And so Lady Sybil has kicked her finely chiselled, if so wannabe revolutionary, bucket at the tender age of 24 years, and Sir Julian Fellowes is today the most hated man by the women of the Country. I dare to say that if yesterday it had been made known that he has killed in real life, he would still have been hated for that less than for the loss of perhaps the most uncontroversially loved character of the probably most popular TV show on the planet. I would say that the ITV fat cats have guts, but I rather suspect Jessica Brown Findlay wanted to do something else instead, or was afraid of being typecast.
Be it as it may, the monstrous popularity of this TV show (excellent in part but if you ask me rather risible in others) is a living demonstration of how a phenomenon can change some habits, and let people think. I have read the UK consumption of port wine has sharply increased because of the copious amounts drunk on the series; I do not make any effort to believe that in times when even billionaires think nothing of going around in jeans, many people yearn after elegance, etiquette, proper things to do and to say, and a certain way of seeing life. It now appears Savile Row tailors are extremely grateful to the series, too.
What does this say to us? That TV series may change people. If not permanently, at least in the sense of letting them think, which Downton Abbey certainly does. Up to a point.
Sir Julian Fellows is, we are told, a rather conservative chap (I do not mean “Cameron” conservative, I mean real conservative). It is also said of him he is a Catholic, and not a wishy-washy one (I cannot check this, but to me you can’t be conservative in politics and trendy in your Catholicism; it just doesn’t square).
We notice this in several streaks and traits of the series: the only (thank God) homosexual among the main characters is the cynical baddie, and the other like him are was not better than he: nothing of your BBC “inclusiveness” here. Furthermore, rich people are depicted as having some amiable foible (Maggie Smith should get a monument) but as in the end altogether nice, and not at all exploitative; to the point that Tom, the wannabe revolutionary, looks very much like a childish idiot. Honour, scruple, decency, and valour are written very large. If you ask me, one of the reasons of Downton Abbey’s success (besides the wonderful setting, and the largely very good actors) is exactly this: the yearning after a world imbued in values that are not praised and set as an example anymore, and still are what people aspire to.
All this, I think, the producers perceive very well, and ITV not being anything similar to the BBC they have let the series run without any serious demand of politically correct insertions (think “history boys”; the shameless raping of the latest “Brideshead revisited”; the lesbian undertones in “Little Dorritt”; the massive homo propaganda in “The best exotic Marigold Hotel”; all produced or co-produced by the BBC) for now almost three years.
But then I think: is this not a huge lost occasion? Did Sir Julian Fellowes not have the standing to demand the inclusion of specifically Catholic – or at least conservative – themes? How easy would it have been to show a society where abortion and sodomy are simply inconceivable, and divorce barely thinkable? And if we want to be really shameless, what about a bit of Catholic propaganda here and there? It would not be less realistic than the one-night-stand of the heiress, the resurrected cousin, or the wise and prudent family head betting the farm on one Canadian railway company, over the head of his trustees to boot. And I spare you the young lady running away with the chauffeur only because the corpse is, so to speak, still warm.
Instead, the only Catholic we have is a mad Irishman with the maturity of a sixteen year old marijuana-fan, and of all the fiancées and husbands (real and potential; alive and dead; free and prisoner) not one has been depicted as a positive example of the True Faith. I wish Sir Julian would have insisted for more Catholicism and, if this partout does not go, a more clearly social conservative message, which would have been perfectly in touch with the times and the general tone of the series.
Alas, as it is we have the above mentioned wonderful setting, with less and less plausible characters basically changing personality according to the necessity of the script; and worse of all, without the robust injection of Catholicism which would have been so welcome and, I think, so eminently feasible.
As a consolation, let us enjoy some minutes of Maggie Smith…