Tag Archives: Downton Abbey and the BBC

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 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!

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