Why don’t I like Downton Abbey? I think I am in a minority of one on this. This evening I cleaned the kitchen floor rather than watching it. I definitely don’t hate it and there have been many Sunday evenings when I have sat in the room while my husband watches it, trying to do something else. It’s quite harmless in its way. Am I being snobby because it’s so middlebrow? No!!!! Everything I read is middlebrow. I am middlebrow. I listen to Classic FM, for Goodness sake. Am I being snobby because it’s a soap? (As my students would say, it so is.) No!!!! Years ago I used to watch Neighbours.
Downton Abbey should be all the things I should like – historical, English, gentle, with occasional bursts of humour. Although I have read in the newspaper that there are a few inaccuracies, as to costume, household practices and use of language, generally I believe it to be an authentic representation of life at the beginning of the twentieth century. It’s much better researched than anything coming out of Hollywood, for sure.
I have explored every corner of my soul, usually on a Sunday evening, but I cannot find a proper answer to my question. I think a lot of it is that, on a Sunday evening, especially when I was contemplating returning to work on Monday morning (not now, thank Goodness), I can’t be bothered to get involved in a soap. I want to relax. Some people would say that watching a historical soap like Downton is relaxation, and, if I was the slightest bit engaged with Lady Mary or any of the other characters, or was able to tap into the plot, it would be relaxing for me too. The trouble is that they do not interest me. Fiction is supposed to be all about character but, for me, these characters are too wooden and too ordinary and I can more or less predict what is going to happen next, although, to be fair, they appear to be working for ten million viewers. I don’t think Julian Fellowes – in the unlikely event of him reading this post – would be too bothered about my view.
The thing that annoys me most is not the show itself but its viewers, who take it all too seriously, spending hours discussing Lady Mary, Carson and all the others, as if they were real people. Also I mentioned above that I’d read letters in a – broadsheet – newspaper discussing the historical authenticity of the costume and set… while there are refugees cold and starving in Turkey, Italy and Greece. A few days ago, whilst walking through the servants quarters of Anglesey Abbey (a National Trust property), I heard over and over again – from grown ups – that it was just like Downton and this is where Carson or Mrs Patmore would sit. Get a grip, everybody. It’s not real. Really, it’s not real.
So what’s the matter with me? Why can’t one hopeful historical novelist join in all the Downton Abbey fun?