“All this unbridled joy has given me quite an appetite.” ~ Violet
The soufflés are sinking, the puddings are pouting, the meringues have taken to incessant weeping.
I fear much of our “unbridled joy” is rapidly dissipating — Downton Abbey is ending its 6-year run on PBS with the series finale on March 6!
Only one more episode to go. No! 😦 😦 😦
I’ve been hooked since Season One, Episode 1, only too willing to spend my Sunday evenings with the entire Crawley family at their opulent digs in Yorkshire. Not since the original “Upstairs, Downstairs” (1971-1975) have I been so emotionally invested in the lives of an aristocratic British family and their servants. I find the entire class system fascinating, rooting for those who would dare defy the established social order, sympathetic to characters grappling with changes beyond their control.
Indeed, when I first started watching Downton, I was instantly reminded of “Upstairs, Downstairs.” The time periods somewhat overlapped, with UD beginning about a decade before the sinking of the Titanic and ending in 1930. Both series revealed interesting aspects of post-Edwardian social life set against significant historical events. Instead of Mrs Patmore there was Mrs Bridges, instead of Daisy, there was kitchen maid Ruby. Bellamy son James marries his secretary Hazel as Crawley daughter Sybil marries chauffeur Tom Branson — both compelling, frowned-upon liaisons championing the triumph of true love over all impediments.
But there the similarities end. While UD took place in a swanky Belgravia townhouse, Downton is set at a large country estate. It was a much more lavish production (with an estimated £1 million per episode budget), a sumptuous, cinematic banquet produced for the small screen that ingeniously sated audience appetite for gratifying escapism.
The real world is messy, chaotic, tumultuous, crazy, violent, unjust. Is it any wonder we crave and appreciate the carefully delineated world of Downton Abbey with its beautiful costumes and set design, meticulous attention to historical detail, fascinating characters we love and love to hate so brilliantly acted and directed? There’s nothing quite like the reassurance that comes with having everyone and everything in its prescribed place.
Though we were served a romanticized version of life upstairs and down, we were also reminded of many too often forgotten human virtues: loyalty, temperance, manners, civility, industry, and above all, respect. I got shivers every time the staff rose from their seats whenever Mr Carson entered the servant’s hall or stood up from the table. Oh, that respect for authority! Sure, there was that fear that if you dare step out of line you would be out the door in seconds flat. But there’s something to be said for genuine regard, and thanks to Julian Fellowes’s masterful writing, we did see that, witnessing relationships that rang true and gave us hope.
Goodbye white bunting, piggy back rides with Mr. Barrow, meeting the love of your life while exiting a bakery in a rainstorm!
MY FAVORITE CHARACTERS
I like how all the main characters, both upstairs and down, were afforded equal attention and interesting story lines, giving us a chance to know them in more depth. Of course I’ll always be partial to Mrs Patmore and Daisy, and it’s been a joy to watch their relationship change from a feisty cook bossing around a lowly kitchen maid to a unique friendship marked by a mutual, well-earned familial regard for each other. I think we’re all happy that Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes finally tied the knot, and it’s also been wonderful to see Mrs Hughes and Mrs Patmore become confidantes and support each other through several personal challenges.
Most surprising was probably how my feelings for Mr Moseley changed. I didn’t think too much of him at first — he seemed such a sad sack always down on his luck (though he did provide welcome comic relief — remember when he dyed his hair? :D). But gradually we saw what a kind and resourceful person he was, always encouraging Daisy in her studies and reassuring Baxter with her Mr Coyle problems. He took the initiative to educate himself and it was so gratifying to see him come into his own as a teacher in the end.
I also like how Edith evolved. Both she and Mary were cruel and nasty at times, but she ultimately came into her own too, deciding to keep Marigold despite the inevitable scandal, and later asserting her independence as a magazine publisher. “Poor Edith” became a kind of mantra when she was jilted at the altar and later lost Michael Gregson. We couldn’t help but root for her, keeping our fingers crossed that she, too, might have a happy ending after all.
And then there’s Anna — so good, so devoted, so true. It’s to her credit that she was able to earn Mary’s trust. Mary, who couldn’t confide in her own sisters, bonded with her lady’s maid. The wonderful scenes between them allowed us to see a side of Mary she often kept hidden — vulnerable, generous, fearful. Their relationship also showed us that it’s not always about class or station, people are simply people when it comes to the important things like friendship, loyalty and love.
Speaking of which, Downton Abbey probably resonated with such a wide audience because its overriding theme was LOVE. Most of the main story lines hinged upon some aspect of it: young romantic love (Mary & Matthew, Mary & Henry, Sybil & Tom, Edith & Michael, Edith & Bertie, Anna and Mr Bates, Rose & Atticus); mature love (Mr Carson & Mrs Hughes, Isobel & Lord Merton, Cora & Robert); unrequited love (Daisy & Alfred, Thomas & Jimmy, Alfred & Ivy), singular friendships (Mr Carson & Mary, Violet and Isobel, Tom and Mary, Daisy & Mr Mason), lost love (Violet & Prince Kuragin), lust (Mary & Kemal Pamuk), love of family, tradition, and country. Love of tea in the library :).
Goodbye silver teapots and Spode Stafford White teacups and saucers. Goodbye Victoria Sandwich!
WHAT I’LL MISS MOST
- Violet’s witticisms and zingers delivered with razor sharp precision: “At my age, one must ration one’s excitement.” “He’s a man. Men don’t have rights.”
- Handsome men in white tie and tails. Handsome men in black tie. Handsome butler and footmen waiting table.
- Women’s hats and shoes and dresses and jewelry. Opera gloves all the time.
- Food prep and kitchen scenes – love that egg rack, those copper pots and pans, those mixing bowls, the new fridge, Daisy slicing lemons.
