Cinema and Media Studies Downton Abbey
by
Katherine Byrne
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0321

Introduction

Certainly the most successful period drama, indeed perhaps the most popular television show, of the 21st century, British series Downton Abbey (2010–2015) has become a force to be reckoned with in popular culture. It borrows the format of popular 1970s series Upstairs Downstairs (ITV), following the lives of a fictional Edwardian family and the servants who look after them in the eponymous house. Season 1 opens in 1912 with the sinking of the Titanic, in which the heir to Downton is lost: the plot then follows the family coming to terms with the arrival of the next in line, a middle-class lawyer with a very different view of life from their own. The next five seasons—there are six in total—follow the inhabitants as they cope with the change the 20th century brings, including the First World War; the woman’s movement, which liberates some of the female characters; and the changes in taxation and society, which make the estate increasingly difficult to maintain and run. The last episode is set in 1925, and a film based on the show is due out in 2019. The series was loved by fans both in the United Kingdom and the United States, but received very mixed critical reception. Critics on the left criticized the show for its glossy and nostalgic view of the past, and of interclass relations, linking its ideology to the politics of its writer, Conservative peer Julian Fellowes. Others praised its positive view of human nature and escapist charm, at a time when austerity was making itself felt in the United Kingdom. Either way, it undoubtedly rekindled viewers’ appetite for period drama on a scale not seen since the 1970s, and has also stirred up debate about the part played by television in representing, accessing, and understanding the past.

Class, Nostalgia, and Ideology

Most academic responses to Downton appear as individual articles or book chapters: there is only one edited collection, Stoddart 2018, and one journal special edition, Taddeo and Geraghty 2019, concentrating solely on the show, and no monograph devoted entirely to it as yet. Many of these works are interested in Downton’s politics and ideology, in particular its representation of English national identity, and its view of history. A strand of Downton criticism, like Byrne 2013, Byrne 2015, and Copelman 2019, is primarily interested in the values of the show, positioning it in relation to austerity: Baena and Byker 2015 considers its use of nostalgia, and Chapman 2014, Magee 2018, and Gullace 2019 focus on its production values and its reworking and revitalizing of the period drama genre. Stoddart 2018 has the most wide-ranging collection of essays focused on the show, and Leggott and Taddeo 2015 reveals its importance as an influence for other contemporary period dramas.

  • Baena, Rosalía, and Christa Byker. “Dialects of Nostalgia: Downton Abbey and English Identity.” National Identities 17.3 (2015): 259–269.

    DOI: 10.1080/14608944.2014.942262Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article locates Downton Abbey as an example of what it describes as “reflective nostalgia,” and gives an overview of some key writings on nostalgia and national identity and suggests how they can be applied to the show.

    Find this resource:

    • Byrne, Katherine. “Adapting Heritage: Class and Conservatism in Downton Abbey.” Rethinking History 18.3 (2013): 311–327.

      DOI: 10.1080/13642529.2013.811811Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      One of the first academic articles to respond to the early success of Downton Abbey, this essay argues that the show can be considered “post-post-heritage,” in other words a return to the values Higson and others identified with heritage drama back in the 1980s. Byrne examines the way the Abbey functions as a state in microcosm, and how it puts forward a conservative ideology where hierarchy is accepted and obedience is rewarded.

      Find this resource:

      • Byrne, Katherine. Edwardians on Screen: From Downton Abbey to Parade’s End. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2015.

        DOI: 10.1057/9781137467898Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

        This monograph examines the representation of the Edwardian era in popular culture, with Downton as a point of reference for the whole book. It has chapters on other period dramas considered sources for, or in dialogue with, Fellowes’s, including “Downton for grown-ups,” Parade’s End (2012). The chapter which focuses on Downton contains some material from Byrne 2013, but also considers the show’s representation of WW1, and its treatment of the 1911 Insurance Act.

        Find this resource:

        • Chapman, James. “Downton Abbey: Reinventing the British Costume Drama.” In British Television Drama. 2d ed. Edited by Jonathan Bignell and Stephen Lacey, 131–142. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Chapman’s essay discusses how the drama functions as “quality television,” writing about its production, popularity, and reception, and how it fits in with this tradition of British television. He also points out, however, that as “authored drama” it also has as much in common with the soap opera, and that the sense of intimacy and use of melodrama it borrows from that genre allow it to be more progressive than it might first appear.

