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: