Sutherland: The Real Downton Abbey

downton+abbey+wallpaperAnything which would double a television network’s audience is bound to get our attention…

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.

Robert_Altman-297x300Strangely, 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.

x2012The 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!

Downton-AbbeyWhen 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!”

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2 Responses to Sutherland: The Real Downton Abbey

  1. chuck says:


    I would love to read Lady Asquith.

    It’s interesting to me that you mentined Ft. Leavenworth in your piece in conjunction with a diary from Lady Asquith. George Armstrong Custer was Courtmartialed there, his brother Tom is buried there, Phil Sheridan lived there and that brings me to Libby Custer. She was the brilliant and beautiful wife of the famous General-

    and after reading “Son Of The Morning Star” I, by chance ran across Libby’s “Boots and Saddles”. While it is in no way salacious, it does reveal the day to day lives led by many soldiers and their wives in the 19th Century. A flux capacitor in Monument Valley.

    Before you even start kicking my azz Orphan, “Son Of The Morning Star” is the name of the book, but in no way neglects Crazy Horse, Gall, Rain In The Face, et al, it is a historical tribute to all participants in the years leading up to and including the Little Big Horn battle.

    By the way, I would have never believed that any book would ever surpass or match Connell’s effort, but last year I read “The Last Stand” by Philbrick and it comes close.

    Another great article Mr. S.


  2. paulwilsonkc says:

    Once again, great piece!
    I don’t know if it’s a sign I’m less trendy and hip, but I’ve yet to catch an Episode of Downton. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that here.
    Met Altman when he was here filming the Kansas City film; my ex wife had a bit part in it along with half the population of our city who, like her, rushed down to participate. I really only remember two things from it; he was pretty quirky and it cost me $700 in vintage, period correct costumes so she could point out to her friends, “OK, that’s ME…..and there I am AGAIN….now that’s me over THERE…”.
    I’m just glad she never knew King Of Sting’s option was sold.
    Carry on, you continue to class the joint up.

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