          Find this resource:

          • Copelman, Dina. “Consuming Downton Abbey: The Commodification of Heritage and Nostalgia.” In Doing History in the Age of Downton Abbey. Edited by Julie Anne Taddeo and Christine Geraghty. Journal of British Cinema and Television 16.1 (January 2019): 61–77.

            DOI: 10.3366/jbctv.2019.0456Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

            Copelman builds on Hatherley 2016 (cited under Neohistorical and Memory Studies) to examine how Downton is a “cultural manifestation of neoliberal austerity,” encouraging the audience to come together as a community bonded by the ways they can consume the show.

            Find this resource:

            • Gullace, Nicoletta F. “A (Very) Open Elite: Downton Abbey, Historical Fiction and America’s Romance with the British Aristocracy.” In Doing History in the Age of Downton Abbey. Edited by Julie Anne Taddeo and Christine Geraghty. Journal of British Cinema and Television 16.1 (January 2019): 9–27.

              DOI: 10.3366/jbctv.2019.0453Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

              This essay argues that the show distracts the viewer with historically accurate sets, props, and costumes but that at its core its liberal policies are much more in line with modern value systems to create what Gullace calls “a habitable past.”

              Find this resource:

              • Leggott, James, and Julie Anne Taddeo, eds. Upstairs and Downstairs: British Costume Drama Television from The Forsyte Saga to Downton Abbey. London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2015.

                Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                This edited collection features essays on a wide range of period drama from the 1960s onward, including The Paradise, Call the Midwife, and Poldark, but Downton Abbey informs and provides the key point of reference for the whole book. There are several chapters specifically about the show, and others which provide useful comparisons and other relevant reading about the position of period drama more generally.

                Find this resource:

                • Magee, Gayle Sherwood. “Revisiting Gosford Park.” In Exploring Downton Abbey: Critical Essays. Edited by Scott F. Stoddart. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2018.

                  Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                  This considers how Fellowes’s first venture into heritage film evolved into—or indeed, contrasts with—Downton, and also examines the show’s soundtrack and use of music, a topic not covered in much detail by any other critic.

                  Find this resource:

                  • Stoddart, Scott F. Exploring Downton Abbey: Critical Essays. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2018.

                    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                    This extensive collection of fourteen essays on Downton covers a wide variety of approaches to the show. It is structured using the house itself as a conceit, with sections on the library covering masculinity, and so on. Such an approach—with no chapter numbers—is both entertaining and a little unwieldy, but the number and range of essays allow areas of the show neglected by other critics to be explored in detail here.

                    Find this resource:

                    • Taddeo, Julie Anne, and Christine Geraghty, eds. Doing History in the Age of Downton Abbey. Journal of British Cinema and Television 16.1 (January 2019).

                      Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                      This special journal issue is the only one of its kind to focus almost entirely on Downton, and brings up to date key issues surrounding historical interpretation of the show. Taddeo’s introduction reminds us of the way these kinds of period dramas divide historians: some have dismissed Downton, while this collection does an excellent job of convincing the reader that it is in fact an important and complex means of accessing and thinking about the past.

                      Find this resource:

                      Sexuality, Gender, and Bodies

                      Much scholarly interest has been paid to Downton’s gender politics and its often controversial representation of sexuality and damaged or disabled bodies. Brown 2015 considers Downton’s main gay character, Thomas Barrow, while Poulos Nesbitt 2018 and Taddeo 2019 are interested in the sex lives of the female characters. Schmidt 2015 looks at those characters’ extratextual existence via the erotic fan fiction the show has inspired. Kevers 2017 examines the way feminism has been represented—or exploited—by the show, and Byrne 2015 examines the much-debated rape plotline in season 4. O’Callaghan 2018 then considers the representation of disability and masculinity in Downton via the injuries of Mr Bates and Matthew Crawley.

                      • Brown, Lucy. “Homosexual Lives.” In Upstairs and Downstairs: British Costume Drama Television from The Forsyte Saga to Downton Abbey. Edited by James Leggott and Julie Anne Taddeo, 263–274. London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2015.

                        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                        Brown compares the character of Thomas Barrow in Downton with Alfred Harris in Upstairs Downstairs, and examines the representation of homosexuality, in the contexts of both the early 20th century and the 21st, in both shows.

