Life after Downton: A Survival Guide

Highclere Castle
Highclere Castle, the location where Downton Abbey has been filmed – Creative Commons (JB+UK_Planet)

If you’re like me, you emerged from the Christmas special that served as the final episode of the third series of Downton Abbey with two questions:

1. What kind of a tacked-on, half-baked ending was THAT?!?! I’ll never watch again! (aloud)

2. When does the next series start? (unspoken)

Answers:

1. It’s Christmas show tradition, says Downton abbot Julian Fellowes.

2. Presumably January 2014 for those of us on this side of The Pond.

So what are we disgruntled/addicted fans to do for the next ten months? Let me suggest a few movies and TV series to pass the time just a bit less slowly:

Gosford Park

A costume drama/murder mystery set in interwar England and featuring the upper classes and their servants? Downton fans might not appreciate the Altman-izations, but the writer should be familiar. And look, it’s the Dowager Countess!

Other appearances by Downton cast members

Maggie Smith has the most impressive résumé (go back to 1969’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to see her Oscar-winning turn as a schoolteacher with a taste for fascism), but the other residents of Downton Abbey have inhabited other memorable roles as well:

  • Anna as a Channel Islander who falls for a German soldier in the WWII miniseries Island at War (2004)
  • Her soulmate Bates as Irish nationalist leader Michael Collins in both the 2001 miniseries Rebel Heart and the 2005 film Allegiance
  • The latter is about a meeting between Collins and Winston Churchill — played in this episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles by none other than Lord Fellowes himself
  • Carson as the Engine Driver in a 2006 live action version of The Wind in the Willows
  • Cousin Isobel co-starring with her then-husband, the older Bilbo Baggins, as half-foot tall humans in The Borrowers (a 1993 family series from the BBC)
  • And Lord Grantham as Pontius Pilate (!) in a 2010 Canadian miniseries version of Ben Hur

Remains of the Day

Ever wondered what Downton Abbey would have been like if Hannibal Lecter had played Carson, Nanny McPhee had played Mrs Hughes, and their unrequited love was at the center of the script? Throw in a dash of Nazi collaboration, Superman as a wealthy American, and Hugh Grant as, well, Hugh Grant, and you’ve got yourself a not-quite-great Merchant-Ivory costume drama. (For a better one with a Downton connection, see Maggie Smith in A Room with a View.)

Brideshead Revisited (1981 version)

Downton Abbey is entertainment,” observed one critic earlier this month in The Atlantic. “Its illustrious predecessor in television mega-success about the English upper class, Brideshead Revisited, is art.”

Downton parodies

Seemingly innumerable, but here are three of my favorites:

  • Breaking Abbey, the (somewhat vulgar) mash-up of Downton and Breaking Bad on The Colbert Report
  • Downton Sixbeyfour episodes and counting from Jimmy Fallon et al.
  • Upside Downton Abbey, from Sesame Street (muppet Dowager Countess is strikingly similar to human Dowager Countess!)

Sherlock

An even longer and more painful wait until it resumes, but… If you agree with historian Simon Schama that Downton “serves up a steaming, silvered tureen of snobbery” and continues a British tradition of “servicing the instincts of cultural necrophilia,” and you’ve somehow missed my earlier paeans to Sherlock, then you’ll want to invest a few hours in this impossibly entertaining series, which is anything but nostalgic for the past and cares nothing for the proprieties of social class.


2 thoughts on “Life after Downton: A Survival Guide

  1. Some more recommendations from a colleague of mine cowering behind a request for anonymity lest the world discover how dearly s/he loves costume/historical drama:
    • Call the Midwife
    • Mr. Selfridge
    • The Spies of Warsaw
    • Ripper Street
    • The BBC’s new revival of the Father Brown mysteries

    Of these, I’ve only seen Call the Midwife (and was underwhelmed, though it captures an undeniably interesting, little-known-to-Americans slice of post-WWII British life), but am exceedingly excited to see anything from Alan Furst come to TV. (See https://pietistschoolman.com/tag/alan-furst.)

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