Like many folks in the US, I have come to love what I consider the British invasion of Downton Abbey. The time period and the money are all very interesting, but it’s the characters that make the movie work. Each of them is complex with various levels of depth and interests. They each have touches of human failings and human brilliance. Through those faults and strengths, we can learn all kinds of things. Here are a few things I’ve learned. *This piece was written after the 2/15/15 episode but before the 2/22/15 episode, which I haven’t seen, yet.
1.) If you like drama, then tell a lie.
There are at least two choices when deciding what kind of lie to tell. There is the lie of commission where an untruth is told and passed off as a truth. Or there is the lie of omission where truths are simply left unsaid.
Through one big lie of omission on Edith’s part, several lies of both omission and comission have now sprung up. Family members began lying to one another by keeping secrets, all in the effort to conceal Edith’s one big lie. Then, spouses outside of the family began lying to one another by telling outright falsehoods.
This certainly makes for juicy TV. As a writer, I fully understand all stories need conflict, and lying is the surest way to create one. But that particular truth doesn’t stop at the page or the screen. You want a one way ticket to the Drama Queen castle? Tell a lie.
2.) Good breeding and good ideas do not make up for bad manners.
The times of the roaring twenties are showing up at the Downton Abbey dinner table. Already, during this season, Robert has dismissed from the dinner table two people on two separate occasions for bad manners. We’ve all been in that position, where we don’t agree with a something being said or we’re passionate about a specific idea. Hopefully, almost a century later, we’ve figured out there’s a time and a place for those conversations, and someone else’s dinner table is usually not the time or the place. I’ve learned that sometimes, it’s just better to keep my mouth shut.
3.) For better or worse, people do change. And they can change again and again. It’s in our nature.
We watched Lady Mary soften over the years after she met and married Matthew. The transformation was a lovely unfolding. I even began to like Lady Mary. Now, without him, we’ve seen her change back into the emotionally immature and cold woman she was before she met Matthew. Watching people shrink is hard, but I bet we’ve all witnessed it at some point in our lives.
Watching people expand is glorious. Thomas is, once again, beginning to expand. Just when I’m ready to give up on him, he transforms himself. This isn’t the first time this has happened, but with the influence of Miss Baxter’s unconditional love, I hope he’ll continue to grow towards goodness. This leads me to my next Downton Abbey lesson.
4.) Love has lots of angles, and Miss Baxter seems to know them well.
That doesn’t mean love has made her life a garden path. She has dealt with some very hard things, but she takes responsibility for her part in them. Then, she meets each of these challenges with humility, patience, grace, and love. This gives her a quiet dignity, even in the face of misunderstanding and hostility. I admire her. I want to be more like her.
5.) Not everyone gets their just desserts, or at least not that we are privileged to witness.
Remember O’Brien? She was mean, vindictive, and cruel. Then she marched off into the sunset to the job of her dreams. Yeah. That happens. It’s one of the hardest lessons to learn when we’ve been hurt by someone. But part of our work is to learn to let those things go and forgive anyway.
6.) Dogs are sometimes allowed on the furniture.
When Robert came into Cora’s room carrying Isis, the look on his face and the tenderness of Cora in response to the coming loss of their beloved pet made me burst into tears. Big. Fat. Tears. My own sweet Ace is aging, and this beautiful scene helped me consider softening some of the rules we have around here regarding the furniture. I can keep the dog hair to a minimum, but I need to maximize my time with him. That might mean some furniture time.
I am an unabashed Downton Abbey fan. Some folks claim it’s nothing more than a nighttime soap opera, but I would disagree. The writing is clever. The characters have various levels of depth and shades of experiences. They shrink and expand, and they play off one another in that process. At the end of the day, each of them is motivated by something that links them back to what they see as their survival. It’s just great TV about a family who isn’t anything like us, and like us in every way.