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In the Downton Abbey Tradition: 1956’s Giant

12 Feb

I know, I know, Giant came first.  But Downton Abbey came first historically.  And so did England.

There is something so refreshing about Downton and, yes, it is in the same tradition as Giant and other important and influential films of its era.

They have a clear sense of values, of right and wrong.  

Those who do well, end up being rewarded, eventually.  Those who do evil are eventually exposed and fall by the wayside.  

Note that, theologically, nothing is said about people being inherently good or evil.  We are all born with a sin nature.  But in this world and on into eternity, our choices after birth matter.  

Downton Abbey shows that.  So does Giant. 

I saw Giant for the first time today.  I got up at 6 AM and watched it till almost 9:30 on Turner Classic Movies.  Yes, it is an epic.  And, yes, I am glad I made the time for it in this period of unemployment.  

In fact, since Noel was already awake, it was kind of fun to sit on the end of our bed, watching with the lights off, on top of our warm comforter, with a quilt across my lap and a plushy throw around my shoulders.  Very cozy on a day when we expect more snow . . .

I have long “collected” epic films that start with “G,” most of them war movies:  Gone With the Wind, Gettysburg, Gods and Generals, Gladiator, The Grapes of Wrath, and Gallipoli (well, that one is a bit shorter than the others but packs a punch nonetheless).  I will add Giant to that number.

It is said that Giant was Rock Hudson’s best film ever and one of Elizabeth Taylor’s best.  They aged beautifully across two generations.  

It was James Dean’s last film.  He remained the rebel till the end, still without a cause, except he envied the wealth of the other two, and their ranching family, and became a self-made man merely to get revenge (and to try to marry their daughter).  

The lessons were clear.  Rock Hudson’s character was changed by being married to Elizabeth Taylor’s character, who brought to Texas and to ranching a kind disposition toward everyone, especially the Hispanic people who already lived in the state when the U.S. acquired it.  

Everything ties up neatly, throughout the movie, not just at the end.  

The way Downton Abbey neatly ties up approximately one storyline per week.

In an era when the majority of movies are made to promote not just ambiguity in life (which we all face every day as an inevitable part of our existence) but ambiguity in values, a movie like Giant is refreshing.  Most movies in our era end with totally messy outcomes which we can second guess for weeks.  It is not just that it is hard to figure out the complex situations in these movies, it is that they are never resolved.  Resolution itself appears to be held up as a bad thing.  

It is good to see films and television series in which the director sets out to use situations and problems in the lives of the characters to cause them to grow morally.  If that results in neatly tied up endings, all the better because our lives rarely do that for us.   

We will never become perfect on this earth, but we can all grow.   

And I will never tire of such stories as Giant, inspiring us in that direction!  


What Downton Abbey’s Tom Branson Can Teach Us about Authenticity!

28 Jan

What Downton Abbey’s Tom Branson Can Teach Us about Authenticity!

A teaching on holiness riffing on Downton Abbey themes.  What could be lovelier?

One Big Spoiler Post about “Call the Midwife”

8 Jul

Wow, what a heartwarming series this new one is!!!

I am watching season one on Netflix as season two is apparently wrapping up over in Britain.

Nothing like a good historical British drama, filled with real characters with hopes, fears, and flaws.  

Fabulous television.  Better than most American movies!!!

Set in the East End of London (Docklands) right after World War II, the show concerns a convent with a handful of secular nurses attached to it.  Everyone is focused on delivering the huge number of babies being born at home in their borough.

This was right at the beginning of the implementation of National  Health in Britain.  For the impoverished characters on the show, it was a godsend.  

What I love is that no one is the subject of mockery in this show.  Upper class people who need an attitude adjustment, clumsy people (like Chummy, the oversized nurse who can’t seem to learn to ride a bike), impoverished people (whose stories are shown to be as rich as those of any upper class person), and even women with venereal diseases (a nurse initially has a reaction of aversion to finding out a pregnant woman has a venereal disease, but the show reveals that she is able to grow and learn compassion in the situation.  How many U.S. shows would play that situation for cheap laughs?).

In the third episode, we all fall in love with the old veteran of the Boer Wars who is displaced from the tenement where his late wife helped him raise two boys (who died in World War II).  The sweet old man says he lives in the lap of luxury, while Jenny, his nurse, initially has a reaction of revulsion to the insects that live in the tenement, and crawl out from under a plate of cookies as she picks them up!

She later takes him to a reunion of his unit, where he is greatly honored as a war hero.  But she then must watch him be moved to a nursing home, where he is neglected and dies of gangrene which develops in his old war injuries.

How many old veterans who have spent their lives for their countries face similar indifference from the authorities when they are old?  How many of them never have a Jenny to love them when their families are gone?  

Watching the faces in this episode was a thing of beauty, an absolute wonder.  The characters are so well drawn that the movements of the eyes, the hands, and the feet are all used to maximum advantage in furthering the story.  

Mostly the stories concern babies about to be born, but this detour to community nursing of the elderly was beautiful.  The whole series is beautiful.  

The nuns in the convent are not all conventional Catholics.  One or two of them are eccentrics, possibly over the line into dementia.  They are still full, strong characters.  

The faith of the nuns, moving forward to help the needy in the face of fear, reminds me of why the Catholic church is so often admired, even by people who don’t agree with its doctrine.  Few groups are as able to reach out to those who are impoverished and to raise their standard of living via quality health care or education.  

The Brits have been producing a series of quality television shows to universal acclaim these past few years–among them “Downton Abbey” about the rich and now “Call the Midwife” about the poor.  Both shows also reveal interactions between the rich and the poor–that may be the greatest contribution of all they make!  Every person is a unique soul, made in God’s image.  It is wonderful to find television shows that reveal that truth, rather than playing to cheap laughs and mockery!!!


