This holiday season, as we sat in front of the TV during the late night hours wrapping gifts, I slowly and not-so-subtly got my husband hooked on Downton Abbey.
It wasn’t hard, really, but of course this second time around, I was viewing the series through a storyteller’s eyes rather than merely enjoying the story line for myself. For this series does historical fiction–and historical romance–very well. I continually asked myself, what could I learn from this experience?
Attention to detail: No detail is left unattended, from the minutest attention paid to costuming, set dressing and historical accuracy. For example, every time the butler enters a room below stairs, all servants stop whatever they are doing and stand at attention. Life below stairs perfectly mirrors that above stairs with attention to rank and propriety guarded most effectively.
Beautiful landscapes: It is not specified where the location of Downton Abbey is supposed to be, but we are shown breathtaking shots of the castle (which is in reality, Highclere Castle), and its park. Actors move about the scenery and we are reminded that the Abbey, itself, is also an important character in the ongoing drama of the inhabitants, both above and below stairs.
Every character has a history and his/her own motivation: Sometimes these goals and motivations revolve around Downton Abbey itself (as in the case of Lord Grantham) and sometimes they are in response to events tied to Downton, such as the inciting incident for Series 1: The sinking of the Titanic, which claims the lives of Lord Grantham’s two heirs and Lady Mary’s fiance. The entail becomes a desperate matter, as all of the family’s wealth is tied up in the estate… and whoever inherits the title will get the estate.
Culturally relevant: Life at Downton Abbey revolves around the maintenance and future of the estate itself. Lord Grantham contends with his wife over his refusal to smash the entail. Matthew Crawley is summoned away from his happy life in Manchester because he has suddenly become an earl’s heir. But these events do not occur in a vacuum. History revolves around them, from the sinking of the Titanic to the start of World War I, we see how these iconic events of history affect these people. But we see other issues treated as well, as Lady Sybil’s story line deals with emerging women’s rights. She participates in activities related to women’s suffrage and fosters one of the maid’s aspirations to leave service and become a career woman in an office.
There are just a few of the ways in which Downton Abbey hits the mark as far as the historical fiction genre is concerned. In my editing process, I’m going to make certain to hit these marks in my works as well!
If you haven’t seen it and would like to catch up, series 1 is being re-run right now on PBS (here in the U.S.). Series 2 premieres next week! Have you seen Downton Abbey? What do you love about it?