Downton Abbey

Super Bowl Sunday competition:
[Forty-Niners vs. Ravens] vs. Downton Abbey

Super Bowl Sunday, February 3, 2013
Downton Abbey      I am not watching the Super Bowl this year, because I'm rooting against both teams. Without a horse in the race, I lose interest.
     This year there is also the matter of a conflict: Downton Abbey will air during the ballgame. It is the first continuing drama that I have ever watched. A few weeks ago the photos of the building's exterior caught my eye; I watched an episode and got hooked.
     The building Downton Abbey is played by the actual Highclere Castle, which was designed by Charles Barry, who had designed the Houses of Parliament, which houses are the architectural sight that has most impressed me in my life. I very nearly cried when I saw them.
     A little digression here: I celebrated my fiftieth birthday by going to the Houses at noon to listen to Big Ben ring twelve times. The funniest thing happened. There was a lorry-driver strike ongoing, and the union chose noon as the moment to drive round the roundabout at the corner of the Houses blasting their horns in protest. I still chuckle thinking about it. At any rate, I my fiftieth birthday went to listen to the bell several times, and it sounded to me just like it does in those old film noir period movies. By the way, Big Ben is not the clock nor the tower, named St. Stephen's Tower, but the bell itself.
     Thus, it is no coincidence that I love the sight of Downton Abbey. I am of course also awestruck by the complexity and quality of the interiors. The walls engage my attention regularly for a couple of reasons. I doubt that those walls were painted when they were new; it seems to me that they would have been papered. Also, the depth of color of paint that comes through to the TV screen is beyond my experience and seems well beyond any wallpainting that I've ever done. Could it be that it is indeed paper and not paint? Whatever it is, the colors of walls are gorgeous.
     Most of the characters are too one-dimensional to endear me, with the exceptions of the cook (Lesley Nicol as Mrs. Patmore), the cook's assistant (Sophie McShera as Daisy Mason), and the butler (Jim Carter as Mr. Carlson.) They all do a more than competent job —after all it's PBS (ITV) at its best or at least at its most popular— but it is neither the characters nor the sets that get me to watch the show.
     It's the cinematography that has me smitten; it simply boggles my mind how someone can bring out all those colors and textures, lit so evenly and unobtrusively, so that all the interior shots look like masterful paintings come alive. Everything, the sets and the make-up, is maybe a little too perfect (excuse me that), like a Robert Redford movie, e.g., A River Runs Though It, but the imagery succeeds, for me, in imbuing the program with an aura of great romance. It is that romance that will have me turning on the idiot box at nine tonight.
Correction February 20
     The clock tower was renamed the Elizabeth Tower in 2012 for the Diamond Jubilee.

Downton Abbey logo Up From Under Downton Abbey's Spell
January 7, 2014
     I had been looking forward to the new season of "Downton Abbey." With the killing-off of a character at the end of what seemed every other episode last season, the series had become for me a comedy rather than a drama, but I enjoyed it no less. I even relished the hilarious eyeliner on Mr. Carson as a counterpoint to the otherwise gorgeous makeup.
     The opening episode Sunday night disappointed me. The flatness of lighting is gone; the exquisite interiors appear less frequently; and the erstwhile stunning cinematography has diminished significantly in quality. The things about the program that had gotten my two hours every week have gone the way of the Empire. The former production values have ostensibly been replaced by a redoubling of the plots built on the simple device that no one ever hears the truth except by eavesdropping. Ho-hum.
     Farewell, Lord Grantham. I will always love you, Mrs. Patmore.

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