That is exactly what happened with PBS after it screened the popular series “Downton Abbey,” three years ago. Naturally the elitist cultural gate keepers dismissed it as the silliest of soap operas, made marginally socially acceptable by Anglophilia and snobbery.
Leaving aside the production values of the series – which are painstaking and meticulous – critics are almost universally dismissive of the plot line, saying it is ludicrously improbable; filled as it is with scandal, gossip, and intrigue, both downstairs and up, in a great English country house.
Strangely, these same ingredients, from the same screenwriter (Julian Fellowes), were not belittled when used in 1999’s “Gosford Park,” which got favorable reviews. That film, of course, was directed by Robert Altman, who got a pass from doing other works, with subjects the critics did approve of.
There is something about a huge stately home, which can serve as a land-locked ship of fools, which is perfect as a film setting.
The convention of such a setting must not be what bothers the critics, since it is as old as movies (and novels). If it’s the plot’s melodramatic twists and turns which the naysayers insist are not credible, I suggest they take a look at a paper-back called “The Diaries of Lady Cynthia Asquith.”
Covering the war years of 1915 to 1918; it tells the story of a young Englishwoman married to the son of the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith.
The journals she kept make the doings on the PBS fictional counter-part look tame by comparison. There are more star-crossed lovers, battlefield heroics, and fin de siècle musings in the book, picked up by chance at the Half-Price Book Store on Metcalf, than twenty seasons of “Downton Abbey.”
And it’s all true!
When the Diaries were published in the 1960’s, the most difficult task was to remove all the more scandalous references. The only challenge for a contemporary reader is to unravel all the intricate skeins of family and friendships in the author’s life.
Once more, truth is not only stranger than fiction, but actually more interesting. As a British friend (an army officer at Leavenworth’s Staff School), said: “Sod the critics!”