The Downton Ripples

Or, How I Overcome Downton Abbey Withdrawal Syndrome.

First, I bought the Blu-rays and rewatched both Season 1 and 2 several times. And then, I let my curiosity lead and follow mere intuition. Downton has prompted me to seek out books and films with setting in the early part of the 20th C.

I was most intrigued by the irreversible changes modernity has brought about, but on a more sombre note, I was moved to learn of the grave number of lives lost in a war I knew so little, WWI.

As heir to Downton Matthew Crawley has aptly noted while fighting in the trenches:

War has a way of distinguishing between the things that matter and the things that don’t.

The Great War did not end all wars as claimed, but had ended countless lives of a young generation, and altered numerous others. On the positive side, it had toppled society’s status quo and broken down previously impenetrable barriers, when men of different social classes fought side by side in the trenches, and where women played a substantial role in the war effort.

And then there are the stories of individuals and families… I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this reading and watching spree. But I have to stop somewhere and share with you what marvellous works you can follow while waiting for Downton Abbey Season 3 to arrive.

So, here’s Arti’s Annotated List of Downton Ripples:

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona Carnarvon — A springboard to all my WWI period exploration. What impressed me was that Highclere Castle itself was actually turned into a hospital during the War and many of its staff enlisted and some killed. I was moved by the number of casualties and the horrific conditions in the battlefields. My full review of the book is posted here. 

The World of Downton Abbey — by Jessica Fellowes, niece of write/creator of the series Julian Fellowes. A compendium to the production, the hardcover larger-sized book is filled with photos, background info and quotes from the actors. After skimming through the whole book, one item stands out: Mr. Bates’ fall. That’s when Mrs. O’Brien trips him and he falls flat on his face on the gravel. How did they shoot this? Any special effects? Well, unfortunately for Mr. Bates, none whatsoever.

This is what Bates, Brendan Coyle said:

I must have done it 18 times and by the end I was wounded! I wore knee pads and a torso shield, but when you fall you have to really commit to falling.

Ouch! Some method acting.

Lost Empires (1986)— 7 Episode mini-series based on J. B. Priestly’s novel set in 1913, a year before WWI broke out. Colin Firth is young Richard Herncastle. Lost both parents at 19, he follows his Uncle Nick on his travelling magic stage show, learning the ropes of the itinerant performer in the music hall circuit. A coming-of-age saga chronicling the loss of innocence in love and life. Some noted actors in the series include Sir Laurence Olivier and John Castle.

A Farewell to Arms (1929) — Hemingway’s WWI semi-autobiographical sketch of love and loss. I listened to the audiobook read by Mad Men’s John Slattery. In authentic Hemingway style, his narrative is matter-of-fact and stoic. After that I watched the 1932 movie adaptation with Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes. An adaptation that makes me wish Hemingway was the screenwriter and director.

Brideshead Revisited (1945)– Evelyn Waugh has used a huge and magnificent mansion owned by an aristocratic family to tell his story. Something like Downtown but in a much serious tone. Its subtitle “The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder” sets the stage for a tug of war between God and man. I listened to the audio book read by Jeremy Irons, who has turned Waugh’s narratives into pure poetry. Probably the best audiobook I’ve ever listened to.

I’m still watching the 11 Episode TV series (1981) with Jeremy Irons playing the main character of Charles Ryder. So far, I’ve enjoyed the detailed and slower-paced depiction of the work. The book really needs a whole series to tell its story.

I’ve also rewatched the 2008 movie adaptation. As much as I respect the actors in it, Emma Thompson, Matthew Goode, Michael Gambon… I think it has trivialized Waugh’s masterpiece. The adaptation has taken the crux of the matter out and replaces with photogenic visuals and a story converted for more popular appeal. But it could well send one back to the book for curiosity’s sake.

Easy Virtue (2008) — For something totally light and swift, I rewatched this movie based on a Noel Coward play. Filled with Coward’s own music and some Cole Porter, the film depicts how the changes of the times have brought to yet another aristocratic family.

Larita (Jessica Beale) is the first woman race car driver to cross the finish line in Monte Carlo. The year is 1930. An American, she marries on a whim John Whittaker (Ben Barnes), the son of an English aristocratic family… and quickly becomes enemy on the home front to matriarch Veronica Whittaker (Kristin Scott Thomas), and subversive ally to her husband, disillusioned WWI officer played by Colin Firth. If you’re interested, here’s my full review of the movie.

