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Ahlin: ‘Downton Abbey’ reminds us of age and perspective

How does a person say "grand old dame" in Russian? You see, I'm having such fun watching the old characters in this season's PBS drama "Downton Abbey" (purported to be 1924), and there's a Russian plotline in the mix. What I can't quite decide, h...

How does a person say “grand old dame” in Russian?
You see, I’m having such fun watching the old characters in this season’s PBS drama “Downton Abbey” (purported to be 1924), and there’s a Russian plotline in the mix. What I can’t quite decide, however, is whether my bias – particularly for the old lady characters – arises because their parts simply are written better this season or whether my age is showing.
Of particular interest is the increasingly close relationship between the Dowager Countess Grantham (Violet) and Mrs. Crawley (Isobel) mother of Matthew Crawley, the unexpected (not to the manor born) – and now deceased – heir to Downton. Enemies when the series began, the two women have come to terms over the past few seasons and now have a friendship that is prickly but a friendship, nonetheless. Although they continue to throw barbs, the vitriol is gone. In addition, romance has entered the picture for each: Isobel Crawley has received a romantic proposal of marriage from Lord Merton (Dickie) and Lady Grantham has come face to face with a Russian prince from her past who is a penniless refugee in England because of the Russian Revolution.
Violet – played by Maggie Smith – and Isobel – played by Penelope Wilton – discuss the Russian, Prince Kuragin, who was captivated by Violet when she and her husband visited Russia the century before. At that time, Russia was a tsarist society of ornate palaces and upper-class extravagance, much grander than that of England. Violet admits to Isobel that Prince Kuragin wanted her to run away with him. However, Violet’s husband – then Lord Grantham – was not unaware and instead of making a scene, presented her with a Faberge frame with a picture of their children in it. Violet did not leave her family.
Isobel says, “It was lucky you found out in time.” At the look on Violet’s face, she adds, “If it was in time.”
Violet replies, “I forget.”
Maybe my fixation on the old ladies of “Downton Abbey” is the pleasure of the dialogue Violet and Isobel often are given. At another point in conversation in a recent episode Isobel tells Violet, “You only say that to sound clever.”
Violet says, “I know.” And then after a perfect pause adds, “You should try it.”
Dialogue can’t be the only reason; however, because I also identify with the old ladies of the downstairs staff, Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper, and Mrs. Padmore, the cook. When Mrs. Padmore pays for math tutoring for her assistant Daisy and then discovers Daisy’s devotion to her studies is causing more work for Mrs. Padmore, herself, the cook’s shoes are mine. When Mrs. Hughes keeps information from others to stop an upset from becoming a blow-up, I’m in complete agreement.
The first time I really thought about how age influences the characters in books and shows we identify with was shortly after my husband and I married. He was still in school, and with good friends engaged to be married – also still in school – we went to the movie “Love Story.”
The stars were Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw, and the characters they played were a young couple crazy in love who married against his wealthy father’s wishes. Not long after, she was diagnosed with leukemia and died. It was a weepy, weepy movie that spawned the infamous phrase, “Love means not ever having to say you’re sorry.” Not sure I could watch it without gagging now, but we loved it then.
My husband even recommended it to his parents. The next time they talked on the phone, my husband asked how they’d liked it. For a moment there was silence. Then his dad said, “That kid never called his father anything but an S.O.B. the whole movie.”
Wonder what my father-in-law would have thought if the father had been the one in love and the son objected. For that matter, what would we have thought?
Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum. Email janeahlin@yahoo.com

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