Film & Television

‘Downton Abbey,’ Season 6: Time to Say Goodbye — on Both Sides of the Pond

DA6_-Season_Release_1080x1020

I sometimes wonder whether the British have ever really forgiven us for that awkward business back in 1776. Maybe “forgiven” is the wrong word. After all, our great nations have supported each other through royal scandals, rock-and-roll, and multiple wars (official and otherwise). Forgiven, maybe; but, they haven’t forgotten. I can’t help feeling they still think of us as a rag-tag colonial militia, uncouth, uneducated, dressed in homespun and chewing tobacco. In their minds, we will never be ladies or gentlemen.

So, why should they share on equal terms their greatest national treasure? Downton Abbey.

No one can really blame anybody for the delay in the American airing of Downton’s first season. After all, who could anticipate that this rehash of Upstairs Downstairs would emerge as the phenomenal hit it did. There was, however, general outcry when it was revealed that the U.K.’s eight-hour series was being broadcast here in just six hours. How dare they assume there was anything we wouldn’t want to see? After much bally-hoo, the conflict was resolved with a closer look at the facts. In England, Downton had been aired with commercials. Here, on PBS affiliates, it would be shown commercial-free. When all was said and done, only twenty-five minutes were cut, mostly surrounding details about the estate’s entail — which, let’s admit it, is rather dry stuff. In an act of conciliatory contrition, the missing scenes were included when the American DVD was released. And that egregious oversight has never been repeated.

With the show a bona fide hit, though, the greatest act of aggression (or perhaps patronization), season after season, has been timing. Englishmen and women get to see each new series of Downton months before us. Is this really fair? Do we not deserve equal rights to the Crawleys and all they stand for? What would our forefathers (and mothers) have done? Probably, thrown their TVs in Boston Harbor.

Seriously though, in addition to fueling our impatience, the lag between the U.K. and U.S. schedules presents genuine issues. In today’s digital age, Downton’s U.S. enthusiasts have to negotiate a veritable minefield of spoilers. Like many, I confess I knew of Matthew’s death long before I saw the accident (right after meeting his new baby George and confirming his everlasting love for Lady Mary. . . sob, sob) myself. So, for heaven’s sake, don’t read any English newspapers, look past Facebook posts, avoid Twitter, try not to talk to lovely Cousin Emily in Winchester. You have been warned.

There are workarounds for the die-hard. One might let a flat in St. James Square for the season (particularly convenient if one is being presented at court). A less expensive option is to acquire the show online prior to its premiere here. A few years ago, tipped off by a hard-core Downton fan, we started ordering the new season from amazon.uk. This entailed international shipping charges and replacing our American DVD player, twice. But, it was worth it. We were weeks ahead of our compatriots (and smug about it, believe you me). But, alas, the Christmas special wasn’t included.

Distribution isn’t the only problem; let’s take a look at the show’s content. Yes, Cora, the current Lady Grantham, is a central character and in many ways the family’s emotional core. We are reminded (at least every other episode) that it was her father’s money that saved the Abbey in the first place. But, other yanks don’t fare so well. Cora’s mother (played with gusto by the legendary Shirley MacLaine) is brash and bossy, glamorous but garish. Her ne’er-do-well son (Emmy-winner Paul Giamatti) is a petulant playboy. Together, they confirm every well-bred Londoner’s secret suspicion that we are a country of speculators and cowboys.

With that in mind, no doubt, Downton’s producers once asserted that, “Americans prefer faster-paced entertainment.” This could account for the emotional dumbing down of the U.S. trailer for the final season. It’s an interesting marketing exercise to examine the two trailers (U.K. and U.S.), not only to glean what we can about the upcoming episodes, but to extrapolate the assumptions made about the two different audiences.

The 60-second U.K. trailer (released last summer for a fall season launch) is set to Lauren Aquilina’s sorrowful version of “Time to Say Goodbye.” Every clip was chosen to express closure and finality. There’s very little dialogue, but many knowing looks. Lord Grantham resignedly tells Carson, “If I could stop history in its tracks, maybe I would. But, I can’t Carson. Neither you nor I can hold back time.” Anna sadly remembers, “We have had our moments, haven’t we m’lady?” And Lady M responds with a brave face, “We certainly have.” We see an unknown hand remove Carson’s name from the plate on his door. The butler himself smooths the comforter on a carefully made bed. The family gathers outside to pay respects to a grand house. Time to say goodbye, indeed. If you love Downton, I dare you to watch without tearing up.

….

Contrast this to the U.S. version. The PBS trailer (also just a minute in length) begins with an exhilarating fox hunt, in answer perhaps to Americans’ appetite for action (or maybe just less of a political hot button here). While the British version was wistful and philosophic, this one celebrates some of the sarcasm we’ve come to expect — and savor. Lady Mary snidely remarks “Edith alone in town, what will she get up to?” And, Mrs. Hughes teases her now fiancé, “You don’t think maybe you should start calling me Elsie?” He responds immediately, “Not here! Not while we’re working.” When conniving Danker protests, “I hope I haven’t cast a shadow,” Mrs. Patmore calls her on it. “What did you think you were doing? Sprinkling sunshine?” And, the trailer closes, naturally, with everyone’s favorite dowager challenging her in-law and rival “May the best man win.” Watch it here. It won’t have quite the emotional affect, but will whet your appetite in a different way.

…..

Whether you’re looking forward to the characters we’ve come to love (and in some cases hate), the human drama unfolding upstairs and down, a happy ending for the Bateses (we can only hope), Dame Maggie’s clever quips, or everything that Downton Abbey has served up over the past five years, be sure to watch the final season premiere on Sunday January 3rd on your local PBS station.

It promises to be a bittersweet season, no matter which side of the pond you’re from. Have a fine linen handkerchief (or a box of Kleenex) ready.

Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.