                        Find this resource:

                        • Byrne, Katherine. “New Developments in Heritage.” In Upstairs and Downstairs: British Costume Drama Television from The Forsyte Saga to Downton Abbey. Edited by James Leggott and Julie Anne Taddeo, 177–190. London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2015.

                          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                          This chapter discusses the third and fourth seasons of Downton, examining how the originally escapist and feel-good show mutated at this point into a much darker worldview featuring unexpected death, rape, and other sexual plotlines which disturbed viewers.

                          Find this resource:

                          • Kevers, Laetitia. “Re-establishing Class Privilege: The Ideological Uses of Middle and Working-Class Female Characters in Downton Abbey.” Angelica: An International Journal of English Studies 26 (2017): 221–234.

                            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                            This paper uses an examination of the plotlines of four key female characters in Downton to examine the show’s politics. Isobel, Daisy, Sarah Bunting, and Gwen the housemaid can all be considered rebellious and/or protofeminist characters in that they in different ways challenge the status quo, but this paper argues that their inclusion in the show is not to be the voice of modernity in Downton, but rather to construct the upper classes who help them as progressive, tolerant, and sympathetic.

                            Find this resource:

                            • O’Callaghan, Claire. “Pride versus Prejudice.” In Conflicting Masculinities: Men in Television Period Drama. Edited by Katherine Byrne, James Leggott, and Julie Anne Taddeo, 187–205. London: IB Tauris, 2018.

                              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                              This considers the representation of disability in the show through a consideration of the injuries of Mr Bates and Matthew Crawley. She argues that by representation of the vulnerability and inadequacy of the disabled male body, this show fails to dispel common but problematic stereotypes about ableness: “the period drama always seems to reach the conclusion that able-bodied masculinity is superior to disabled masculinity” (p. 202).

                              Find this resource:

                              • Poulos Nesbitt, Jennifer. “There’s Always Something: Representing Race.” In Exploring Downton Abbey: Critical Essays. Edited by Scott F. Stoddart. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2018.

                                Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                This examines the show’s representation of characters who are not English, and in particular the sexual relationships the daughters of Downton have with characters from other nationalities.

                                Find this resource:

                                • Schmidt, Andrea. “The Imaginative Power of Downton Abbey Fan Fiction.” In Upstairs and Downstairs: British Costume Drama Television from The Forsyte Saga to Downton Abbey. Edited by James Leggott and Julie Anne Taddeo, 223–234. London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2015.

                                  Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                  This chapter explores fan responses to Downton, and the way online communities have gone beyond the quite conservative plots in the show to open up characters to expanded experiences, new erotic encounters, and/or same-sex relationships in their fan fiction.

                                  Find this resource:

                                  • Taddeo, Julie Anne. “Let’s Talk about Sex: Period Drama Histories for the Twenty-first Century.” In Doing History in the Age of Downton Abbey. Edited by Julie Anne Taddeo and Christine Geraghty. Journal of British Cinema and Television 16.1 (January 2019): 42–60.

                                    DOI: 10.3366/jbctv.2019.0455Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                    Here Taddeo examines the representation of female sexuality in recent period drama, discussing the ways Downton and other historical shows display women exploring their desires, but also dwelling on the often severe consequences of such indulgence.

                                    Find this resource:

                                    Downton at War

                                    Perhaps the aspect of the show which has been of the most interest to critics is its representation of WW1. Byrne, et al. 2018 is a collection which includes essays like Brown 2018 on the conscientious objector and Taddeo 2018 on the psychological cost of the war. Fitzgerald 2018 considers the crisis the conflict provokes amid the servant hall, and Meyer 2019 considers the accuracy and authenticity of Downton’s much-debated representation of the conflict.

                                    • Brown, Lucy. “A Minority of Men.” In Conflicting Masculinities: Men in Television Period Drama. Edited by Katherine Byrne, James Leggott, and Julie Anne Taddeo, 206–220. London: IB Tauris, 2018.

                                      Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                      This examines the figure of the conscientious objector in WW1, and his representation in Edwardian period drama, including Upstairs Downstairs, The Village, and Downton. Her brief Downton section concentrates on the character of Tom Branson, and argues that the show requires a political voice to speak against the War, but will not allow the plot to become too controversial or antinationalist.

                                      Find this resource:

                                      • Byrne, Katherine, James Leggott, and Julie Anne Taddeo, eds. Conflicting Masculinities: Men in Television Period Drama. London: IB Tauris, 2018.

