Downton Abbey Reflection: Part Three

I do not claim to be any sort of professional critic, but over the years I have read a lot of praise and criticism for Downton Abbey and have formed a lot of contrary opinions to much of it.  I am not sure if it is because perhaps American viewers do not understand British television, or if perhaps I am just an ignorant viewer.  In either case, I will enjoy expounding on my thoughts about certain criticisms I have read over the years.  Please note, this post will contain spoilers for those who have not seen the show.

One of the strongest criticisms I read was regarding the rape scene with Anna Bates in season four.  Some of the criticism I read about this detailed how this violent and "gratuitous" scene was a departure the series, unnecessary and gruesome.  I read this review before actually seeing the episode, so I was on the edge of my seat expecting something far different than what was portrayed.  Perhaps in contrast to the elegant opera singer performing for guests upstairs, the attack on Anna was stark by contrast.  However, in true Downton fashion, the scene was a suggestion more than a vulgar demonstration.  Secondly, as the rape of any person is an abhorrent act, I think the "gruesome" fallout of it was appropriate. 

The critic in this case argued the unnecessary tangent of this story line, but I disagree.  First of all, this is British entertainment, and they don't love everything to be all rainbows and sunshine for very long.  Anna and John Bates are both such likable characters and with the story line of John Bates' false imprisonment over, there needed to be some drama.  Second of all, one of the common themes throughout Downton Abbey is the changing of the times in the post WWI era, especially for women.  This scene and it's aftermath illustrate the shame and guilt that women often felt (and still feel) after such an incident, and this was demonstrated when Anna says, "I am spoiled for you now" to her husband when he discovers what happened.  This story line was a part of the overall theme of the times, what it was like for women, and the perceptions that people had.

The other strongest criticism I read was regarding the hospital administration story line that began in season six.  One article noted that this story line that kicks off season six was a key indicator that Downton Abbey was taking it's final breath.  I disagree adamantly with this!  This story line plays out rather slowly, but it tackles several issues as it does so.  One that I enjoyed most was the political aspect of who should be more involved in the oversight of this industry and what path leads to the betterment of the health of the people.  In a battle between Violet and Isobel, in which everyone assumes that Violet is resisting change just to be obstinate, in the end you discover that is not her motive.  I remember in my first viewing of this season that I felt frustrated with Violet for her stubbornness, but when he true motive was revealed, I was on her side.

Secondly, the hospital story line feeds into the frustration that Lord Grantham feels when his wife essentially takes on a career in overseeing the hospital.  Much like in earlier seasons, when he becomes distressed and unhappy as a result of her "negligence" when helping during the war, Lord Grantham and his wife, through this story line, navigate through the changes in their marriage when the children are grown and Cora is eager to find something useful to do.  Lord Grantham's resentment becomes palpable and finally young Lady Rose, whose own parents have forever been at one another's throats, takes an opportunity to gentle show him that far from being unhappy with Cora, he should be proud of her.  This story line is central to seeing the growth in Lord Grantham as a person and the changes he and Cora go through in their marriage.

My personal opinion on a lot of the criticism is that it seems to come from people with no patience to see how a story unfolds or what impact it has on the development of characters or overall theme.  To each his own, but one of my favorite things about Downton is the slow changes over time, the waiting game on certain story lines, and the way things tie together.

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