The sixth and final season of award-winning costume drama, Downton Abbey, has come and gone. For those of us following the adventures of the Crawley family, Sunday nights have become a bit of a lonely affair. Cast adrift and clutching our teacups, we must now sit back and wait for writer Julian Fellowes to pen a follow-up motion picture. (This does appear to be happening.) As “stay calm and carry on” is the order of the day, here are a few options to entertain us while we wait. All are available at the Cedar Rapids Public Library.
THE BUCCANEERS (1995): This BBC mini-series is based on the Edith Wharton novel of the same name. Four American girls of the 1870’s travel to England to participate in the London season. Their goal: to marry into the British aristocracy. The story portrays an era in which mutually-beneficial matches were often made between nouveau-riche American girls and cash-poor heirs to a British title. The women find husbands, the men find money to maintain their grand estates, but is anyone happy? The Buccaneers attempts to answer that question.
GOSFORD PARK (2001): Fast forward to the 1930’s and we find ourselves at a country estate for a weekend shooting party. A murder has occurred and a half-hearted investigation is underway. We soon discover that there are long-held secrets abound and some are not who they seem. This is another Julian Fellowes creation and a clear precursor to Downton Abbey. Two Downton regulars show up in the cast: Maggie Smith plays the Countess of Trentham, deliciously haughty and vaguely disapproving, and Jeremy Swift plays a nervous butler much like his Downton character, Spratt.
MANOR HOUSE (2002): Welcome to reality television, Edwardian-style. Nineteen modern day Brits are asked to take on the roles of the aristocracy and their servants in an Edwardian-era country manor. Each member of the cast is given a rule book which informs them of their duties and how to conduct themselves during their three-month stay. An emergency room physician is transformed into the lady of the house; an architect becomes a butler, and so on.
As the days of yore are brought to life, we begin to see the chinks in the armor. While the lord of the manor takes to his role with great gusto and weeps on the day he must abandon his life of privilege, the household goes through three scullery maids before they find someone willing to stay and wash pans in the basement for 16 hours a day. What finally entices a scullery maid to stay? A romance with the hall boy, of course. (A relationship which would have resulted in her termination in Edwardian times.) Manor House allows you to pull back the curtains and view life in an era that looked so very pretty from the outside, but was much more complex within.
As the Dowager Countess of Grantham once said, “If I were to search for logic, I would not look for it among the English upper class.” Perhaps, but the grandeur in which they lived lends itself to a spiffing story. It was an era that had to end, but will always be a wonder to visit. Cheers!