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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.  

Downton Abbey Characters: O’Brien, Now we will never know . . .

5 Mar

By now, we are all aware of the short contracts British television actors sign in comparison to their counterparts in the States.  

We have become aware of that due to our American addiction to Downton Abbey, and its rotating slate of characters.

As Julian Fellowes says, he can write a servant out of a season or two in hopes the actor who portrays him might decide to return, but he pretty much has to kill off family members when they leave the cast to spread their wings for another show or production . . .  

The latest news story concerns the departure of Siobhan Finneran, known to fans of Downton Abbey as Miss O’Brien, Lady Grantham’s scheming maid.  O’Brien will not be returning for Season Four.

Over the months I have grown accustomed to watching O’Brien to see what heights of manipulation she will try to attain.  O’Brien seems to know where everyone’s hot buttons lie. She never hesitates to push them.  

O’Brien’s life and meddling only get more outrageous the longer she lives.  Some have written of her, calling her evil incarnate.

And we have a fascination with her.  What could have made a person turn out that way?  We hold our breath, awaiting answers.  Maybe in Season Four.

Only now she won’t be in Season Four.  She may never return, the way things look now.

One has to wonder where Julian Fellowes would have gone with her, had she remained.  Would he have offered an explanation for how she turned so manipulative?  If so, had he already planned out what that explanation would be, or was this a character who “wrote herself” as time went on?

Authors will often say that they get to a decision point and find that their character has already decided for them where the story will go.  The character has taken on a life of her own!!!  Did O’Brien do that?

Alas for us, we will never know what motivated Miss O’Brien, unless someone discovers the truth while looking back at her tenure as Lady Grantham’s maid.  

Until then, she remains a caricature.  And everything within us wants to see her as human and to understand better why she chooses to be so sinful.

The same way we sometimes do.


How Thomas Barrow on Downton Abbey turned me against a Universal Draft!

27 Feb

How Thomas Barrow on Downton Abbey turned me against a Universal Draft!

In the second season of Downton Abbey, Thomas the footman turns into Thomas the medic and gets deployed to the front in World War I.  While in the trenches, terrified with everyone else of the incoming rounds, he purposely raises a hand with a cigarette in it above his trench to draw incoming fire.

It works and wins him a trip home to England, where he gets to employ his medical talents till the end of the war in relative safety.  (And he gets to continue his scheming, maneuvering ways, but that is the fun of watching the Thomas character, isn’t it?).

The U.S. and Great Britain did not enter nor fight the world wars in the same way!

My sister-in-law (in England, but aware of the history of our family both there and in Ireland) reminded me of that this morning when my Facebook page contained a discussion of the proposal that women in the U.S. register for Selective Service (the draft).  The idea is that now that women have been cleared for combat for three full weeks (if they qualify and if they volunteer) it is now time to make combat mandatory for every woman, in case of a war breaking out in the future.

If you know me at all, you know that I am not in favor of that proposal.  I don’t want to stand in the way of those rare women who do well with fifty pound backpacks, but I don’t think all of us should be training to that standard.  We are not inferior to men.  Just different.  And less suited for combat, on the average.

However, there is always that idea that women get choices while men get told to “man up.”  Combat is one of those areas.  Selective service registration has been, too.

It goes along with the idea that a woman can choose to be a homemaker/homeschooling mom or choose to have a career, while a man who stays home to tend to the homestead or to homeschool his children will usually be made a laughingstock.

Not sure how to remedy all that.  And that is not the point of this post anyhow.

But I do have a remedy for the universal draft in the U.S.   Don’t do it (see article above, about the counterproposal to stand down the requirement for men to register for selective service).  Don’t do it for anyone.

As my sister-in-law reminded me, a trained, professional Army does better every time.  We got into the habit of manning our forces at the last minute as a war began because we were pushed into World War II unwillingly.  It worked out pretty well that time so we have used it as a modus operandi ever since, taking our forces from small to large during the Korean War and the Viet Nam war by means of the draft.

Call it a money-saving gesture.

And call it foolish.

We get the Army we are willing to pay for.  And if our frugality keeps us from training and paying soldiers until we need a fullscale mobilization, it is wicked to grab a bunch of civilians, turn them into soldiers overnight against their will, and send them off on a wing and a prayer to hopefully avoid death and disfigurement.

That doesn’t matter, morally, whether they are male or female.  It may insult our sensibilities more when they are female, but morally it is the same issue.  Forced service.  Related to slavery.

Even when everyone in the ranks agrees that it was done equitably, between the rich and the not-so-rich, it is still forced service.

Our constitution provides for a strong national defense, making that a responsibility of the federal government.  As we have seen since right after Viet Nam, if the military is paid well enough, you can keep it manned without a draft.

And that, my friends, is a federal government bill that should be paid because the states can’t do it on their own (nor should they).