                                        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                        As the title suggests, this collection concentrates on the male characters and the representation of masculinity in recent (21st-century) period dramas: within this, and over fourteen chapters, a range of topics connected with contemporary gender issues are covered. Warfare and conflict make up an important theme throughout, and the section on “Masculinities from World War 1 to the Cold War” includes some very useful work on Downton’s treatment of war.

                                        Find this resource:

                                        • Fitzgerald, Elizabeth. “War! What Are We Good For?” In Exploring Downton Abbey: Critical Essays. Edited by Scott F. Stoddart. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2018.

                                          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                          This examines the crisis WW1 produces in many of the characters in season 2 of Downton, and in particular considers the way the servants respond to their roles in a rapidly modernizing world.

                                          Find this resource:

                                          • Meyer, Jessica. “Matthew’s Legs and Thomas’s Hand: Watching Downton Abbey as a First World War Historian.” In Doing History in the Age of Downton Abbey. Edited by Julie Anne Taddeo and Christine Geraghty. Journal of British Cinema and Television 16.1 (January 2019): 78–93.

                                            DOI: 10.3366/jbctv.2019.0457Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                            Meyer examines the contribution Downton makes to our remembrance of, and attitude toward, the conflict, by examining three of its key war plotlines. She makes the important point that even when these plots can be accused of being historically inaccurate, they are usually authentic in a different sense, by being “emotionally accurate” or part of recognized cultural narratives about the war.

                                            Find this resource:

                                            • Taddeo, Julie Anne. “The War Is Done—Shut the Door on It!” In Conflicting Masculinities: Men in Television Period Drama. Edited by Katherine Byrne, James Leggott, and Julie Anne Taddeo, 165–186. London: IB Tauris, 2018.

                                              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                              This chapter explores troubled masculinity and WW1, examining the emotional cost of the War on the men of Downton (as well as in Mr Selfridge and Peaky Blinders): both those who fight at the Front and those who remain at home are psychologically damaged by the rigid gender expectations of the time.

                                              Find this resource:

                                              Heritage Studies

                                              Although written—long before Downton was conceived—about the period films of the 1980s (typified by though not confined to Merchant Ivory adaptations of E. M. Forster), heritage criticism primarily considers how historical drama responded to, or reflected, the values of the Thatcher government. The author of Higson 1993, although not the first to discuss “heritage,” is probably its best known of these critics. Such analysis, which was frequently critical of period drama, was controversial and has been challenged, modified, and evolved since, particularly via Monk 2002 and Sargeant 2000 but also in Higson’s own later work, Higson 2003. Other general “heritage”-related writings like Church Gibson 2000, Dave 2006, and those collected in Vincendeau 2001 are also important to consider in relation to Downton, which of course was first screened within a few months of the Conservative-led coalition taking office in 2010.

                                              • Church Gibson, Pamela. “Fewer Weddings and More Funerals: Changes in the Heritage Film.” In British Cinema in the 1990s. Edited by Robert Murphy, 124–138. London: British Film Institute, 2000.

                                                Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                Gibson gives an overview of the way historical films have changed in recent years, with reference to postmodern examples of the genre like Elizabeth (1998) and Wings of the Dove (1997). She concludes, in a way that anticipates Downton and Monk 2002, that “the genre is wider and more experimental and now has the element of pastiche” (p. 123).

                                                Find this resource:

                                                • Dave, Paul. Visions of England: Class and Culture in Contemporary Cinema. Oxford: Berg, 2006.

                                                  Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                  Dave’s examination of class in British film opens with a chapter on heritage and postheritage cinema, which is particularly useful, in a Downton context, for its insights into the performative nature of the English class system.

                                                  Find this resource:

                                                  • Higson, Andrew. “Representing the National Past: Nostalgia and Pastiche in the Heritage Film.” In British Cinema and Thatcherism: Fires Were Started. Edited by Lester D. Friedman, 109–129. London: University College London Press, 1993.

                                                    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                    This seminal essay by Higson is still a fundamental starting point for studies of period drama today. Higson makes important points about the sumptuous look and feel of period dramas, which celebrate British imperialism and the lifestyle of the upper classes—even as plots critique them. As a result, in these films as in Downton, “the past becomes once more unproblematic—a haven from the present.”