A Handful of Dust (1988) — After Brideshead Revisited I went on to watch another of Evelyn Waugh’s adaptation. Again, a large mansion… how many of these architectural heirlooms do they have in England? Anyway, the master of this house Tony Last (James Wilby) is too busy looking after his property that he loses his wife Brenda (Kristin Scott Thomas). Title comes from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922)… that sent me into reading the poem again.

Goodbye To All That (1929) — Autobiography of Robert Graves, English poet and writer. I’m most impressed by the men of letters in that period, they enlisted readily. Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon were both involved in the most devastating battles in France. Both were seriously injured. Deep in the trenches they wrote poetry. Their views towards the war changed as time went by, but their experiences in the battlefields brought about poignant legacies as eye witnesses of a horrific war and its aftermath. Ironically, Graves handles his subject matter with some light-hearted reminiscence.

The Remains of the Day (1993) — Not quite the same period but a bit later in the brewing year before England’s engagement in WWII. I rewatched this film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Booker Prize winning novel in full, sumptuous Merchant Ivory style. The film leads me to think of a few parallels… Darlington ~ Downton, Stevens ~ Carson, but I’m glad Carson has more heart. And in both Downton and Remains of the Day, a character named Richard Carlisle.

The list goes on with Passchendaele and Birdsong yet to read and watch. But I know when Season 3 of Downton commences, I’ll gladly return and transfix myself once again in the Crawley family.

What have you been doing since Downton Abbey?

***

You may also be interested in:

Quotable Quotes from Downton Abbey

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey

Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

25 thoughts on “The Downton Ripples”

  1. Wow! What a list!

    I finished Downton, season 1. I am waiting for season 2 to hit Netflix Instant View. In the mean time, I am trying to get my husband to watch season 1, so we can watch season 2 together. I know he would enjoy it, even though he typically doesn’t go for this sort of thing.

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  2. Arti, we are in much the same boat — Downton Withdrawal — although I think you are more productive! I also recommend the bio “Mad World” for a look at Evelyn Waugh and the “real” part of Brideshead (very good in terms of the specifics) and also “Madresfield” if you need a manor house fix! On pbs.org (in the watch programs category) they MAY have “Secrets of the Manor House” still available — they rotate programs! Coming to Masterpiece in the fall is a new Brit sensation titled “Call the Midwife,” which apparently got even bigger numbers than Downton! I can’t wait for that or DA3.

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    1. Jeanie,

      Thanks for all the recommendations. I need to explore them further. Yes, I’ve heard of “Call the Midwife”, we’ll see how that one turns out. Masterpiece sure has some enticing programming coming up. Thanks for the heads-up.

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  3. Ugh. I’m pacing myself through the second series knowing that it’ll be a wait before season three arrives in DVD… I’m only fourth on my library’s hold list for the Lady Almina book 😉

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    1. nikkipolani,

      You’ll have a long pacing before S3 comes out. I’d be curious to know what you think of the Lady Almina book after you’ve read it.

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  4. I must say that after loving season one, I really didn’t enjoy the second season of Downton. Some plot devices were far fetched or too easily resolved but that said I’ll still watch season 3 of course.

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    1. Well yes, I agree that S2 is not as well constructed as S1. But after S1, I was hooked. The excellent acting also covers up flaws in the plot. So let’s hope S3 will be back to S1 quality… I’ve a feeling it’ll be something like a Gatsby British style. At least it won’t be 3D. 😉

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  5. I’ve read some this of these, but the the Carnarvon one, which sounds interesting. My husband is fascinated by WW1, and has some collections of letters and diaries written by soldiers at front, which are heart-rending, especially the ones describing Christmas 1914, when many of the English soldiers exchanged gifts with the Germans, and they sang songs together – then the next day they went back to killing each other…

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    1. You’ve just reminded me of War Horse. I haven’t read the YA novel, but have watched Spielberg’s movie. While I wasn’t too fond of the production, there’s a cinematic moment towards the latter part when the Horse was caught in a tight web of barbed wires, and how in the dark of night, the Germans threw wire cutters and tools into the British zone (or No Man’s Land) so they can cut loose the Horse. Robert Graves has mentioned similar moments as your husband has mentioned… poignant episodes.

