Audiences today are used to television revolving around large quantities of action or drama, sometimes even both. Most of the shows on television today are shaped by and mimic the fast paced lives of the people watching them. There is never a dull moment; the viewers are on the edges of their seats waiting to see if the protagonist will make it to the end of the episode. Many of these shows will start with a realistic premise, characters, and plot, but as it becomes more popular and gains a larger audience the producers heighten the drama to unrealistic and melodramatic levels to please their growing audience who are accustomed to drama centered programming. Downon Abbey is one of the shows which falls under this category. It begins as a period piece depicting a realistic flashback into the history of Victorian England, but as the show progresses and the producers feel the pressure to appease a rapidly growing audience the show focuses more on drama and less on historical accuracy. The producers of Downton Abbey begin to deviate from strict historical accuracy in later seasons due to the assumed belief that modern audiences need entertainment revolving around excessive action and drama.
The opening season of Downton Abbey is a good on screen representation of life on an aristocratic estate in Victorian England. The issues addressed in this season were the same ones that families of the time period were dealing with. The main issue the family faces during this season comes in the form of Matthew Crawley who is the next in line to inherit both the estate of Downton and Lord Grantham’s title. However, he is a very distant cousin and unacquainted with the family. This causes a slight rift between him and the Grantham’s because instead of their eldest daughter, Mary, inheriting the money, property, and title it goes to Matthew the distant cousin who no one has met.. There is the slim possibility that the money and property could be separated from the title and given to Mary, but under no circumstances could she get the Earl’s title as well. In her article Joanne Bailey discusses women bringing property to marriage, but it no longer belonging to them once they are settled in the marriage. All the property and possessions automatically transfer to their husband. Women had no right to possessions or property. Everything would pass on to the next male kin whether he was a son, cousin, nephew, or grandson. Women had next to no rights to property, (Bailey 363-4). In season one the Grantham’s are forced to cope with the reality of a stranger taking possession of the precious estate of Downton upon the death of Lord Grantham. This dilemma they face is one that many families would have had to face at the time. The producers of the show did well in portraying a realistic over-arching conflict for season one that fits well with struggles people faced during the time period.
Another accurate representation of the time period is the interactions between the servants and the family,
Later seasons do not uphold the same historical accuracy kept in season one. Mary and Matthew’s positions and relationship becomes very unrealistic and dramatic. As a television show it is understandable for more drama and conflicts to arise in the lives of the characters than what would happen in real life to maintain the interest of the audience. Without drama no one would watch; however, with such a vast cast at their disposal the producers limit themselves by only focuses on a handful of characters. They end up making the lives of the few audience's favorite characters a series of unfortunate events. Mary and Matthew are one of the couples who get extensive amounts of bad luck. This couple never gets a moment to breathe. As the seasons progress Matthew loses his ability to walk then gains it back. He falls in love with another woman, Lavina, then falls back in love with Mary while that young woman is dying. He inherits Lavina’s money and refuses to use it to save Downton which has once again fallen in danger of going under because he is plagued with guilt of betraying Lavina by loving Mary. This refusal causes distress in his relationship with Mary. She believes him to be selfish. He agrees to use the money for Downton. Their relationship ends in the sudden death of Matthew on his way from the hospital to Downton to announce the birth of his and Mary’s newly born son. A small number of these things happening to Mary and Matthew would be logical and believable, but all on top of each other makes for very melodramatic lives for the characters. The fact that Matthew inherits not only Lord Grantham’s money, but also the money of Lavina’s father merely because he was half in love with the man’s daughter is not realistic. It was out of the ordinary for him to get the money and estate of Downton alone, but to add another very substantial fortune make the circumstance become less than believable. Finally when Mary and Matthew have settled all of their troubles he ends up dead. This also happens soon after the youngest sister dies after the birth of her daughter, making Matthew’s death also less likely and realistic. The fact that the Grantham’s ends up with two single parents living under its roof in the matter of a year is not something that would have happened. It is clear in the lives of Matthew and Mary that the producers are pushing for heavy drama instead of realistic happenings.
Anna and Bates also have a decline in accuracy as the seasons go on. As stated earlier there is already a
The opening season of Downton Abbey is successful in portraying an accurate representation of life on an estate in the Victorian era, but as the show progresses the producers lean toward heightened drama over historical reality to please their audience. Season one depicts real struggles such as that between Mary and Matthew and settling the upset feelings about who will inherit the title and the estate. Along with realistic struggles there are believable relationships between the servants and their employers. With Anna and Bates their are just the right levels of intimacy between them and their respective mistress and master to allow exploration into their lives while still maintaining realistic interactions. Later into the seasons however, the producers of the show allow these interactions to slip into strange levels of intimacy between the Grantham and Bates families. Meanwhile Mary and Matthew go through a slue of issues which end in Mary as a widow. by favoring these types of story lines the producers are opting for more drama and less accuracy in the show. In doing this they are playing to their audience. Knowing that the people watching their show are used to programs that never give you a breath of calm they strive to mimic these other shows in hopes of keeping their audience. By believing that the audience watching Downton Abbey prefers shows brimming with drama the producers fill the show and the lives of the characters with unrealistic levels of it in order to keep their audiences watching and consequently lower the quality of the show. Downton Abbey suffers because the producers are worried more about playing to the tastes of their audience than keeping the high quality the show began with in season one.
Bailey, Joanne. "Favoured or Oppressed? Married Women, Property and ‘coverture’ in England, 1660–1800." Cambridge Journals. Cambridge University Press, Dec. 2002. Web. 30 Mar. 2014.
Higgs, Edward. "Domestic Servants and Households in Victorian England." JSTOR. Taylor and Francis Ltd., 2006. Web. 30 Mar. 2014.