Whatever happens with sequestration, it remains a federal responsibility . . . (if we must have fewer troops, then we will need to serve in fewer places accordingly.  We can’t do everything anymore!).

Who would have thought that Thomas Barrow and my sister-in-law would combine their voices to talk me into a persistent belief in an all volunteer military??!!  Thanks, Carol!

Downton Abbey as a Morality Play, Part V: Lady Edith’s Treachery

12 Feb

In Season One of Downton Abbey, Lady Edith, the middle Crawley sister, shows herself to be absolutely conscienceless with her letter to the Turkish ambassador when she cajoles from Daisy, the cook’s assistant, the secret of how a Turkish diplomat died in her sister’s bedroom.  Rather than going to her sister and talking with her about her sin in any sort of redemptive way, she writes to the Turkish ambassador and busts London wide open with rumors about her sister’s reputation.

It is said that envy is the deadliest sin, for it has nothing of good in it at all, but sheer unadulterated evil.  For example, lust can have some elements of love.  Greed can include an appreciation of the finer things in life.  Gluttony can begin with an actual knowledge of and appreciation for good food.  But envy . . .

It is plain that Lady Edith lives in the shadow of her two sisters.  Only at Downton Abbey can this blonde girl come across as plain, in comparison with her two stunning, accomplished brunette sisters.  But . . . that is just the point, isn’t it?  God cautions us again and again in the Scriptures against comparing ourselves to others.  If Lady Edith were to just be herself, she would be an interesting, rich girl with much to offer a potential suitor.  When she lives a life of envy toward spirited Mary and gentle Sybil, she becomes a monster.

And she becomes a monster with no idea of proportion nor propriety in her responses.  Edith has found out suspicious circumstances that strongly suggest Mary has sinned so, in her desire to elevate herself by casting her sister down, she just goes with that and smears Mary’s name.  If there might be any alternative explanation, Edith doesn’t care to hear it.

Sexual sin can produce shame when found out, but that shame might have come as a natural consequence of what happened.  Instead, Edith plays God and spreads Mary’s shame all over the capital by telling the Turkish ambassador about it.

Two wrongs never make a right, but how often do we see people, even in the church, whispering wildly about others, and not in any redemptive way?  It even seems as though people enjoy repeating the more salacious details of the lives of others, as though they can get a secondary thrill by the mere reporting of the information.  The Bible clearly says there are some things so shameful they should not even be mentioned among us . . . Meanwhile, we seem overjoyed to kill people’s reputations.

In the end, Lady Edith becomes my least favorite character in the series.  I am never upset when her suitors leave her.  She is dull, both in looks (because she doesn’t carry herself as a child of God, but rather as an envious little drudge) and in intellect (because it takes so much time and effort to feed envy that she doesn’t come up with much else).

What a boring, pathetic little life.  But such is envy.  Boring (the most boring of sins) and pathetic.

Downton Abbey as a Morality Play, Part IV: Lady Mary’s Lament

11 Feb

The biggest storyline touching on morality in Season One of Downton Abbey is the storyline involving Lady Mary and the Turkish diplomat, who visits her home with an English friend of his who is courting Lady Mary, then steals her heart away.

The diplomat, Kamal Pamuk, comes to Lady Mary’s bedchamber in the dead of night, led by the treacherous footman Thomas.  He enters her room to shock on the part of Lady Mary.  She had only hours before pushed him away when he tried to passionately kiss her downstairs.

She wildly protests and prepares to scream.  He tells her screaming would not help her–that she is already compromised.  In the society in which she lives, perhaps he is right.  She had been noted flirting with him downstairs.  It might just be that people would believe he had been invited to her quarters . . .

At this point, it is hard to explain what happens next in the light of modern values.  She acquiesces to his advances and kisses him back when he kisses her.  The cameras cut away with no sex and no nudity onscreen but it becomes obvious later that Lady Mary and Pamuk had relations, as he subsequently dies in her bed.

The rest of Season One has this storyline woven in and out of its fabric, as Daisy, the cook’s assistant, observes Lady Mary, her mother, and the maid Anna moving Pamuk’s body back to his own bed.

The story eventually comes out, first among servants in London, then later in the Turkish Embassy.

It is always whispered as a rumor, however, and becomes a major issue of morality when Lady Mary falls in love with her distant cousin Matthew Crawley.

Matthew proposes and Mary hesitates.  Matthew eventually concludes that she is waiting to see whether he will inherit Downton Abbey or her own family will keep it.

In actuality, Mary is hesitating because she believes she owes it to Matthew (not to her father) to explain that the rumors being heard in London are actually true and that she has given up her virtue before marriage.

All of this is reinforcing of Christian morality, that sex belongs within marriage.

