What to Watch While Waiting for the Last (sob) Season of "Downton Abbey"

Downton Abbey
I will admit, if we were living in the time of Downton Abbey, I would don mourning. When the news came that next season, the sixth, would be the last, I felt as if I were losing a large, sometimes dysfunctional, always fascinating family. And I am not alone. Many others have come to enjoy this television series of a house named Downton Abbey and the family and servants occupying its grand rooms in many different ways.

If it is the stunning visuals of the characters’ clothing that captures your imagination, you might want to try the original costume drama, The Pallisers, both in black and white and a newer color version. This was the BBC’s first venture into a historical series, based on Trollope’s Palliser novels. It follows the adventures of a political family including their loves, losses, and changes in fortune. Although the charge has often been laid at the door of the first Upstairs, Downstairs, at the time the Pallisers was released, it was blamed for the death of Evensong in the English Church as parishioners stayed home to watch instead of going to church in the evening.

Pallisers Eliot Chronicles
Also based on a series of books by Trollope is The Barset Chronicles. They were brought to life by the BBC as The Barchester Chronicles, and follow the lives of several clergy families in and around the fictitious cathedral city of Barchester. From the gentle warden, Mr. Harding, to the ferocious wife of the bishop, Mrs. Proudie, his characters run the gamut of interesting and engaging, if not always nice.

Perhaps you like finding unlikely corners of English society, as when Lady Rose becomes enamored of a black American jazz singer. A little known series, but a favorite of mine is George Eliot's Daniel Deronda. Daniel, the ward of a wealthy man, and Gwendolen, a reckless gambler (unheard of for Victorian heroine, to say the least) meet and are instantly attracted to each other. But Daniel is haunted by the secret of his birth, and Gwendolen needs to marry a rich man in order to say her family from financial ruin. Although they both marry other people, their intertwined stories and an exploration of London Jewry at different level of society make this an unusual and compelling watch. The adaptation of Middlemarch, another Eliot novel, makes interesting watching, especially for its characters.

Brideshead Upstairs
Or is it the family drama that has captured you? Set a little close to the time of Downton Abbey, and focusing on the doings of one family, is Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh’s account of the aristocratic Flyte family seen through the eyes of Charles Ryder who meets the son of the family at Oxford. As he witnesses the family’s self-destruction with a compassionate yet observant eye, Charles records the downside of wealth and privilege. While no one could say the story ends happily, it shows a side of life that deserves to be examined.

It may be that you are taken by the whole package. If you want something absolutely superb, but which, alas, will also leave you wanting more, try the new Upstairs, Downstairs. There are only two seasons, a total of nine episodes, but the production values, acting, and storylines are excellent. Lord
Heirs of the Body
Bellamy has died. 169 Eaton Place is empty and shabby. Former parlour maid Rose Buck is running a not-very-successful servants’ agency. In walks Lady Agnes, stylish, rich (though a bit mean with her money) and ready to bring 169 Eaton Place back to life. The fact that the year is 1936 and her husband is in the diplomatic corps gives rise to a number of storylines that encompass her mother-in-law, her Indian servant, a very nervous butler with a secret, Agnes’s ‘scapegrace younger sister, and Rose as the new housekeeper. (The first Upstairs, Downstairs, considered by some to be the godmother of Downton Abbey, is also very good.)

If I may wander from the topic of what to watch to the topic of what to read, I would bring up Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple books. The most recent is Heirs of the Body. These cozy mysteries set in England (for the most part) between the World Wars capture the spirit of the time perfectly with little details such as food, child raising practices and, of course, clothing, while offering a satisfying murder to solve.

-Mary Elizabeth A.

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