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Louisa Leontiades

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What the Repression of Downton Abbey Can Teach Us...

Posted: 21/08/2012 22:30

Living abroad my boyfriend and I subscribe to Love Film to get our fix of British and American TV.

'Look this one has 7.8 out of 10 on IMDb' says my boyfriend (between you and I, anything over 7 means we'll give it a go).

Ordering TV by star rating has worked pretty well for us (although how Cougar Town made it to 7.1 is beyond me) and it was therefore only a matter of time before he came across Downton Abbey.

'Have you heard of this one?'

'Yes, I watched it when it came out. It's brilliant.'

'Why?'

'It's a costume piece. Elegant. Full of conflict upstairs and downstairs.' I said.

'Sounds very dull.'  NB. He's a Swede so he doesn't get class warfare.

'I promise, it isn't. But it's subtle.'

'Well it got 9 out of 10. Do you want to re-watch it with me?'

I did of course (as otherwise this blog would end here) and as the opening credits came up, I was pulled into the familiar world of Downton with the indomitable Dowager Countess and the manipulative Lady Mary.

As shady pasts go, Downton Abbey casts a long shadow. The gay duke's liaison with the gay butler, the dark secrets of Lady Mary's affaires de coeur, Bates acrimonious marriage... This is of course part of the attraction. Finding out about other people's lives taps into the nosy parker in all of us, add to that the utter fascination we continue to have with the upper class and their gilded world, as well as Maggie Smith's impeccable comic timing and you have a rich visual feast set upon a platter worthy of being served up to his Lordship himself.

But none of that is really so important, because it is merely window dressing for the heart of the series. The only reason humans can connect with anything or anybody is because somewhere, somehow it resonates within us. What is it that resonates with us with Downton? It's the repression. We are all of us in one way or another repressed. By the norms of society. By the expectations of our parents. By our duty to what we think is 'right' or what has been determined for us as 'right' (not the same thing).

The dialogue in Downton is artfully repressed... There is more unsaid than is said.

Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham: It does seem odd that my third cousin should be a doctor.
George Murray: There are worse professions.
Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham: Indeed.

If Shame (zero out of ten) and Honour (ten out of ten) are diametrically opposed, then most humans waiver between the two on many decisions and thus create a conflict in their personality. Usually the argument looks like this. What you want to do (shameful), versus what you think you ought to do (honorable). There was a lot of 'ought to' in the Downton world. And if the ought to differs too much with your true nature, then you will find yourself unable to live or love happily. Living a lie is never easy, even if you aren't aware of it.

But we are in the midst of great change. The internet and more specifically social media has brought us an unprecedented chance to re-examine and share... our world, our opinions and our secrets. Many 'old-schoolers' might think that sharing is shameful. No wonder. They come from the bygone era of Downton. It is only by admitting who we really are and what we really want, that shame can be eradicated. It is this human construct of 'shame' that is responsible for the conflict and drama in many people's lives. Whilst shame may be necessary to produce great masterpieces of TV, it's not great for producing solid relationships. And I think Lady Mary can testify to that.

One way or another, everyone goes down the aisle with half the story hidden.

 

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