The stunning conclusion of Season 3 of Downton Abbey two Sundays ago left many viewers angry, disappointed and even vowing to boycott the further adventures of the Crawley family as it struggles to cope with an evolving British way of life in the 1920s.
Count me among those who didn’t care for the (spoiler alert) sudden demise of Matthew Crawley so swiftly after the birth of his son, the future heir of the estate and title, the Earl of Grantham. Knowing, however, that the actor who played Matthew wanted out, never to return, it was a forgone conclusion he would be knocked off before the curtain came down on the third season. Series creator and writer Julian Fellowes had no other choice, though he might have chosen a less dastardly demise.
This being soap opera of the highest caliber one must expect plot twists and cliffhangers to keep the audience guessing and wanting to return for more upstairs and downstairs shenanigans (you can check various Web sites on your own for titillating news about Season 4 plot and casting news).
That reference to Upstairs Downstairs was intentional. Fellowes has seemingly borrowed liberally from that classic series of British aristocracy and their servants. But what completely flabbergasted me was my discovery this afternoon of his most blatant reincarnation of a scene in the third episode of Season 1 from the venerable Oscar-winning movie, Mrs. Miniver.
In that 1942 movie, just as in Downton Abbey, the small town where the action takes place holds an annual flower show competition. Every year the winner for the best rose is the mistress of the manor, Lady Beldon. The judges choose her again, but this time she is persuaded by her grandson-in-law’s mother to announce another winner, an elderly villager named Mr. Ballard.
In Downton Abbey, the Dowager Countess of Grantham overrules the judges’ decision to award her once again the first place cup prize for the best rose. She announces the winner is an elderly villager, Mr. Molesley. She, too, was persuaded to do so by her grandson-in-law’s mother.
(An interesting footnote—Lady Beldon was played by Dame May Whitty; the Dowager Countess is played by Dame Maggie Smith.)
When the movie ended, I immediately googled to see if others had noted the similarities in the stories. Sure enough they had. When confronted, Fellowes basically shrugged it off. I must admit I was less than happy with this turn of events. It reminded me of when I thought Water for Elephants too closely resembled 1940’s Chad Hanna despite the former’s author asserting she had been inspired by old newspaper pictures of circuses (http://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2011/01/before-water-for-elephants.html). I guess I’m not too thrilled with the borrowed creative process. Perhaps it’s the journalist in me that disdains any form of plagiarism.
Yet, as I wrote two years ago, “My friend and former art director Milton says there are no new story lines, just different treatments of the same themes.” He’s right, of course. West Side Story, for example, is Romeo & Juliet, to music. It’s just I wish Julian Fellowes had shown a little more creativity in lifting his flower scene from Mrs. Miniver.