Archive for October, 2011

Missed opportunities at Downton

31 October 2011

I suspect I’m not the only person who having done post-graduate research who then shudders at the prospect of a new popular cultural representation of the time and place they studied.  As it turns out, I have quite enjoyed Downton Abbey – more so the first series than the second, but that is mainly down to better plots than the historical mistakes.

It would be all too easy to carp on about these mistakes (the most obvious ones being the bizarre timings of the start and end of the war); instead I thought that I would run through a few storylines I’ve thought of this evening that I think would have been more interesting than, or at least differently interesting to, those they chose. If I ever wrote a fictional book, film or play about the war it would probably involve one or more of these plots ideas.

  • The Earl forces young men in his employ to enlist in 1914 or face the sack and is racked with guilt for it when several are killed (apparently 30 of their staff died, but only one is ever mentioned by name).
  • The Earl (also) becomes a member of the local Military Service Tribunal and thus has to decide the fates of men who do not want to enlist, possibly including (but please, please, not exclusively) Conscientious Objectors. Again potential for guilt, but also a chance to portray the difficulties of deciding one man’s case against another’s.
  • A member of staff or the family is seriously wounded in a way that actually leaves a physical trace – e.g. loss of limbs, or facial disfigurement that the family struggle to deal with (the P. Gordon character almost did thisbut seems to have disappeared again). There is a French film called The Officers’ Ward that deals with this well.
  • One of the daughters becomes a nurse and doesn’t still live at home!
  • One of the maids who go on about leaving service actually does and she works in munitions or something.
  • A character is lauded as a hero (perhaps after winning the VC) but knows in his heart that he did not deserve it.
  • A central character goes missing and doesn’t suddenly turn up at the end of the episode. (Surely tension should be part of a drama!) Or a character is ‘missing presumed dead’ and the family seek information about it. My Boy Jack depicted this very well (along with the guilt of a pro-war father who suffers bereavement – Rudyard Kipling) so maybe that wasn’t allowed, but they could certainly have been missing for longer.
  • German prisoners of war come to work on the farm land to make up for the loss of labour. Good opportunity to let loose some of the visceral anti-German feeling many Britons felt but none of the characters seem capable of; they could also warm to the Germans, or at least come to accept them (as people did). Also an opportunity for a really controversial will-she-won’t-she romantic interlude for one of the daughters.
  • A significant character is suspected of being a spy. Perhaps Mary after her prewar escapade with a man from one of the enemy powers, or maybe the Irish driver because he is clearly anti-British (after 1916) and a bit of a rebel. Or maybe Carson, overheard saying peculiar things on the telephone.

I’m sure there are others, but I think that will do for now, otherwise I risk running into the territory of seriously geeky. Suffice to say, they missed out on a bunch of interesting plots.