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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Downton Abbey's Countess of Grantham, Maggie Smith

Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, is one of Downton Abbey's favourite characters.  She always carries off her witty one-liners with aplomb.  Winner of two Academy Awards, Maggie Smith keeps fans coming back for more.

Of course the show is a complete fairy tale and nothing like real life. Centered around the despised British class system, an obvious attempt is made to make the owners of Downton appear to be something history has proved they were not - kind-hearted employers.

Although there were few exceptions, the ruling class were hard taskmasters who demanded their servants work 14 hour days and insisted that maids slept in 'virgin quarters.'  The Complete Servant, written in 1825, by Sarah and Samuel Adams, former butler and lady's maid, gave advice on how a country house like Downton Abbey should be run.

At 5am every morning, the housemaid's day began.  She would open the shutters in the family sitting rooms, rake out and relay the fires, black and polish the fireplaces, tidy up the mess made from the night before, spread the carpets with dried tea leaves to remove the dust and sweep up the tea leaves.  Then she would move on to the dining room and repeat the process.

Back upstairs to milord and milady's dressing rooms to empty chamber pots, light the fires, clean and dust, all the time making sure not to wake the sleeping family. Then after she had cleaned and swept the grand staircase (which she was never allowed to use), she could have breakfast.

And so it went on all day, going from one chore to another, making beds, cleaning room after room, the work never stopped until the butler announced that the family had finally retired.  Then, after travelling up and down countless flights of stairs all day, she could go to bed. 

One of the most outrageous fairytale plots on Downton was when the youngest daughter ran away with an Irish chauffeur named Bransen. When she dies giving birth to their daughter, he becomes an important member of the Grantham family, something that would never happen.

Irish actor Allen Leech 

Anna Bates, played by Joanne Froggatt and her husband John Bates played by Brendan Coyle are also popular characters. When Mr Bates takes revenge on Anna's attacker, the show's ratings went through the roof.

But for all it's faults, Downton Abbey is still essential viewing and Series 5 is already wrapped up.  It's a refreshing break away from the reality rubbish that dominates our television screens lately and with actors like Maggie Smith, it's outstanding success is likely to continue throughout the world.