Downton Soufflé

I didn’t like GosfordPark. I thought it was soggy and far too pleased with itself. Similarly I’ve never cared much for Julian Fellowes. He looks like the result of right wing attempts to clone Stephen Fry, so that people on the other end of the political spectrum can have a frighteningly erudite celebrity of their very own, one who can present highbrow quiz shows and be relied upon not to spout leftie claptrap at dinner parties.

Unfortunately something went wrong with the cloning process and it’s not only the famous Fry nose they’ve missed by a mile – Fellowes is just not that talented.

So naturally I didn’t fancy Downton Abbey. Everyone told me that the costumes were gorgeous, the sets were stunning and everything was oh so beautiful, but I really struggled to care. I’ve never been that interested in the lives of the rich. For a start I’m not entirely sure what they do all day.

It’s partly because there’s not a lot to do all day that I wandered back to Netflix – there’s only so much writing I can do per day before my brain starts making brrr brr brr noises and everything I write after that is more or less gibberish. The ironing pile may be getting taller but there’s no rush, and as for cooking, forget it – I’m still recovering from Christmas Dinner and the three days of relentless preparation it took to get everything right on the night. Despite having things to do I’m still deep in that irresistable soupy meh-time between Christmas and New Year, before we all feel like we should take up some form of self-improvement – work harder, eat salad, lift weights. I know it’s coming, so let me sink in the soup awhile, at least until the first of January. Soupy-inbetween times seemed as good a time as any to lose my Downton Abbey virginity, so that’s exactly what I did.

Downton starts with glorious, anvil-like subtlety. The Titanic sinks and all the servants scurry about downstairs like mice in a grandfather clock saying things like “I thought it was supposed to be unsinkable!” and “Oh, how sad!” before the craggy butler scowls and tells them to piss off and iron his Lordship’s newspapers. No, really. That happens. They iron the newspapers so that his Lordship doesn’t get the print on his hands.

The French really had the right idea about these people, didn’t they?

Then Lady Mary gets out of bed in nothing but a transparent nightdress with the light behind her and I see in startlingly erotic detail why Lady Mary is the author’s special precious darling. Blimey.

A bell rings downstairs and the mice start peeping like the ones on Bagpuss and there is a lingering shot of a dish of rice and eggs which the cook helpfully tells us is kedgeree, because it’s a historical detail and this is a historical series and oh look at the history everyone.

Turns out the Earl’s cousin and his son bought it on the Titanic (More history). Whoops. The Earl mentions those ‘poor devils in steerage’ and how they’ve ‘gone to a better life’, except they haven’t really. If there isn’t a lovely afterlife awaiting them then the odds are that they drowned, alone and afraid in the black, icy waters of the North Atlantic, after wasting their single shot at life wiping the bums of pointless people who apparently need their newspapers ironed.

More tea, your Lordship?

The Earl goes upstairs to break the dreadful news to his wonky voiced transatlantic Countess, who is gravely concerned about breaking the news to Mary. As it is, she needn’t have worried. Lady Mary is miffed that she’s going to have to go into mourning and slightly relieved that she’s not going to have to marry her second cousin in order to tie up the estate. Okay, I’m with her on that bit. Ew.

Mary feels vaguely guilty that she doesn’t feel sadder about the dead cousin/fiance but that doesn’t stop her pointing out that even if she didn’t care for him then her plain sister Edith would probably have snapped him up. Mary doesn’t seem a very nice person, even though the author apparently loves her and she looks great in a see-through nightie. Is her second name Susan, by any chance?

Basically, the half-baked central conflict of Downton is that the sinking of the Titanic has dumped Lord Hugh Bonneville in the middle of a very bad heir day. He has none. All he’s got are the sisters Lear upstairs and due to some very boring inheritance law they can’t inherit, even though Maggie Smith turns up to outclass every other actor in the thing and scheme half-heartedly to make Mary the heiress of Downton.

Then a gay Duke turns up to demonstrate that most homosexuals were closet cases back in 1912, because you could go to prison for it – another magical history lesson from Julian Fellowes. Also the gay Duke might marry Mary, so the Countess and Dowager paint Mary’s tits with neon-signs and hurl her in his general direction.