                                                    Find this resource:

                                                    • Higson, Andrew. English Heritage, English Cinema: Costume Drama since 1980. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

                                                      Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                      The book-length study in which Higson expands, refines, and modifies the ideas about heritage film outlined in his earlier writings. This book examines a number of key British costume dramas, and explores their complex and often contradictory politics and their relationship with Englishness and nostalgia.

                                                      Find this resource:

                                                      • Monk, Claire. “The British Heritage-Film Debate Revisited.” In British Historical Cinema. Edited by Claire Monk and Amy Sargeant, 176–198. London: Routledge, 2002.

                                                        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                        Monk’s classic “post-heritage” essay is a response to, and criticism of, Higson and other critics of the 1990s. She provides a useful overview of their arguments and a summary of the heritage film generally, but goes on to suggest that heritage criticism was a product of the polarized politics of its time, in which the British film industry came under attack from the Right. Her essay concludes with the point that the film industry changes according to changing times.

                                                        Find this resource:

                                                        • Sargeant, Amy. “Making and Selling Heritage Culture.” In British Cinema, Past and Present. Edited by Justine Ashby and Andrew Higson, 301–315. London: Routledge, 2000.

                                                          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                          An examination of the way historical film and television interact with the tourist industry in Britain, and how they use set and costume design to market the past—both very applicable to Downton.

                                                          Find this resource:

                                                          • Vincendeau, Ginette, ed. Film/Literature/Heritage. London: British Film Institute, 2001.

                                                            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                            A collection of key writings from throughout the 1990s, consisting of a mix of short essays, interviews, and film reviews, on a wide range of film adaptations. Among the most useful for Downton scholars is Richard Dyer’s important piece “Nice Young Men Who Sell Antiques: Gay Men in Heritage Cinema.” Here Dyer examines the ways heritage cinema locates “gays [as] belonging in what is handed down as cherishable from the past,” with points relevant for gay character Thomas in Downton.

                                                            Find this resource:

                                                            Neohistorical and Memory Studies

                                                            This section explores a growing field of study that examines our thinking about our response to the past, investigating how, why, and what our society remembers. Gathered here are works like de Groot 2016 and Munslow 2012, which explore alternative ways of accessing and understanding history—including nonacademic popular and public histories. This section also contains critiques of nostalgia like Boym 2001, Bramall 2013, Erll 2011, and Hatherley 2016, which examine the political and social implications of this movement, which has come to define our age as one constantly and mournfully seeking a manufactured past. Paris 1999 and Matless 1998 offer examinations of specific aspects of history represented in Downton: WW1 and the England landscape, respectively.

                                                            • Boym, Svetlana. The Future of Nostalgia. New York: Basic Books, 2001.

                                                              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                              One of the most influential of memory studies, this book explores the existence and history of nostalgia, from its identification as a condition akin to melancholia in the 17th century, to its use as a marketing tool in the Internet age. The book focuses on the effects of displacement and exile in Russia and Eastern Europe and does not discuss nostalgia on television, but nonetheless is a fundamental starting point for scholars of Downton who wish to understand the source of the drama’s universal, global appeal.

                                                              Find this resource:

                                                              • Bramall, Rebecca. The Cultural Politics of Austerity: Past and Present in Austere Times. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

                                                                DOI: 10.1057/9781137313812Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                This book examines the new meanings and use of “austerity,” following on from the banking collapse of 2007–2008 and the policies of the coalition government in Britain. It considers how cultural capital has been made out of these economic events and how society has drawn on times of deprivation in the past in order to create a narrative about British spirit in the present.

                                                                Find this resource:

                                                                • de Groot, Jerome. Consuming History: Historians and Heritage in Popular Culture. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 2016.

                                                                  Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                  An extremely influential study of the way history has become mainstream in contemporary society and has been embraced by popular culture. This book offers an examination of the use and representation of the past in myriad ways in a wide range of genres, from television comedy to advertising, to the nonfiction bestseller. In doing so it provides a frame of reference for the scholar, locating Downton as part of this movement of making popular and “public” the past.

                                                                  Find this resource:

                                                                  • Erll, A. Memory and Culture. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

                                                                    DOI: 10.1057/9780230321670Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                    An introduction to the growing field of memory studies, this provides a history and overview of this theory.

                                                                    Find this resource:

                                                                    • Hatherley, Owen. The Ministry of Nostalgia: Consuming Austerity. London: Verso Books, 2016.

