Remarks and summary provided by Joanne Naegele, psychoanalyst.
To have an Analytic Flicks discussion on Downton Abbey on October 20, 2019 at the Cleveland Psychoanalytic Center, Sunday evening, from 7:30PM-9PM was too unique of an opportunity to pass up. And I wasn’t alone in this opinion. Participants came from far and wide, Avon Lake, Bay Village, Highland Heights and well as from Cleveland Heights and Shaker. There were 8 of us. Some, as a group, had watched every episode of Downton Abby in the six-year weekly TV show. The last episode was in 2015, four years ago. Others had “binge watched” a year or two of the episodes before going to the 2019 movie. We all agreed. It was like “visiting family.”
“The Royals Are Coming! The Royals Are Coming! Get ready for more raised eyebrows and pursed lips as Downton Abbey arrives.” So, the movie reviewer, Jeannette Catsoulis, (NYTimes, Sept. 20, 2019) introduced the film. The TV series was created by Brian Percival. The screenplay writer is Julian Fellowes. The director of the movie is Michael Engler. The film runs 123 minutes.
I saw the movie on opening night at the Cedar Lee Theater. At that showing, people in the audience were dressed as if the year was 1927. Some wore “dresses dripping with beads and fringe, and hats that resembled sequined helmets.” Some men were in herringbone-tweed formal suits with ties, in a throwback to the 1920’s. It was great fun!
What is the appeal? You are taken through London in 1927, via the delivery of a letter hand-stamped by the king, traveling by letter-carrier, by train, by the Royal Mail delivery car to Downton Abbey. It is thrilling to see. The cars! The countryside! The Castles! The pageantry of it all!
To have “Downton Abbey” as a movie is to get a glimpse of and to be re-immersed in the “warm bath of privilege.” There is a fantasy of a “benign aristocracy, grateful underlings and a ‘noblesse oblige.’” But what fun they have in this film, and the audience did too, laughing, cheering, applauding at certain parts. We were glad to see the characters again. Maggie Smith was back as Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. She was given some of the best lines, some real “zingers,” such as, “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.” In the movie she is determined in her scheming to secure a family inheritance. In the plot, Maggie Smith has a long-standing beef with Lady Maud Bagshaw, (Imelda Staunton), one of the queen’s ladies in waiting. “Harry Potter” followers recognized the actress as Hogwarts Headmistress Delores Umbridge. The Butler, Mr. Carson, (Jim Carter), returns, entirely as “himself” as he struts down the long walk to the castle. “You can count on me, M’Lady.” He is asked to come out of retirement for a very special occasion, to “oversee the polishing of every silver fork,” since the new butler, Mr. Barrow (Rob James-Collier) is deemed too inexperienced for the job. And what is the occasion? As the plot of the movie reveals, “Excitement is high at Downton Abbey when the Crawley family learns that King George V and Queen Mary are coming to visit.” The year is 1927. There will be a lavish meal, a fancy parade, and a grand ball in honor of King George and Queen Mary. It is an Upstairs/Downstairs peek into aristocracy. (We are all voyeurs, looking for a glimpse into the intimacies and sexual lives of others…) Upstairs is Robert Crawley, the Earl of Granthem (Hugh Bonneville) and his wife, Cora Crawley, the Countess of Granthem (Elizabeth McGovern). In the movie Lady Cora dispenses her usual calming looks and soothing advice, still oblivious to her husband’s seeming preference for the company of the dog. The Crawleys’ two daughters are present, Lady Mary (Michele Dockery) and Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael.)
When the royal household staff arrives, the Downton servants (The Downstairs people) are informed that the king and queen travel with their own chefs and attendants—and their help will not be needed. This sets the stage for revolt, an impromptu scheme and other shenanigans. Mrs. Patmore, the cook, (Lesley Nicol) is there and straight-speaking, spontaneous Daisy is with Mrs. Patmore in the kitchen. Daisy is engaged to Andy, a butler, but Daisy is postponing the date of their marriage. The valet Mr. Bates is back (Brendan Coyle) with his wife, Lady’s maid Anna (Joanne Froggatt.) They are both up to real mischief and have a sharp eye for what goes on.
There are some new faces in the movie, including Tuppence Middleton, whose character is a love interest of the Crawley’s son-in law, the handsome widower, Tom Branson, played by Allen Leech.
In the discussion of the movie, the point was made that it was only a matter of time before this way of life is unsustainable. In actuality, for centuries British aristocrats had hosted kings and queens in their extravagant homes. Queen Elizabeth II has even visited Highclere Castle, the setting for “Downton.” There is a history to this. George V came to the throne in 1910, and the custom of the traveling monarch enjoyed a renaissance. From the Middle Ages to modern times, one thing stayed constant. If the King and Queen wanted to stop in, it’s impossible to say no. As in the “Downton” movie it came at great expense, and preparation would upend the family’s life as the house became, for a short time, the seat of the royal court. (See NYTimes article, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, Film, page 13 for more.)
We are all voyeurs. Everyone agreed that there is a pleasure in being a voyeur, especially in peeking into the more intimate life of “The Royals.” There are secrets, revealed in the ending. Romance is brewing, with Lady Maud Bagshaw’s real daughter from the romance of her life with Jack Smith, Lucy Smith. She has caught the eye of the handsome widower, Tom Branson. There is an attempted assassination of King George which is foiled and never makes the news. Those who had watched every episode filled the rest of us in on the “backstories,” that is, what had happened to the family members in past episodes. This enriched understanding the movie.
That two homosexuals could be open (relatively) and happy about it, in 1927, brought interesting discussion. Even though Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for his homosexuality in 1895, and his life was ruined, it wasn’t until 1967 that homosexuality was decriminalized in Britain & Wales. Not everyone seemed to realize that this was a punishable crime, not so long ago.
We ended the discussion after 80 minutes, hoping there would be another film! If you are reading this blog, please share your ideas.
Joanne Naegele, 10/27/19