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Practical, Positive and Empowered Women Making A Difference

Something Different: Why is Downton Abbey Such A Success?

It has created space and potential for the kind of real relationships we want to have and the kind of real women we want to become – happy, opinionated, successful and, suffice it to say, stunningly well dressed!


Suddenly everyone is talking about this show from the UK – Downton Abbey. Its a hit with awards, rave reviews and all for a mere $15 on iTunes. I couldn’t resist a look and, frankly, I was shocked.¬†This can’t be right, I tell myself. How did this show ever pass muster with the discerning TV executives let alone capture the general North American public?

For starters it is missing a large dose of uncut, uncensored, unadulterated sex in all its naked, multi-camera angled, techni-coloured glory. A kiss is about as raunchy as it gets and most of the ‘bedroom scenes’ are of deep conversations that the characters have with their servants, sisters and, occasionally, the mirror.

If that wasn’t omission enough for it to be instantly dismissed from our viewing schedules, suddenly our screens are assaulted by a range of highly assertive women, who, despite their society, manage to carve out real personalities and even careers. They are witty, intelligent, highly poised and when a man says something they don’t agree with… well, they tell them so! I mean, what is the world coming to when a woman in a TV show can have personality, opinion and career – what were they thinking?

Honestly, this really ‘takes the biscuit’ as one would say in England.

Sarcasm aside, has Downton touched a nerve in our psyche somewhere and provided us with something we are craving?

The addage ‘less is more’ is surely something suited to the period of Downton, set in the early 1900s, but it also seems to be a hook for us today. We are no less invested in the relationships we see in this period drama than we are in the intimate interactions in the latest episode of Girls. In fact, the case might be made that we are actually more invested. Writers forced to write something other than sexual stage directions (I’m sure there is a technical term for that) have the space to develop their characters and the interplay (rather than foreplay) between them.

Perhaps the lack of sex leaves space, not just for relationship development, but also for the strong women in this show to really shine. If they aren’t having sex or talking explicitly about sex or moaning explicitly about sex they have to be doing… well…. something else. In this case, they have careers, learn to drive, get involved in politics, run hospitals, volunteer and, I will admit, spend a lot of time wearing simply fabulous clothes. Again, another perk of not having to be naked all the time! This show is a wardrobe department on steroids.

I want to be clear, Downton Abbey is just another TV show, and most historians of record would probably argue that its women are unrealistically liberated and servants unrealistically ¬†happy. In addition, no one is suggesting a return to Downton days where we lacked simple legal privileges like the vote. However, as fiction goes, this one ‘aint half bad m’lady’. It has created space and potential in our imaginations for the kind of real relationships we want to have and the kind of real women we want to become – happy, opinionated, successful and, suffice it to say, stunningly well dressed!

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