                                                                      Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                      A much-quoted polemic which analyzes how collective nostalgia for austere periods of the British past has been exploited in order to produce a backward-looking present which ignores its own problems. Downton is mentioned by Hatherley as a typical example of this kind of consumption, as a show which invites us to admire working-class characters who accept their place in society.

                                                                      Find this resource:

                                                                      • Matless, David. Landscape and Englishness. London: Reaktion Books, 1998.

                                                                        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                        For a scholar interested in the way Downton presents and markets the English countryside—another important feature of the show’s success—this book is a helpful examination of the way landscape has been viewed culturally and politically throughout the 20th century. From post-WW1 “planner-preservationism” to the modern environmental movement, Matless considers how the countryside, and especially the country house, came to be viewed as an essential part of the English national identity.

                                                                        Find this resource:

                                                                        • Munslow, Alun. A History of History. New York: Routledge, 2012.

                                                                          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                          A challenge to traditional views of history, this postmodern examination of the subject subverts any notion of the past as a known, measurable, trustworthy, and stable entity. As a result, it reinforces the usefulness of texts like Downton by undermining the prioritizing of conventional, factual historical accounts.

                                                                          Find this resource:

                                                                          • Paris, Michael. “Enduring Heroes: British Feature Film and the First World War.” In The First World War and Popular Cinema. Edited by Michael Paris, 51–73. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999.

                                                                            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                            An examination of the way World War One was represented in British film, this gives an overview of how the conflict has been remembered and constructed culturally in the years since.

                                                                            Find this resource:

                                                                            Trade Books

                                                                            As popular, mainstream viewing, Downton has generated a number of publications designed for fans of the show. These vary from photography-heavy companions, of which Fellowes 2011 (which includes some personal musings on the show from Julian Fellowes) and Rowley 2013 are typical, to collections like Barkman and Arp 2015, which provide critical analysis of its approach and politics, but in a way made readable for the general public. Within the latter, Elvis 2015 and Walderzak 2015 are particularly helpful. There is, unsurprisingly, an emphasis throughout the official companions on the show’s attention to detail and striving for historical authenticity, and on the construction of Downton as a national treasure. Especially suggestive for scholars is the foreword to Rowley’s by producer Gareth Neame, who accounts for the popularity of the show by suggesting that people like “clearly defined precincts . . . [where] we all know our place” (Rowley 2013, p. 13). There is also an interesting, provocative dig at the BBC in the “behind the scripts” section of Rowley 2013: “ITV is the show’s natural home, Fellowes believes. There, he and Neame feel they are better able to present the house’s inhabitants as they envisage them, rather than getting mired in the social politics of a century ago as might be the case at a more ‘interventionist’ rival” (Rowley 2013, p. 16).

                                                                            • Barkman, Adam, and Robert Arp, eds. Downton Abbey and Philosophy: Thinking in That Manor. Chicago: Open Court, 2015.

                                                                              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                              Part of the Popular Culture and Philosophy series, this book of essays sets out to display how the show invites consideration of a range of philosophical principles and questions. This approach opens up some interesting readings of the show, but from a scholarly perspective, the flaw is its lack of detailed engagement with other critical material on Downton. While this is typical for trade, it does create issues for any student or academic wishing to use this as a secondary source.

                                                                              Find this resource:

                                                                              • Elvis, Lucy. “Topophilia; or, How We Got Hooked on Downton.” In Downton Abbey and Philosophy: Thinking in That Manor. Edited by Adam Barkman and Robert Arp, 129–138. Chicago: Open Court, 2015.

                                                                                Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                This chapter applies Bachelard’s ideas about space and the home to the Abbey. Examining the opening credits, Elvis argues that Downton’s popular appeal stems from the audience’s love of home and intimate spaces, which the show invites us to share.

                                                                                Find this resource:

                                                                                • Fellowes, Jessica. The World of Downton Abbey. Foreword by Julian Fellowes. London: Harper Collins, 2011.

                                                                                  Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                  The official companion to seasons 1 and 2, this book, written by Fellowes’s niece and with a foreword by Julian himself, provides some general social history of the period in which the show is set. It also tells the history of Highclere, and considers the show’s characters and some real-life figures who inspired them. Generally, the book is notable for its insight into Fellowes’s motivation for the show, in particular his nostalgic foreword, which mourns the passing of the English country house.

                                                                                  Find this resource:

                                                                                  • Rowley, Emma. Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey. Foreword by Gareth Neame. London: Harper Collins, 2013.