Downton Abbey Special: “Pratt, You Have Nice Knees”

11 Mar

Downton Abbey Special: “Pratt, You Have Nice Knees”

What a treat! I found Elizabeth McGovern’s most stellar scene in “Ordinary People,” the best picture of 1980.

She was a supporting actress in the film, the love interest of Timothy Hutton’s troubled teen.

This scene is where he first takes her out for a soda and she asks him point blank why he tried to commit suicide.

Get your kleenex and prepare to see Elizabeth McGovern work her magic as a teen actress.

(The title of this post comes from something the young men yell to her from their car when she is on the sidewalk in front of the school one day! Ha ha!).

Downton Abbey as a Morality Play: The Long-awaited Engagement Scene

11 Mar

Wasn’t the last scene in Season Two of Downton Abbey worth the wait?

As the snow starts falling more rapidly, in big cottony flakes, Matthew and Lady Mary stand on the porch in front of Downton Abbey, talking after the Servants’ Ball.  After several minutes, it becomes obvious that Matthew not only intentionally asked Mary to dance at the ball but he is now, once again, going to ask her to be his wife.

Since the last time he popped this question, he has gained a fiancee and lost her to death.

Since the last time Matthew popped this question, Mary has gained and lost a fiance who was wealthy enough (and able, as a newspaper publisher!) to buy up the rights to her story about the death of the Turkish diplomat in her bed and to squash the story.  She has now set Sir Richard free from the engagement, despite (or because of!) his threats to ruin her by publishing that scandalous story at this late date. 

She has told Matthew everything.  She concluded that, in doing that, she would lose his friendship.  That has not happened.  

In fact, as he moves toward his proposal, my favorite theological moment in the entire series occurs.

Mary asks him whether he has found it in his heart to forgive her for giving in to lust with the Turkish diplomat.

And Matthew says, “No, I have not.”

As she looks at him in shock, he adds, “There is nothing to forgive.  We both have lived our separate lives until now.  I am just saying we should live them together from now on.”

What a wonderful statement!

He, unlike many people who learn before marriage that their potential spouse has had a past,  realizes that her sin, before she was engaged to him, was against God alone.  Unlike so many people who cannot forget that their spouses had a past and use it to bludgeon them mentally for the next twenty years, Matthew is able to let go of all this before God.   

Matthew is willing to leave it there, at the feet of the only qualified Judge.

What a precious truth of marriage.  For whether our spouse has a past or not, he/she has a sin nature.

If only we could all leave our spouse’s sins in God’s hands, as Matthew did, and offer our love and support in place of recriminations.  

Marriage would be that much sweeter for it!

Downton Abbey Characters: Daisy’s Secret

8 Mar

By the end of Season Two of Downton Abbey, everyone knows Daisy’s secret, don’t they?

And no one takes it seriously.

She married William, on his deathbed from having his lungs destroyed by poison gas in World War I, because he was a dear friend and she didn’t want to disappoint him by admitting her love for him was not romantic, as his was for her.

Everyone kept urging her on, throughout the war, as William built his narrative around the life he would return to with Daisy!  They told her not to let him down till the war was over.  By the time the war was over, he was dead.

And poor Daisy was distraught about deceiving William into thinking she had a romantic attraction to him.

Only . . . every time Daisy was given a choice as to whether to act in her own self-interest or to act in the interest of this good friend for whom she felt no romantic attraction . . . she acted in his interest.  

Those who believe that love is an action would have a field day with the theology of this.  People have built solid 50-year marriages on far less than what Daisy and William had.

The Dowager Countess said as much to Daisy . . . 

His father, hearing her confession that she “focused on being a friend for far too long” said, “My dear, you only gave him the thrill of the hunt.”  

In fact, Mr. Mason, William’s father gives me my favorite moment of Season Two.  

It is when he has invited Daisy to his farm and tells her that William had three brothers and a sister who already went to heaven.  

He says that William married Daisy as he was dying because “he knew my bairns were all gone and he wanted me to have someone to belong to me.”  Then he asks about Daisy’s parents.  

She says that she doesn’t have any, that I “weren’t ever special to anyone.”

Mr. Mason responds that she was certainly special to William and that now he would like to regard her as his daughter and for her to regard the farm as her home.  

Wow, what a tearjerker moment.

And a powerful testimony to the need we humans have to belong to somebody, both human and divine.  

Total loveliness, that scene was.  Total loveliness.

Downton Abbey Characters: Lord Grantham’s Dalliance

6 Mar

Of all the inexplicable parts of Downton Abbey in its first two seasons, I find Lord Grantham’s dalliance with the maid Jane in the last two episodes of Season Two to be the most baffling.

Baffling because, unlike other events that beg an explanation, this one does not seem like it will ever have one, nor could have one.

He dallies with the maid right after reading his daughter the riot act for her engagement to their chauffeur?  Really?  Why would that be?

Is that to show us that he is capable of double standards between males and females?

He dallies with the maid while his wife is lying ill of the Spanish flu several rooms away?  Really?  Why would that be?

Is that to show us that he doesn’t yet realize his wife will come close to death with the Spanish flu?

Lord and Lady Grantham have always been close, at least since the series opened.  They allude to issues earlier in their marriage . . .

So why would Lord Grantham dally with Jane, kissing her out of the blue in the pantry, then later taking her into his room and preparing to be immoral with her, though never following through with the act?  

Is it just to show us that he is a human being with feet of clay?

I think we already knew that . . .

Not sure why this short detour from his devoted married life was written into the script.

The best I can do is to categorize it as a teaching on the nature of temptation.  

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