It is possible to our modern minds that Mary’s sexual encounter might fall under sexual assault, as it was definitely coerced.  She was led to believe she had no escape so she might as well relax and enjoy it.

The main point that I see is that the show holds up morality as an ideal, and shows that consequences accrue when God’s law is set aside, for whatever reason.

For that reason, I will watch this show, when I choose not to watch about 95% of the shows out there today with their muddled values.


Downton Abbey as a Morality Play, Part III: O’Brien’s and Thomas’s Murderous Impulses

10 Feb

Downton Abbey as a Morality Play, Part III: O’Brien’s and Thomas’s Murderous Impulses

I wrote in the above link, Part II of this series, about the part O’Brien played in the miscarriage of Lord Grantham’s only son in Season One of Downton Abbey.

In Part I of this series, I wrote about Thomas, described by Mrs. Patmore as a tortured soul, but known to everyone else as the show’s main villain and schemer.

I actually think it would be the most fun of all, as an actor or actress, to play Thomas or O’Brien.  The sheer evil of their actions sometimes must make it very challenging to play them, and rewarding when the performances are top drawer, as they always are.

Their value to us, as I started to point out yesterday, is that they confront us with the heart of evil in us all.  Not all of us break the law and not all of us do things that lead to someone’s death.  But all of us have broken God’s law and all of us did things that led to the death of the Holy Son of God.

So, if we are truthful, we have to move away from the idea that Thomas and O’Brien are “over there outside of us” and realize that we have some of their same murderous impulses inhabiting our own hearts.

But for the grace of God, we would be hopeless.

What else do you think is inside the person who tailgates you at 50 mph on the interstate onramp?  That person is not so stupid as to be unaware that you might have to suddenly brake in an onramp, which would lead to a rear-end collision and could lead to your death.

Truly, there is often not much of a difference between the impulses that lead to assault with a deadly weapon charges and the impulses that lead to vehicular manslaughter charges.

When we are running late and weave perilously in and out of traffic at speeds 25 mph higher than what is written, are we not coldly stating that our schedule and our convenience matter more to us than the lives we are possibly endangering?  We have done the risk assessment and have decided that it is worth the risk of ending a life or two in order for us to get to where we want to be in a quicker fashion.

Those are only a couple of examples.  Any thinking person can come up with myriads more.  I shared yesterday how, even at age seven, I could exhibit coldness toward a person who needed my help to keep from falling.  Coldness that regarded its own convenience as much more important than the safety of another person.  That, my friends, is original sin and it is in us all.

Now here I will end with the good news, of the world of Downton Abbey and of this modern world we inhabit:  Romans 5:8, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

God knew we were hopelessly broken and provided His Own Son to redeem us from sin and from ourselves.  By putting our faith in Christ, we can be made a new creation and begin growing to be more like Christ.  Praise God for making a way!

Downton Abbey as a Morality Play, Part II : O’Brien and Miscarriage!

9 Feb

As anyone who has seen the first season of Downton Abbey knows, Lord Grantham’s wife Cora finally conceives a male heir after his three daughters are already adults, but then loses the baby when she slips on a piece of soap on the floor next to her bathtub.  The soap was purposely planted there by Cora’s maid, Miss O’Brien.  O’Brien thinks Cora is planning to replace her, after overhearing and misunderstanding a conversation about a maid being hired for Cora’s mother-in-law.

How often do we do that?  Hear a few words out of context and think we know the whole story?

But, beyond that, although most of us would never try to cause a pregnant woman to fall, have we ever done something out of equally hateful impulses?  Maybe something from motives so evil that the thought of it sends chills down our spine years or decades later?

I could hardly bear to look at O’Brien when she realizes that her mistress never intended to send her away and, in fact, loves her blindly.  Her mistress has not the slightest suspicion that the soap was intentionally placed in her path.  No one has the slightest idea.  But O’Brien knows.  She knows that she caused a baby’s miscarriage.  She did the equivalent act to taking a woman today and forcing her to have an abortion.

Looking at O’Brien in that moment, I see a desolate woman who has to live with private guilt forever, whether or not she ever confesses to anyone what happened.  Her sin cannot be undone.  It can be forgiven but its effects are permanent.

Even if her mistress had intended to send her away, her response was disproportionate, wasn’t it?  It is the equivalent response to the people today who are fired from a job and return with a weapon to shoot the place up!  Being fired, even wrongly, is not equivalent to being murdered.

But . . . I remembered tonight a time when I was about seven years old and was out in the countryside, at a friend’s slumber party for her birthday.  It was my first slumber party and it was exciting and scary at the same time.

My friend lived on a farm.  And we were having a hayride right after dark.  I only knew my friend at the party, as the other girls were from her school, out in the countryside.

