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Goodbye Downton!


Yes, it’s over. Downton Abbey has finished. Well, not really, there’s still the special on Christmas day, but then that really is it. Series six’s finale aired on Sunday, marking an end to this trail blazing series; China loved it, the Americans devoured it, and I will miss it dreadfully.

Downton Abbey was comprised of everything that made good viewing. It gave its audience exactly what it wanted on a Sunday night, and paved the way for other period dramas to make their way onto prime time television, such as Mr Selfridge and the recently successful Poldark. The period drama has been resurrected and merged with modern drama, and long may this fusion live!

But it’s not all viewing figures and Emmy awards, Downton Abbey had more to offer than that. It combined the fairytale of an idealised past – a glorified way of living, incompatible with modern times and modern people- with real history and punchy drama. In short, it was a soap opera like any other, but created by sophisticated writers, with intelligent, educated, well dressed (not an Ugg boot to be seen!), or incredibly likeable and relatable characters.

Downton has made me laugh –I mean really laugh, and not always intentionally, but that is part of its charm. The Dowager Countess, played by Dame Maggie Smith, has viscerally piped up some of the best one liners I’ve seen in drama –who could forget the original, the classic ‘what is a weekend?’- and set goals for grannies across the world. Medicinal wonders have made audiences chortle with disbelief, such as Matthew’s miraculous recovery from paralysis (which offered a poignant perspective on early twentieth century attitudes to disability), or Robert’s Alien-esque blood-spurting from a burst ulcer, resulting in a ‘gastrectomy,’ pronounced by Carson the Butler like a foreign disease.

Even in the face of bad press, Downton didn’t back down. When confronted with the scandal of having a dog named Isis as one of its characters, the show simply killed off the dog and, upon the arrival of a replacement, explicitly explained that the dogs of Downton were named after Egyptian goddesses. Subtlety at its finest. They didn’t quite dodge the bullet when the press realised that a water bottle was visible in the latest series’ promotion shots, but never mind. You win some and you lose some…

Speaking of losing, Downton has made me nearly cry on many an occasion (not actually cry, I’m British for God’s sake!). Series three was almost as ruthless as Game of Thrones at killing off characters –first Sybil in a horrific post-childbirth scene, then Matthew, who survived the First World War only to die in a gruesome car crash (thank you Julian Fellowes for ruining Christmas in 2012). It wasn’t only deaths that left audiences in tears, but other issues too, most of which were faced by female characters (because, let’s face it, women had it pretty hard then). Illegitimate birth was echoed throughout Downton for servants and gentry alike –housemaid-turned-prostitute Ethel had to give up her son Charlie to his grandparents, and Lady Edith had to let her daughter be adopted by a tenant farmer. Reunion, however, was not always without heartbreak as Downton explored the emotional complications of twentieth century adoption.

Not all storylines were successful, however. Some went on for too long; series six’s hospital crisis just didn’t interest me after eight weeks, I’m sorry. And after six series of perpetual misery for the Bates’ I began to wonder if they should even be together (will they ever be happy?!). Other storylines seemed to have been forgotten by the writers halfway through (and it’s likely they want us to forget too) –anyone remember bandage face man in series two, claiming to be Patrick Crawley, the heir to the Downton estate? What happened to him? And Mary’s boring Charles Blake who promised to return but never did?

Downton Abbey has been a phenomenal success, but perhaps it’s a good thing that Fellowes has decided to end it at six series. It is possible to have too much of a good thing, and why spoil it? Downton has done British drama and British television a service that cannot be repaid, and is therefore a treasure. But it is a shame that audiences will never see Downton through the Second World War, or, God forbid, the 1960s. I shall have to content myself with my box set.