Dear friends and readers,
Also the series begun here: A Crowded Canvas
For this morning, first, I acquired the scrumptiously produced book, The World of Downton Abbey, a work of careful filial piety, by Jessica Fellowes (doubtless she works in publishing in the UK and has been making a book this way). The quality of the paper is so expensive, fine grained, heavy that the colors of the photographs are intensely alluring in their subtlety. The book opens with a exegesis by Fellowes himself: how he came to do the program. A white-washed version but true to an extent. Features usually are. The prompt for the mini-series was Gosford Park. He is filled with the fantasy of how much has been lost when this earlier world was lost and how comfortable people were in “their places.”
Much of the opening of the book is filled with hard information about the grinding life of servants in such a world — accompanied by beautiful stills from the series and apt quotations (well-chosen) as well as little framed boxes of photos and information about real servants, telling the kind of outward facts of the lives that are publicly disseminated.
They are generous with the photographs. No doubles. With the emphasis on the women. So (to begin with our central young exemplary heroines), this is the only one of Joanne Froggart as Anna Smith in just this characteristic mode of alert intense and obedient (on the ready for work) Anna Smith:
And this the only one of Michelle Dockery as quietly deeply sensual (and of course anorexically thin, the image of frailness women must follow to be heroines in movies today) Lady Mary Grantham, here in a double fold, turning to her sisters in the drawing room:
Well, to continue from Sylvia:
The second couple on The Making of Downton Abbey (after Maggie Smith in her real life or non-costume clothes and Penelope Wilton ditto) are Phyllis Logan dressed as Mrs [Elsie we learn in the book's cast list] Hughes and using the Scots working class accent slightly moderated and modulated she uses for the series, and Brendon Coyle as Mr [John] Bates ditto. Both in costume.
I noticed that in all the pairs afterward the initial dames the actors were in costumes and those playing the working or downstairs character kept their working class accents.
The series is so clever. The pairs are presented as natural but in the presentation the upstairs people are allowed their natural non-working accents and the downstairs people offer the versions of working class they have devised for the character in the show.
Who is paired is telling too. Mr Bates is not with Anna Smith — he is in 2012 terms too old for her and might just disquiet the viewer who is not thinking — as after all three minutes thought reminds us they are actors and not lovers at all.
As I’ve learned over the years the BBC makes the director the third important person in doing a mini-series. The central presiding controller is the script writer, Fellowes, and with him or her the producer, here Gareth Neames for both seasons. These two hire the director or various directors which is what we’ve got here.
The director for the most episodes of the first season said this: he shoots upstairs differently than downstairs. Upstairs he uses classic shots, much medium shots, still, symmetrical, the old stage type; far deep shots occasionally. For downstairs it’s hand-held cameras, and the latest in close-ups, zooms, quick and non-dignified.
The class and gender messages never cease you see.
So why do I watch these things — buy such books, want to write a book on the Jane Austen subgenre of them. Well, like I said on facebook to friends there this morning:
I know it’s delusional but I feel less lonely after watching a mini-series costume drama. Two people “liked” that utterance. A third wrote “I think it is the sense of entering a different world….”, to which I replied: Hmmn. It seems to me that is our world in disguise. When I watch Downton Abbey (as that’s one we may all remember know, all share), Daisy, for example I’m reminded of someone in an office who is the last hired and the youngest. That person will become dogs-body and do all the daily tasks for everyone else. Each of the characters reminds me of a type of person or a role in life; the second season now provides that for Thomas, Sarah Obrien (I will not insult her by not using her first name), and Lady Edith Grantham as the first season did not.
For people who value grace, gravity (a grave tone, gravitas) slowness, careful thought, it substitutes for the sense of community deliberately reinforced and fostered by the control of public media by wealthy and powerful groups who will show no communities but small groups of friends or family life and insist on people as utter individuals and thinking no way else since the 1950s. (Compare a pre-1950s Henry Fonda film.)
Mini-series done with full soap opera aesthetics relieve our enforced disconnectedness — in the US here also the way actual spaces in cities are nowadays set up and built upon, to exclude, stigmatize, separate, make it hard or expensive to get from one place to another, as there is so little public transportation outside a few major older cities.