One of the little girls started to fall off the back of the wagon but caught herself.  She struggled to get back on.  In the process, I looked down and realized she had grabbed my hand.  She was hanging off the back of the wagon, gripping my hand.  She struggled for what seemed like forever to right herself, with no success.

What happened next I could never explain if I lived a thousand years.  I got tired of holding onto her hand while she struggled to get back on the wagon.  Not physically tired.  Annoyed.  Tired of this needy stranger holding my hand.  I let go.

She plunged underneath the wagon.  We did not run her over, but she was injured.  She didn’t break anything, but we didn’t know that for sure until she had been taken to the doctor.

No one ever found out why she fell.  She didn’t remember holding my hand, I am sure.  I carried a cold edge of guilt over that act for many years.  In fact, I don’t remember ever telling anyone about it, until now.

We can make all kinds of excuses for me.  I was only seven.  I didn’t know she would fall.  I didn’t intend for anything bad to happen but just wanted to get her to stop holding on to me.  And she wasn’t really hurt badly after all.

Except . . . I know that in my heart lurked that same cold impulse that animated O’Brien when she set out to get revenge.  I didn’t care one toss for this girl.  She was an annoyance to me and I got rid of the annoyance, like swatting a bug.

I didn’t mean for her to fall, but if she had been crushed and killed beneath the wheels of the haywagon, it would still have been due to my cold, sinful heart.

You see, that is our guilty little secret.  In the hearts of all of us lurk those moments when we don’t really care about the wellbeing of others.  And, when we are like that, we are not much better off than Miss O’Brien.

That is the brilliance of Downton Abbey.  There are some true villains there.  O’Brien is usually one of them.  But when we look deeply at them, we realize the villainy of our own hearts.

And those of us who are Christians humbly bow and thank Jesus for coming to redeem our villainous hearts.

A Morality Play: Season One of Downton Abbey

8 Feb

Obviously, my title is its own spoiler alert for any who have not seen Season One yet!

I also must make a disclaimer here and say that I hardly watch any modern television programs.

“Jeopardy” and some Piers Morgan interviews because my husband likes them.  The news.  That is about it.

I love movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood.  I love retro TV from the 1970’s and early 1980’s.  

I love classic novels.

I evaluate television by those standards, not by other current shows.  So if something being made now has my stamp of approval, it is an amazing and unusual work of art.

Downton Abbey is that show.  We are watching Season Three, but were given the first two seasons on DVD as a gift for supporting public television.  So I am catching up on the earlier episodes right now.

I love the beautiful home, and the precious small town atmosphere around Downton Abbey.

I love the clothes.

I love the depth of the characters that are portrayed, both upstairs and downstairs.

I started out with Lady Mary as my favorite character, but it has slowly shifted to be Mr. Carson, the loyal family butler.  My favorite scene is at the end of Season One as he hesitantly offers his shoulder to the crying Lady Mary.  Wonderful characterization!

I also love the morality of the characters.  Even the villains know when they are doing wrong and consciously choose to do so.  Things were not portrayed with so many mixed signals and analyses back in the World War I era and the show is faithful to that.  People back then didn’t call good evil and evil good.

When someone does wrong on the show, even the moral characters, they have consequences to their actions, in the tradition of the best old movies and literature (think Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility”).

Sure we are all flawed sinners.  But the show rewards the good things that are done and punishes the evil ones.  Eventually.  Just the way God has set up natural consequences to work in this world.

I also applaud the fact that there is no real violence portrayed onscreen, just a few scuffles between men using their fists.  The way Shakespeare used to write his plays.  The violence takes place offscreen.  Even World War I, in the case of Downton Abbey.

So does the sex.  Yes, there are two sexual storylines, one heterosexual and one gay.  But those stories are also take place offscreen and are told by the characters involved.  When things begin to get steamy, the camera stops rolling at the kissing part.  There is no nudity nor heavy breathing.

The word is “understated.”  It involves avoiding coarseness. I applaud the show for this.

One note about Thomas, the gay character, who by our modern definition is guilty of sexual assault (and blackmail) in every one of his attempted relationships:  if I were gay, I would regard his character, the biggest villain at Downton Abbey, as a big step backwards for gay rights.  I am not sure why a kissing scene, involving him as footman to a nobleman, happens in the first episode.  It has kept many traditional Christians from carrying on watching the series.  And it is not followed up in any of the other episodes.  It is like a bone being thrown to the gay lobby, but makes no sense, in context.  And, as I said, his character is despicable after that.  

Mrs. Patmore, the cook, refers to him as a “tormented soul,” while trying to explain him to a naive young girl who has a crush on him.  That is the kindest thing ever said about Thomas. Back then, that would be the phrase used for a gay person, I suppose.  

So “Downton Abbey” is a show that celebrates morality and does not involve coarseness and a cheapening of our standards and ourselves.

What is not to like?




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