After watching all six series/seasons of “Downton Abbey” and seeing the film, I learned some surprising things beyond I want to grow old and be feisty as Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham. I sorely miss both Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) and his spirited, unconventional cousin, Sybil Crawley (Jessica Brown Findlay), but wonder where those storylines would have gone. I’m disappointed that the new female editor of “The Sketch,” Laura Edmunds (Antonia Bernath) didn’t appear as a continued romantic interest for Tom Branson, but there was, of course a development.
The overall message of the series and writer Julian Fellowes is kindness and integrity. Good manners matter.
- While justice is important, if you can keep someone in line then it is better not to be the reason for someone’s job loss. When Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) stole wine during Series/Season 1, John Bates (Brendan Coyle) didn’t report him and although that led to Sarah O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran) and Barrow plotting to have Bates sacked by stealing one of Lord Grantham’s snuffboxes and planting the box in Bates’ room. Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and Bates colluded to prank O’Brien and Barrow. Because Bates did not report Barrow, Barrow was able to return to service and eventually become a better person. At the end of the series, Barrow was able to return and work as the butler with Anna and Bates under him. There are exceptions so this such as when the other person is a rapist (Mr. Green).
- You can’t be “thick as thieves” forever with people who are selfish. Barrow was eventually betrayed by O’Brien who fools Barrow into believing that Jimmy Kent (Ed Speleers0 has romantic feelings for him at a time when homosexuality was a criminal offense (Season/Series 3). O’Brien eventually left Downton Abbey to work for the Marchioness of Flintshire, Susan MacClare (Phoebe Nicholls). Barrow doesn’t reveal Jimmy Kent’s act of cowardice to their fellow employees and the two become friends.
- Be careful what you put in writing. Letters come into play a few times during the series. First, there’s the letter Edith (Laura Carmichael) writes to the Turkish Embassy purportedly because she believes they deserve to know the truth Ottoman attaché Kemal Pamuk’s (Theo James) death when really she just wants revenge against her elder sister, Mary (Michelle Dockery). Of course, since Mary didn’t murder Pamuk and he died in his sleep, but not in his bed, but Mary’s, Edith’s reasoning is ridiculous. This kind of betrayal is hard to top. Thomas Barrow writes a letter to his former lover, Duke of Crowborough (Charlie Cox), to swoop in on the potentially wealthy heiress, Mary, after her fiancé’s death with the sinking of the Titanic. The duke fools Mary into showing him Barrow’s room where he finds the love letters he wrote. In front of Barrow, the duke burns the letters so that Barrow cannot blackmail him. During the Christmas special (Series/Season 4), a letter written by Prince Edward (Oliver Dimsdale) to his mistress Freda Dudley Ward (Janet Montgomery) becomes the object of upstairs plotting with Bates coming to the rescue.
- Don’t destroy evidence. After Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) finds the ticket from York to London in one of Bates’ old coats, she gives it to Mary. They believe it proves Bates was guilty of the murder of Anna’s rapist, but it actually showed his innocence. But when Anna and Mrs. Hughes hoped to use it for that reason, Mary had already burned it.
- Don’t reach for the low-hanging fruit. Edith seemed ill-fated from the beginning. She was in love with Mary’s fiancé, the unseen Patrick, who died when the Titanic sank, but we don’t know if Patrick loved her. Edith then falls in love with a man her father’s age, widower Sir Anthony Strallan (Series/Season 1). When Mary takes her revenge, Strallan (Robert Bathurst) doesn’t propose and Edith moves on to a married man with children: John Drake (Fergus O’Donnell), a farmer at the Longfield Farm (Series/Season 2). The wife sees them kissing and Edith is sent a letter that her services, driving a tractor, are no longer needed. By Series/Season 3, Sir Anthony Strallan returns and proposes, but jilts Edith at the altar. Edith then moves on to another married man, Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards), who begins as her publisher. His wife is insane (shades of “Jane Eyre”), but obviously Edith hasn’t read that novel. Shameless, Gregson pursues Edith to the family vacation in Scotland. Gregson does ultimately get into the good graces of Edith’s father, but he didn’t use protection while having sex with Edith. Edith becomes pregnant (with Marigold) while Gregson is gone in Germany. Edith eventually finds love with someone who was always around and was attracted to her confidence.
- Tell the truth. Mary told the truth to Matthew about Pamuk and he married her anyway. Edith did not tell the truth about Marigold and that gave Mary power over Edith, but remember, others (Cora, her mother; Violet, her grandmother, etc.) felt that Edith needed to tell Herbert Pelham (Harry Hadden-Paton) the truth. Although Tom Branson (Allen Leech) takes Mary to task, I don’t think Branson knows about Edith’s poison pen letter. Downstairs, things went smoother after Anna told the truth about the rape to her husband, Bates, and they were able to get over her trauma together.
If you wondered about the downstair shenanigans in the film, the precedent was set during Series/Season 1, when Anna and Bates set up O’Brien and Barrow for attempting to set up Bates and when the Christmas Special Bates is instrumental in helping the Crawley family retrieve Freda Dudley Ward’s errant letter. Bates and Anna have more authority in the house once Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) returns and Barrow takes a holiday.
There are other lessons. A good way to make amends is a puppy. Being kind to dogs and kids can pay off. Take a vacation so you can vent alone and remind yourself how much you love about home?
What lessons did you learn from “Downton Abbey”?