- The fine art of conversation.
- Lavish dining room scenes – candlelit dinners, sparkling crystal, heirloom china.
- All the characters we’ve come to know the last 6 years, the roller coaster of emotions.
- Indulging in the fantasy of living in luxury and having servants at my beck and call.
Goodbye fox hunts, garden parties, weekends in Scotland, cloche hats, bobbed hair, marriage proposals with snowflakes gently drifting down!
MR CORNELIUS’S FAVORITE THINGS
- George, Sybbie and Marigold’s teddies
- Big Christmas tree in the Great Hall
- Robert eating a chicken leg from the new fridge
- Mary making scrambled eggs for Charles Blake
- Robert’s new puppy
- Sybbie calling Robert “Donk”
- Antique race cars
- thick slices of bread and cheese in the servant’s hall
- Mr Carson’s new telephone
- the Bell Board in the servant’s hall
- Mrs Patmore
Goodbye pretty pastel tea gowns, strings of pearls, diamond tiaras, cricket matches, Apple Charlotte and Kedgeree!
A VISIT FROM MRS PATMORE
Mr Cornelius was inconsolable until his favorite Downton character paid him a surprise visit the other day. Of course he’s always loved watching Mrs P wield her rolling pin and prepare platters and platters of delectable dishes. He’ll always remember what she said to Daisy one time:
We should always be polite to people who are kind. There’s not much of it about!
That pretty much made him a forever fan.
Anyway, Mrs P brought along some Downton treats — a special tin of Scottish shortbread in honor of dear friend Mrs Hughes (who’s originally from Argyll), some scone mix and lemon curd. She got a little teary-eyed handing over the scone mix, since it reminded her of when Lord Grantham, Lady Cora, and Lady Rosamund came for tea at her new bed and breakfast. Lord G specifically asked for another scone right before they all went outside to pose for the village photographer. What a proud day that was! She’ll always be grateful for the way Lord G spoke in support of her, reciprocating her loyalty to the Crawleys for so many years.
Cornelius got busy right away helping Mrs Patmore whip up scones and clotted cream. He was a little unsure of whether the jam (or curd) should go under or over the layer of cream. Mrs P quickly cleared up that longstanding dilemma: with Devonshire Cream Tea the jam goes on top of the cream; with Cornish Cream Tea the cream goes on over the jam. We opted for the Cornish way since we all love Poldark here, and we rather like a bit of cream tickling the upper lip :). “Who’s Poldark?” asked Mrs P. We explained he was in another series, from another century, reassuring her we’d never love him as much as we love the people of Downton.
Spending a little time with Mrs Patmore certainly made us all feel better. We told her how important food was to Downton, how the kitchen was the heart and hub of any great house, how crucial it was to have a good cook to help the Crawleys maintain their social standing. I daresay she patted her apron and wiped a tear from her eye.
Goodbye whisks and scary electric mixers, Bubble and Squeak, Strawberry Charlotte Russe, and Spotted Dick!
After we had our tea, Cornelius suggested a mock wedding. Season 6 was all about weddings and happy endings, after all. There’s nothing nicer than an unbridled bride. Here’s to Mr and Mrs Carson, Henry and Mary (remembering Mary and Matthew), and Edith and . . . ? We’ll just have to wait for the finale to see. Fingers crossed!
Goodbye pretending to have an injured hand so your husband is forced to cook! Goodbye breakfast in bed, lamb chops, apple crumble and hot chocolate! Goodbye Spratt moonlighting as an agony aunt, dancing with the Prince, and seeing a dog’s tail and hind quarters at the beginning of each episode!
DEPARTMENT OF ETCETERA
Now that Downton’s over, by gosh, by gum, looks like we’ll all have to get a life. 🙂 Here are a few bits and bobs to tide us over until the movie comes out. Yes, there’s talk of making one, though nothing’s been confirmed. Most of the actors seem willing. Please write a movie script, Mr. Fellowes!
- Many of the actors did not particularly like filming the dining room scenes, which took hours and hours, multiple camera angles, and plates of food they didn’t actually eat.
- A favorite pastime between takes: playing Bananagrams.
- Maggie Smith has admitted that she’s never actually seen any of the finished episodes.
- Lesley Nicol, who played Mrs Patmore, actually does not like to cook.
- In life sadly imitating art, Michelle Dockery lost her fiancé to cancer last year.
- Though their characters Mary and Edith were at odds throughout the series, Michelle Dockery and Laura Carmichael are actually good friends in real life.
- Laura Carmichael is currently dating Michael Fox, who played Andy the footman.
- 400 costumes were used in Seasons 5 and 6, and 1000 wigs since the series began.
- There were 255 cast members and 900 crew members overall.
- Laura Carmichael was working in a doctor’s office when she got the part of Edith (her first ever TV audition).
- Downton Abbey has won 3 Golden Globes, 12 Primetime Emmys (60 nominations), a Special BAFTA Award, and most recently a SAG Award, among many other well-deserved accolades. It is the top PBS drama of all time, and one of the most watched television series in the world.
And a final nod to Mrs Patmore:
What will you miss most about the series? What did you think of Season 6?
♥ Other Downton Abbey posts at Alphabet Soup:
- ♥ A Little Downton Abbey Valentine ♥
- Shortbread and Scones from the Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook
- A Spot of Downton Tea with Rock Cakes
- Another Cup of Downton Tea with Chocolate Madeleines
- kitTEA: In Which We Nibble on Tuna and Meow About Chris Kelly’s Downton Tabby
- Squeak Peek for the Week: Mouseton Abbey
GOODBYE, DOWNTON, GOODBYE!
Shall we let some of the cast sing us out? 🙂
This post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best aprons and bibs, and come join the fun!
Copyright © 2016 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.