Friday, 17 October 2014

Downton Abbey

Oh, please someone, make it stop. Julian Fellowes, you may now be in the House of Lords, but you are never going to be a Lord of the Manor or have your own footman, so please, PLEASE, take your wish-fulfilment fantasies out of our lives and leave us all in peace. There, I've said it. Even though I haven't officially watched Downton Abbey since they killed off Matthew, I can't believe ITV is still milking it quite so pathetically. It was once reasonably entertaining, then it sank to mildly diverting, and now it's just got plain silly. I for one cannot wait until the property is either burned down by an angry tenant farmer, bombed to smithereens in the Second World War, or sold off to the National Trust.

I caught some of an episode on Sunday, purely by accident. I couldn't work my friend's Sky remote properly, right? And that's the story I'm sticking to. They made me do it, mister. Honest. This is Season Five. It is ten years since the start of Series One. However, nobody looks any older (although Lady Mary is now paler than a circus clown and skinnier than the proverbial rake). And nothing really has changed, apart from more characters having sex with people they shouldn't. The Earl of Grantham is still under the illusion that everybody in the village loves him, his family and his estate. Occasionally some firebrand socialist is allowed to shout at dinner, but Lord G still has the authority to throw them out. Even though 1920s dresses are surely much less fiddly than Edwardian gowns, the Crawleys still can't put their own clothes on or brush their own hair. Mrs Patmore has resisted every new-fangled kitchen gadget on the market, and still prepares dinner as though it is a banquet in a medieval castle, with the butlers doubling as jesters. Daisy is still only allowed to do the washing up. And for some reason (her acerbic one-liners being the only good thing in the script, probably), the Dowager Countess still hasn't died of old age.

There are ridiculous numbers of characters, split across upstairs and downstairs, and ridiculous numbers of subplots. But it is hardly going to be the great ensemble piece of Fellowes' Oscar-winning Gosford Park without the late, great Robert Altman at the helm. Downton's secrets are so obvious they are screaming out from the screen. Didn't anybody notice Lady Edith having a baby? Did the family raising it think the stork brought it? Is Alfred Hitchcock supposed to have named his most famous psychopath after a murderous butler? The linguistic and factual inaccuracies continue (unintentional pun) unabated: characters "get shafted" while driving cars yet to be designed past TV aerials, UPVC conservatories, double-yellow lines, and get home to listen to music that hasn't been composed yet. Fellowes would, though, apparently describe me as "socially insecure" for pointing out that he hasn't learned to Google things properly.

It's supposed to be set in Yorkshire, as characters regularly wander off to Easingwold, Ripon and the Ainsty Hunt, but it isn't filmed anywhere near. Julian Fellowes clearly has bad memories of his schooldays at Ampleforth so won't venture north of Oxford. Apparently he wanted Gosford Park to be filmed at Highclere and wasn't allowed, so he stamped his foot and demanded it was used for Downton instead. But the servants are at least all made to speak with the official television Bad. Generic. Northern. Accent. Which is just as well as otherwise, from the scenery and weather in the background, you'd never guess they were meant to be in Yorkshire at all.

This is a genuine Yorkshire stately home,
but ironically it's been rather overused for Evelyn Waugh novels set in Wiltshire
Now, unlike the Crawleys, I properly live in Yorkshire, although my estate is a somewhat more modest one. But thanks to National Trust and Historic Houses membership, I get to nose round Yorkshire's castles and manor houses on a regular basis. Being perpetually in the company of a four-year-old child, I am especially familiar with their adventure playgrounds, hide-and-seek topiaries, cafes, miniature railways, fountains, ice-cream vans, opportunities to see Santa and summer exhibitions of Axel Scheffler drawings. As far as I am aware, Downton Abbey doesn't have any of these. Yet.

Newby Hall near Ripon,
 which Tour de France sports commentators claimed was Castle Howard
As for travelling anywhere near the world of Downton Abbey, I once stood next to Dan Stevens (who played Matthew) at the W7 bus stop outside Hornsey Town Hall in Crouch End. I have walked past the Peter Pan statue in Hyde Park, where Lady Mary dumped her latest beau on Sunday night, numerous times. I have nearly fallen (but not been pushed) under a bus in Piccadilly Circus (bad wine at an office Christmas party). And from now on, that's as near as I will care to go. Please, someone, make Julian Fellowes stop. Not in a murderous Bates kind of way. Just take his pen and his ITV contract away.

Nunnington Hall, near Helmsley.
Cheeky peacocks and miniature rooms.

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