Downton Abbey premiered in 2010. It went on to become a global hit, finding audiences in over 220 territories.
The massive success of the show took everyone by surprise- the critics and creator alike. This article will explore some of the reasons behind the show’s universal appeal.
The Love and Romance
Many often claim how Downton Abbey is successful because it is just another form of escapism. They would be right. It is indeed an escape from the vulgarity, obscenity, and pornography flooding other forms of popular entertainment today.
It is one of the few shows left that still celebrates the grandness of love and romance. Furthermore, it is devoid of the dumb clichés and the defeatist cynicism that is generally widespread in so many of our modern entertainment. We can give this credit to the show’s creator and screenwriter Julian Fellowes. If there is one thing Julian Fellowes does well in Downton Abbey, it is his storytelling of characters with their grand passions quietly smoldering behind a well-integrated plot.
It is one of the few shows left that still celebrates the grandness of love and romance.
Hence, cheap sex scenes and dumb plot twists will not do because it’s simply unnecessary. Characters like Michael Gregson would sooner die in the hands of Hitler’s Brownshirts than to relegate the love of his life to a lifetime of an illicit affair. And that is what makes for a good story.
The Outstanding Characters
It is difficult today for us to find great male characters in entertainment. There is scarcely any outlet where the male characters aren’t depicted as either buffoonish tools, immoral creeps, or sad and tortured antiheroes. Downton Abbey is a standout contrary to this trend.
There is scarcely any outlet where the male characters aren’t depicted as either buffoonish tools, immoral creeps, or sad and tortured antiheroes.
Just about all of the male characters in the series (even the comic reliefs like Mr. Molesley), lived up to the best that he can be. Strong, intelligent, capable, moral, ethical; the list of admirable characteristics goes on.
That is not to say the female characters are weak and worthless in comparison. Rather, it is because the female characters are as equally respectable to their admirable male counterparts, which makes their pairing perfectly wonderful to the male leads.
The Benevolence and Happy Endings
Downton Abbey concluded with all the characters finding love and happiness at the end. This approach is noticeably different because these days shows tend to end with a depressing, unsatisfactory note. Writers gravitate to this type of narrative because they think it’s more “gritty, edgy, and real.” The bleaker the ending, the deeper the meaning, or so they believe.
Julian Fellowes took a different path. He wrote up happily-ever-afters for all of his characters by the conclusion of the series. This was the narrative approach that connected with the audiences of Downton Abbey. The happy endings are a reminder that we can attain happiness and fulfillment in our lives. There is an aspirational benefit to our psyche when we watch lovable characters successfully struggle against obstacles in their fight to overcome conflict.
There is an aspirational benefit to our psyche when we watch lovable characters successfully struggle against obstacles in their fight to overcome conflict.
Good art gives our life a sense of hope and optimism. It is the same reason why we still watch Disney’s 1950 Cinderella even today.
The Expectations of Higher Standards
Someone who is consistently exposed tragic endings will develop a negative outlook of the world. They will start to give up and check out on life. In short, they’ll stop desiring any higher standards for themselves because they’ll think that higher values are unattainable.
The reason why an inspirational story (like Cinderella) is always better with a happy ending is because it reminds us that in life, if we stay true to our ideals, life will turn out well for us in the end. It’ll encourage us to keep pursuing what we want out of life because ultimately - being happy is achievable.
If we stay true to our ideals, life will turn out well for us in the end.
In Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes masterfully wrote characters that are motivated to achieve personal excellence for themselves. Different characters may desire different values, but the unifying factor is in how everybody lives up to their own highest standards. By doing so, the characters represent an image of our best aspirations for ourselves. It is a wonderful guide we can use for how we conduct our own lives.
The Moral Responsibilities
Another brilliant literary technique setting Julian Fellowes apart from other screenwriters is his conscious effort to write about characters that take personal responsibilities for their actions.
His artistic genius is in the creation of characters who are conscious moral agents acting within their moral code. The characters understand right from wrong and make their decisions accordingly.
The characters understand right from wrong and make their decisions accordingly.
Take, for example, Lady Edith’s storyline. As previously mentioned above, her lover Michael Gregson was killed by Hitler’s Brownshirts during his quest to attain German citizenship in order to marry her. Unfortunately for Edith, she was pregnant with his child. Lady Edith initially considered getting an abortion for fear of becoming a social pariah. She later changed her mind because she realizes it was the wrong decision to get rid of the baby for social reasons and convenience's sake. Doing so spared her a lifetime of guilt, regret, and sorrow. This storyline is a literary narrative on moral action.
Because the characters' choices shape their life, Downton Abbey implies that life is logical. This logical plot progression helps make the Downton story compelling to audiences. We rarely admit to this (perhaps to avoid appearing simple-minded), but it is a big favor to the audience when we aren't left in bafflement trying to make sense of a storyline.
Julian Fellowes’s Modern Romanticism
Many critics have tried to figure out the secret behind Downton Abbey’s success. The explanation is easy. It is Julian Fellowes’s masterful execution of modern romanticism for the screen that is the underlying reason behind the success. There is something universal inside everyone that is attracted to true romance and optimism. Uplifting entertainment helps us cope with today’s modern world.
Fellowes's artistry crafted a world that is beautiful, romantic, and wonderful for audiences to take joy in. We want goodness and happiness in our lives, and we can find that in his work. And that is what makes Downton Abbey great.