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Final Thoughts on DOWNTON ABBEY: It Was Set During The Wrong Years

At the conclusion of Downton Abbey this week a friend made a comment to me: They should make a show about Lady Edith’s daughter Marigold’s generation. He has a point; the show was set during the wrong decades.

While Downton was about the end of the service profession and the decline of great families who wore tails to dinner ever night, for all of the change that occurred on the show things largely end up back where they started.

Upstairs, Lady Edith gives up her day job to go live in a castle; Lady Mary still lives in a castle, Cora takes over the duties of the Dowager, and Robert has a new dog. While the ranks downstairs have been thinned out a bit, Barrow finally gets promoted to Butler — his lifelong ambition — and Anna will utilize the Downton nursery so she can keep working 24/7 as a lady’s maid despite having a newborn (I kinda think it was tongue-in-cheek how when Anna goes into labor Lady Mary undresses her, let’s her give birth in her bed, and then informs Anna how she’ll provide daycare so Anna’s life really doesn’t have to change too much — she’ll still have a career in service).

I don’t claim to be an expert in English history, but I think it’s safe to say that the Great Depression and World War II were far more consequential events that changed the lifestyles of those upstairs and downstairs than anything that occurred during the run of Downton. And to my friend’s point, we never saw what happened when there was a complete collapse of this way of life (as a opposed to seeing the beginning of the end).

So imagine a show about Marigold: Someone who grows up in this gilded age that abruptly comes to an end with the Depression.

Maybe they don’t have to get a real job, but they’re still forced to leave their castle and adopt a more meager bourgeoisie life in London where nobody calls them “My Lady.” They have no rank and all of the privilege that goes with that.

Whatever dreams they had about their own children are completely dashed.

And with the servants, they’re not given a choice about adapting to a more modern way of life. They’re tossed out into the harsh world where their skills pouring wine and dressing gentlemen are worthless. Their dreams about becoming a butler will never be fulfilled.

Now obviously Downton was never interested in exploring this level of turmoil — it was always a bit of a fairy tale — but it did avoid ever answering the question everyone still wants to know: How did it all end?

This way of life wasn’t eternal. What happened to all of these people?

It feels like all we got was Act 1 of a much larger story.

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