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Take the Wayback Machine to Greenbelt's Opposite

"Just as physicists contemplate the nature of antimatter, I wonder about Greenbelt’s diametric opposite."

Generally I celebrate living in a community planned for moderate-income workers, that is characterized by efficient living and walkability and promotes independence and sustainability. But just as physicists contemplate the nature of antimatter, I wonder about Greenbelt’s diametric opposite.

"Downton Abbey," created by the devious and witty Julian Fellowes, who wrote the script for the 2001 Robert Altman whodunit, "Gosford Park," is part social history lesson and part high-class soap opera, with a dash of acerbic bon mots, delivered by the incomparable Dame Maggie Smith as Dowager Countess Violet.

For those who have ever wondered what it would be like to live in a grand country estate, where you dressed up in silks and velvets for dinner, admired Gainsborough portraits of your illustrious ancestors and were served breakfast trays by liveried servants? Well, the trusty Wayback Machine, this time fueled by PBS, provides a glimpse into this world with the return of "Downton Abbey."

The first season debuted in the United States last winter and gained a loyal following. Smith is joined by accomplished British actors largely unknown in the United States and the American actress Elizabeth McGovern, who plays Smith’s daughter-in-law, the American-born Cora, now the Countess of Grantham, who provided the fortune to run the bankrupt estate. But there’s a hitch!

The drama is premised on an obscure bit of English inheritance law, the entail, whereby estates were passed intact to the next male heir. Unfortunately, the current titled peer, Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, and his lovely wife Cora have three daughters. The daughters must either marry men wealthy in their own right — or strike up an alliance with the next heir apparent. And thus, mayhem ensues.

Despite minor historical inaccuracies — blogs jumped on some errant TV aerials that crept into a background shot — the character-driven series delivered a detailed portrayal of the Edwardian-era aristocracy and their servants. It focused on the intertwined stories of the people who inhabited the servant’s halls as well as the drawing rooms.

The first series ended with the announcement at a late summer garden party that war had been declared. The second series, broadcast on PBS starting Sunday, carries the story of the Crawley family and their servants into the World War I years.

Not to fear if you haven’t seen season 1. PBS is rebroadcasting the first series, which is also available on DVD and on streaming video.

Anna Socrates January 06, 2012 at 09:43 PM
In thinking about both seasons of Downton (yes, I've seen all the episodes) I am also struck by an odd similarity. The second season brings out even more how the great household of Downton Abbey, while still the diametric opposite of egalitarian Greenbelt, is in some ways also a cooperative venture of a sort, where all members at times have to pull together--even though some of the members are paid a pittance to perform their parts in that great operation.
Doug Love January 07, 2012 at 12:35 PM
Then there's the majority of us, field (workers) as opposed to house (workers), who lived in hovels and never saw the manor house. There was a British comedy/drama a few years ago about this, featuring a notorious slacker. Only lasted a few episodes, because it's hard to enjoy drudgery. Many nordic novelists on both sides of the Atlantic have made careers of sad novels about sad people. I don't read them. Too many of us are facing worthless lives doing nothing worthwhile as the space program shuts down. Like those fantasizing by watching Downton, I watch Trek. Howard Co. library has all of Deep Space 9. Imagine: no poverty on Earth! No wonder they don't have many episodes on Earth.
Anna Socrates January 07, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Well, an earth with no poverty and a system that more resembled a nonhierarchical cooperative venture, where everybody really pulled together, would be a truly utopian vision.

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