Turns out that the Duke is awful – just awful. He’s such a lump that the butler comments that “His Grace turned out to be quite graceless,” and everyone laughed and laughed and laughed at this clever play on words. Well, Lord Fellowes probably did, but I think it’s one of those things only he gets, like the enduring allure of his personality disordered heroine.

Appalled by the Duke, the Earl decides to give that plan a miss and says he will carry on with his previous plan, passing the heirship over to a third cousin who is (gasp!) the son of a doctor. It’s practically trade.

Mary has a little mope when she realises she’s not going to be a Duchess. Edith says he’s slipped the hook and Mary says at least she wasn’t fishing without bait, which is presumably a reference to Edith’s not-that-gorgeous face and figure. No, seriously – why am I supposed to like this girl? Currently she’s coming across as a right little see-you-next-Tuesday.

Gay Duke goes gaily upstairs to frolic with Thomas the dead-eyed footman, only Thomas the dead-eyed footman is in a blackmailing mood. Ooh, excitement! Except we can’t have too much excitement because it’s bad for us, so the Duke snatches the written proof of their scandalous Wildean fuckytimes from Thomas’ drawers and promptly lobs them on the fire, putting paid to that almost-interesting plot strand. It’s about this time that I understand why Downton is addictive – because there are few things funnier than watching a plot soufflé deflate in full view of the audience.

Initially I resisted watching Downton because the class structure in that particular era and setting is enough to turn my stomach. I didn’t think I could handle watching the downstairs crew run around waiting on every whim of the dickheads upstairs, which was pretty much the plot of GosfordPark. And someone died. I think?

Anyway, there was a moment in Downton where Daisy the scullery maid almost accidently poisons the whole horrid lot of them, but is saved by deus ex machina in the shape of a second footman. At this point the sad fffffffffffffffffffffst of the plot soufflé deflating can be heard in Japan.

Now, Daisy’s alright, but that’s plainly her job. Daisy’s job is to skip around being the adorable, perky dishmonkey who says the things the viewers are thinking, just like housemaid Anna’s job is to be the compassionate one and dead-eyed Thomas’s job is to be dead-eyed and scheming and secretly gay. They’re not exactly well-drawn characters, so that kind of puts paid to creating much sympathy for them.

What I didn’t count on was the downstairs crew being as much a pack of charmless dickholes as the poshos upstairs. I’ve heard enough to guess that the new valet Bates is probably a nasty piece of work, but they don’t know that – they’ve just met him. To them he’s just a new valet with a bum knee, who turns out to have been batman to his Lordship in the Boer War. So he’s a veteran and you’d think they’d treat him with some decency because of that, but no, because everyone at Downton is a prick.

Instead they stir the shit at every opportunity and kick the stick out from under him, causing him to faceplant on the gravel in front of his Lordship and the Duke. They go to every length humanly possible to get the poor bastard fired and do, presumably knowing it will be damn near impossible for him to get a job elsewhere.

There must be something in the water in Downton, some mineral rich stream of horrible that runs under the house, poisoning everyone inside – except for Daisy, but let’s face it, she’s probably not allowed to drink from the taps. If she tries she gets a stern ‘No!’ and a bop on the nose from a rolled-up (unironed) newspaper and therefore remains quite nice.

I want to watch these worthless fuckers suffer. Fortunately history says that the early twentieth century will visit untold miseries on their awful heads – war, pestilence and death. Famine, of course, has already shown up and is gravely afflicting the ladies in the house, whose tiny twenty first century figures look frighteningly emaciated in 1912 fashions.

I absolutely get it now. It’s like Dynasty or Footballer’s Wives – reprehensible people in plush settings and expensive costumes, overacting and administering cunty remarks and occasional slaps. I don’t know why I didn’t figure it out sooner, because this kind of crap is like crack to me. I’m slow on the uptake these days – I must be the last person on earth to get the joke. Well, me and Julian Fellowes.


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