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  6. You know I’m not in Downton withdrawal, but I was most intrigued by the WWI stories here. For all that the World Wars are described as inhumane, grisly horrors, there was a degree of humanity there that still could be found in person-to-person encounters.

    There are times when I watch what’s going on in our political wars – and make no mistake, they are wars, with a take-no-prisoner approach – and think there’s no way anyone’s throwing wire cutters over to the other camp. They’d rather die first – except people like us are the real victims.

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    1. Linda,

      Well said. You’ve just coined a new idiom: “throwing wire cutters over to the other camp”. Just like the war horse, we’re so entangled in barbed wires of politics, agression, and fanaticism that we need all the wire cutters we can get and start cutting. Thanks for the insight.

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  7. I highly recommend watching the BBC Brideshead Revisited whihc in my opinion is far superior to the modern film.

    As for Downton Abbey, I have not yet watched this yet, but I have bought Season One which I plan to watch on my beach vacation. It sounds like an amazing series!

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    1. Totally agree with you. Just finished watching it. As I mentioned on my post, the adaptation needs to take the time as a TV series to bring out the story and allow the characters to grow, or deteriorate, for that matter. I think the film version with Emma Thompson, Matthew Goode…etc. has missed the mark. Too bad for all the talents in there. And yes, do watch DA soon. I await your response on that. 😉

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  8. You have chosen a healthy and intelligent path waiting for Downton’s 3rd season.

    Wow, about Brendan Doyle’s real falls! As for Brideshead Revisited, we watched the original early in our marriage and were completely smitten with it, just the way we are all these years later watching Downton. I haven’t seen the newer version, and I guess I won’t. Our son, who is very particular about movies, and his fiancée have now seen the first 5 episodes of Downton. Their verdict: it’s fantastic. They agree with me that the characters are amazingly well developed for such short bursts of time given each one in each episode.

    Thank you for all these terrific resources.

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    1. Ruth,

      Yes, S1 is excellent… I’m particularly impressed by the cinematography of Episode 1. S2 has slipped a little in its tightness I think, so let’s hope S3 will keep up the quality. Have you watched Lost Empires? Colin Firth was just 25-26 yrs old. Even at that time he’d shown he could be a leading man. But only till now is he being acknowledged as such. Thanks for stopping by… I always look forward to your sharing!

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  9. I have in fact seen both The Remains of the Day and Easy Virtue. Wow! I do still have the first series of Downton to watch on DVD, however – must get to it!

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    1. litlove,

      That would make one excellent summer watch, S1 of DA. I’m sure you’ll thoroughly enjoy it. Remains of the Day: book is better despite my being a Merchant Ivory fan. Sad to see Christopher Reeves in it. And Easy Virtue… light, frothy treat any time.

      Also, I feel Brideshead Revisited is like a lavish, mega version of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, thematically… choosing God over man at the end of a torrid love affair. What do you think?

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  10. I read Brideshead Revisited several years ago, but you sure got my attention by saying the audiobook read by Jeremy Irons is the best audio ever. It’s high time for a reread, so I’ll definitely go that route. It doesn’t seem to be available though audible.com yet, but I’ll keep checking.

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    1. JoAnn,

      You know Jeremy Irons played the narrator Charles Ryder in the BBC TV series, which is excellent. With that role, I think it’s only natural for him to continue on with the recording of this audiobook. I borrowed the 10 CD unabridged recording from the public library. Maybe you can find it in your local library as well. I listened to it while driving. I’m thinking of writing a review of it in the coming Audiobook Week.

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      1. Arti – My library does have a copy, thanks for the suggestion. I’ve gotten so used to audible.com that I rarely think of my library for audiobooks any more. I do hope you decided to write a review for Audiobook Week.

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    1. Pamela,

      Yes, I’ve been reading your interesting Downton culinary blog for some time and your tweets. Have really enjoyed them. As you are aware, Arti here at Ripple Effects is another Downton fan, so you might find Downton related posts every now and then. Here I’m just offering some food for thought. 😉 Thanks for following.

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