                                                                                    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                    Like Fellowes 2011, the first official companion, this is primarily written for fans of the show. It is perhaps more academically useful, however, for its information on the production and filming of Downton Abbey. The first section of the book concentrates on locations, and contains details about Highclere, the village of Bampton which becomes Downton in the show, and the set at Ealing, discussing the lighting and concern with period detail at each location. The second half of the book examines the styling of the show, with analysis of the costumes, hair, and makeup, and details on the wardrobe of each character.

                                                                                    Find this resource:

                                                                                    • Walderzak, Joseph. “I May Be a Socialist but I’m Not a Lunatic.” In Downton Abbey and Philosophy: Thinking in That Manor. Edited by Adam Barkman and Robert Arp, 13–24. Chicago: Open Court, 2015.

                                                                                      Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                      This interesting chapter considers the Earl of Grantham’s politics and argues that he is in fact more socialist than the seemingly more progressive and radical Branson or Matthew (who become tools of capitalism later in the series).

                                                                                      Find this resource:

                                                                                      Newspaper Reviews and Articles

                                                                                      There are a huge number of newspaper reviews and articles about Downton over its long running time, and they offer revealing insights into the way the show was critically received and regarded by the press and public, and the kind of debates it engendered. Those selected here are representative of critics’ typical attitudes toward the show, like Toynbee 2014 and Schama 2012, which accuse Downton of historical misrepresentation, or Tate 2017, which suggested the show was losing its flair and charm in later seasons, or Cooper 2013, which was one of many pieces that objected to the show’s darker plots. Other articles are particularly useful as starting points for further research, like Lacob and Fernandez 2012 (which examines its success in the United States), or as sources of information on the show, like Sedghi 2013 and Groskop 2010. Many articles acknowledge the huge cultural importance of Downton: Freeland 2012 reminds the public of the show’s political significance and usage, and Lambert 2017 argues for its didactic educational value.

                                                                                      Interviews with Julian Fellowes

                                                                                      Due to the huge success of Downton, there are a large number of interviews, both on television and online, with its writer and creator Julian Fellowes, but most of them cover very similar ground. As he does in Hockenberry 2016, Fellowes usually talks about the ups and downs of his acting career, his success with Gosford Park, and initial inspiration for Downton (which came from a book he was reading about American heiresses coming to Britain to marry into the aristocracy, hence leading to the Granthams). Those listed here are typical of the type but also add some possibilities for further study. Of particular interest is his sense, in Harrington 2014 and Witchelsept 2011, of the nonjudgmental “moral landscape” of Downton, in which there is never only one point of view. This is notable given some plotlines—like those concerning the emancipation of women and the beginnings of the welfare state—which seem unambiguous to modern eyes.

                                                                                      • Harrington, Amy. “Interview: Julian Fellowes.” Beverly Hills, CA: Television Academy Foundation, 4 May 2014.

                                                                                        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                        The first half of this is biographical: the second, however, gives some helpful detail on Downton, especially on the structure and writing of the show. Fellowes here discusses his writing process and implies an independence from ITV: he stresses that the episodes are formed by himself, his wife, and his producer Neame. Also interesting is his belief that the viewer should be able to see both sides of the argument so “you can’t quite decide which side you’re on . . . ” (17 min. in).

                                                                                        Find this resource:

                                                                                        • Hockenberry, John. Julian Fellowes in Conversation. The Greene Space at WNYC & WQXR. 4 March 2016.

                                                                                          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                          A long interview that covers in detail Fellowes’s life, in which he talks about his own parents’ struggles with the English class system. Interestingly, he acknowledges that Downton allows the viewer to enjoy the pleasures of the past without the hardships of life lived as it was. He argues that our view of heritage has changed in recent years: now servants who work in a house have become heritage just like its owners. Hence the kitchens and servants’ quarters are now newly visible: “It’s all our history.”

                                                                                          Find this resource:

                                                                                          • Witchelsept, Alex. “Behind the Scenes with the Creator of ‘Downton Abbey’.” New York Times Magazine, 8 September 2011.

                                                                                            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                            A personal interview at Fellowes’s home, in which he argues that he levels out the class differences in Downton and that is the reason for the show’s success: “I treat everyone exactly the same . . . I think I’m kind of on everyone’s side.”

                                                                                            Find this resource:

                                                                                            back to top

                                                                                            Article

                                                                                            Up

                                                                                            Down