Life After Downton?

February 15, 2013 By

Downton_AbbeyPerhaps, as millions of others, you are dreading Sunday night, when this season of Downton Abbey ends. Seeing that yellow lab’s swinging tail was a signal to settle in for a relaxing Sunday evening. But alas, after Sunday, we’ll have to content ourselves with the DVDs. Or do we?

Viewers seeking to stretch their Downton experience, could watch Gosford Park  (also available on Netflix), the film which Julian Fellowes admits was the genesis of Downton Abbey. Perhaps you’ve seen it already, but it’s worth a second, or even third look as there are so many plots wriggling in that stately home. And, of course, watching Maggie Smith in Gosford do her warm-up exercises for Downton’s Granny, makes the whole thing worthwhile.

And if you want to go deeper, think about Tom Branson’s allusions to ‘going to Liverpool’ to take up a trade. Why would he do that? Because Liverpool had a large Irish working class population – Protestant and Catholic. To see how life fared in the Downton era for an Irish family in Liverpool, I suggest watching the delightful series Lilies (also on Netflix), about how three adult Irish sisters make their way in Liverpool. The accents can be hard on American ears, but stick with it, these girls are entrepreneurial and their stories show another side of English life that’s far away from Downton’s sweeping lawns.

An earlier Downton-type production was The Shooting Party  (also available on Netflix).  Filmed in 1985, it has a superb cast including James Mason (his final film) John Gielgud, Robert Hardy, and Dorothy Tutin.  Of course, it lacks Downton’s hi-def brightness, but its muddy look reflects the sadness of the characters, as they realize this will be their last shooting party, and a way of life has ended.  If you find the film turgid and slow going, I suggest waiting for Gielgud’s appearance – as an animal rights activist.  His dialog with Mason later in the film is a quintessential example of how Englishmen of a certain class could get along, despite having sharply different points of view.  It’s a skill that was acquired in smoke-filled clubroom.

Or perhaps you’re seeking more of the Julian Fellowes experience. In that case, check out A Most Mysterious Murder (also available on Netflix), where Fellowes is your congenial host as he carefully guides you through a string of highly interesting historical murders. In this 2004 series he asks many questions and really makes you think about each case.

So Downton fans take heart – all is not lost. Downton may be over, but there’s much more to explore.

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    Joanne Butler is a senior economics fellow at the Caesar Rodney Institute of Delaware. You can email her at joanne-butler@comcast.net.

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