age.
His female foil and ultimate soul-mate is the pragmatic housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes. Respected, admired and feared by the female servants, Mrs. Hughes runs the household staff efficiently and compassionately. Just a jiggle of those intimidating house keys hanging around her waist and everyone pops to.
Mrs. Patmore is my absolute favorite character. She is the plump, protective, persnickety head cook who doesn’t let anyone get the last word. High-strung and quick tempered, her sharp wit, below the stairs, is as enjoyable as the Dowager Countess’s are above the stairs. And, of course, the Dowager Countess, matriarch of the family, mother of Robert and grandmother of Mary, Sybil and Edith, who is an absolute joy to watch. Proud, loyal and schooled in the old traditions, she never lets impropriety get in the way of her sharp tongue.
The cast has come and gone over the six years, but not to be forgotten are my favorites: Mrs. Crawley, Matthew’s mother, firmly planted in her middle-class mores and feminist attitudes. John Bates, the wounded soldier who fought side-by-side with Robert, Earl of Grantham, in the Boer Wars and who now works as his faithful and trusted valet. Anna Smith, the head housemaid and chambermaid to Mary who falls madly for Mr. Bates (who wouldn’t) and somehow survives so much pain and hardship. We’ve watched the scheming, manipulative Thomas Barrow advance from footman to butler, leaving no one in his wake. And, Daisy, such a sweet, naive soul who wants nothing more than to be heard and to be loved.
We’ve witnessed the installation of electricity, the telephone and the radio in the grand house. Below the stairs, we’ve seen the world of those “in service” shaken with the introduction of the typewriter, the sewing machine and the electric “whisk” or hand-mixer. We’ve seen the uneducated become learners and teachers . . . the acceptance of what was once unacceptable . . . and the role of women grow, mature and become equal.
We’ve had ‘tea’ everyday at 4:00 pm in the book-laden library
and dined in opulent, chandeliered dining rooms, served from the left by tuxedoed footmen. We’ve been driven in chauffeured touring cars and ridden side saddle on fox hunts over the northern dales. We’ve seen hemlines creep up and hair be cut off. We’ve donned our gloves for dinner and put on our “wellies” to slop the pigs.
For me, I’ve never been so captured and captivated by a TV program. Yes, of course, its a soap opera, but it’s been a glorious soap opera taking us into a lifestyle of opulence and luxury, rich in traditions and landscapes that doesn’t exist today. A life that some of us may have fantasized about, but knew we would never experience.
Thank you Downton Abbey for six “masterful” years!