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How many wonderful period dramas we have been treated to lately…Downton Abbey, Any Human Heart, Upstairs Downstairs, The King’s Speech. Of course, BBC makes the mistake to overdo the drama on the expense of the period setting as usual. I’m quite happy for the camera to linger on pretty sights instead of cramming in a major plot-changing event every sodding minute (something ITV learnt to do to perfection 30 years ago with Brideshead).
Nonetheless, in whatever shape, this is a great love of mine (something which harks back to the unhealthy amount of Catherine Cookson adaptations I had to endure as a child). And in Maid in Britain, BBC did some great digging into why we watch it and why we love it, and whether it is socially relevant or mere escapism. Surely it can be a little bit of both and more still?
Personally, I’m especially weak for the kind of master/servant dichotomy we find in both Downton and Upstairs, Downstairs. The most touching portrayal I have ever come across for this is Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. I find it almost unbearable to read. All work is of course noble, but to take such pride in doing your duty that you suppress your whole being is impressive. To live not only for your master, but trough your master.
Let us establish this quite clearly: a butler’s duty is to provide good service. It is not to meddle in the great affairs of the nation. The fact is, such great affairs will always be beyond the understanding of those such as you and I, and those of us who wish to make our mark must realize that we best do so by devoting our attention to providing the best possible service to those great gentlemen in whose hands the destiny of civilization truly lies. …
Tragic yes, but the dignity I admire. On the other side of the coin we have the people who live trough their servants, one sees this happening too often still and it is nasty business.
Oh, please give me more wonderful costumes, stately homes, grand dinners and complex, restrained characters and less freaky “coincidences” and raree-show worthy people. Thanks!
And I really cannot wait for tonight’s episode of Desperate Romantics, as William Holman-Hunt (my favorite Pre-Raphaelite…or they are all favourites really, but if we’re talking about the painter and not their paintings he’s it) is going to return from the Holy Land and therefore, finally, will have grown his beard. I like looking at pictures of Holman-Hunt as much as his paintings (much owing to that beard). There is a painting in the NPG of a crowded exhibition room at the Royal Academy, and it was in that painting I first discovered Holman-Hunt, because he stands out so exceptionally as a character himself with his slightly unruly, auburn hair and eccentric fur frock.
I am really enjoying this tv show. Most of all because it is based on reality. I know everything did not happen exactly like that or in that order of events, and while some things are completely fabricated and others most ridiculously embroidered and almost everything very over-acted, much of it really did happen. Intrigues, rivalry, jealousy, love affairs…most fascinating. And of course the paintings. I love that they are letting the paintings play a role as vital as the people.
And Lizzie. They have turned Amy Manson into an absolute perfect Elizabeth Siddal. It’s worth watching just because of her really.
(Holman-Hunt self-portrait; photgraph by Hollyer at V&A; Amy Mason as Lizzie Siddal)