On Downton Abbey, lords and ladies, and being star struck

We never go to a movie at the theaters anymore, well hardly ever. Last year we saw a movie made about World War I produced by a combination of British and Australian studios. It came out in black and white, and color for only part of it. They used actual footage about the terrible ordeal those troops faced. As hard as it was to watch it, it was remarkable and the technique of researching all the different soldiers was incredible. They had lip readers come in to get the language right since, at that time, all the films were silent.

The British in the sixties and seventies had recorded and saved vocal histories given by elder survivors. They put the silent film behind it. It was worth the effort to go to a theater. Nothing since has caused us to go and pay the seemingly outrageous prices. And I am really talking about popcorn and pop prices—$19 for those seems excessive.

However, we went to see Downton Abbey this last week. It was spectacular! Again, it was a British studio producing it. Downton Abbey ran for six years on public television every Sunday night. It took place right after the Titanic sunk with the family “Lord” dying, leaving the Downton estate to the next male heir, Robert Crawley. It seems only males can inherit property and titles from the crown. Lord Crawley married a rich American, Cora, to keep this massive old house running. Problem, Crowley has no sons, only three beautiful daughters. For six years those who watched were enchanted with the goings-on of the privileged and the servants who took great pride in being part of the Crawley dynasty. It was kind of like Dallas without the meanness of J.R.

However, Lord Robert has some very old-fashioned ideas about his daughters and thus the events of the Crawley household held the audience spellbound. Why, you might ask. Well, Americans have Hollywood and the Kardashians, but they don’t hold a candle to the rules and regulations of the British.

We have been enchanted with the British ever since we threw them out after the American Revolution. We hate them, we love them, both. And mostly we are fascinated by how they do business and treat one another. They, too, are fascinated with us. We are the cowboys or Hollywood types.

Downton Abbey takes place between the First and Second world war. Large houses still exist in England, but many are now kept up through tourist visits and by explaining to a bunch of gum-chewing, camera-flashing, regular folk, who often want to know if Princess Di is still going to become Queen. History buffs also make up a lot of the visitors.

Julian Fellows is the genius behind Downton Abbey. He knows his way around as an actor as well as a great writer. He knows his characters and where they live. The real house you see on television or in this movie is a really famous home with about 200 bedrooms. Imagine the laundry bill. It is called Highclere Castle and is a Victorian-era English manor. There is a Lord, George Reginald Oliver Molyneux Carnarvon and a Lady, Fiona Aitken Carnarvon. George, the eighth Earl of Carnarvon, is the Anglo-Welsh family branch. I think it is like being part of the Bush or Kennedy families—which sport as much drama, but without the cool costumes. New Mexico has the United World College in Las Vegas, the only place I have seen with woodwork equal to that of this English country house. We are fortunate to have such a treasure.

If you have not seen the Downton Abbey television series you will not be as vested in these characters, but you can still enjoy the color and rush of the wonderful story. When we went to Scotland about two years ago, we were fortunate to see Queen Elizabeth, her husband, Phillip, her son who will be the next king, Charles, and the ever-lovely Princess Anne. They were at the Scottish Games for an hour and when everyone stood and sang, “God Save the Queen,” it was thrilling.

Maybe people are just hooked on their idols, whether it be football, basketball, television or movie stars, or historical figures. We are star struck. If you liked Downton Abbey on television, I guarantee you will love it on the big screen. It is wrapped up beautifully and may lead to another chapter. God bless Julian Fellows, a giver of joy and fun. Roaring Mouse, off to make tea. Out. 

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