Downton Abbey, past & present

As the gates open for another series, David Thomas can’t help noticing a paradox:

Downton is presented as escapist fantasy. Yet its success coincides with the precise moment when the real world is reverting to the social order that the show depicts… Struck by this parallel, I had the idea of writing a modern Downton, playing on all the same narrative and voyeurist strings, but starting in 2012, rather than 1912. Yet my agent and publishers swiftly disabused me. It wouldn’t work, they said. Everyone would hate the rich too much. They wouldn’t love them the way they love the Crawley clan…

In the hands of a more daring writer, Downton Abbey would use a story about the past to make a commentary about the present. But Julian Fellowes, who seems to possesses the crashing snobbery of a man who knows that he’s not really all that smart, has no interest in irony or subtext. Downton is precisely what it claims to be: a celebration of privilege. The complexity lies in the viewers, loving the fiction of the past at the very same time that they fear and resent the truth of the present.

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