Feb 27 2012

Spinster aunt admits she is entertained by sexist, honky TV show

The morning after the Oscars — no I didn’t watch it, as Angelina Jolie’s Leg is fairly irrelevant in the life of a reclusive dirt farmer — seems as good a time as any to trot out one of my favorite themes. Which is:

If misogyny didn’t exist, if the human uterus was not the property of male interests, if boinking were truly the apolitical, natural bodily function everyone always claims it is, Hollywood would be utterly bereft of subject material.

I mention this because to my great shame I have become a Downton Abbeyist. The outfits, the accents, the melodrama, the stereotypes, the primogeniture, the Gretna Green elopements. It’s mesmerizing, the shiniest thing in a room full of shiny things.

When stealing images of Maggie Smith off the Internet, one may choose between sexy ones and witchy ones.

I watch this show despite the fact that at the entire nub of the main plot is the ruined “purity” of the heroine.* Who will she marry? Also, who will her hot sister marry? Who will her homely sister marry? Who will her aging aunt marry? Will her saintly maid marry the saintly valet? Will the kitchen maid marry the brave young soldier to give him something to live for? Will the family heir marry the saintly London girl? What will the disgraced maid do with her bastard son of a wealthy Major, who she can’t marry because he’s dead?

Don’t try to tell me that the vadge-policing plot device only reflects the misogyny of a bygone era. If ours were a society in which women’s sexuality weren’t entirely co-opted by dudely interests, nobody would be watching “Downton Abbey.” Or anything else on TV.

Unless, possibly, one wished simply to behold the magnificent Maggie Smith at the top of her game. She is, in this series and in any other thing she’s ever done, like a perfect ripe strawberry in a gilded Spode bowl of Cool Whip.

Of course I hate myself for buying in. But if I didn’t hate myself, I wouldn’t be a citizen of the patriarchy.

* To say nothing of the racist elements: such as, the one ethnically non-British character, the “Turkish Ambassador,” is the one who defiles the daughter and immediately dies.

Photo of Maggie Smith in a witch’s hat stolen here.


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  1. ewige

    So much love for Maggie Smith– especially her involvement with 1976’s Murder by Death.

  2. allhellsloose

    I did resist this initially but then gave in. It was a submission I’m not proud of but I did receive pleasure in return. Watching Maggie Smith is a joy indeed.

    LOL at all these confessions. But I gave up on the Oscars years ago.

  3. Rachel

    Don’t be defeatist, dear. It’s very middle class.

  4. Stella

    A lifelong Anglophile, I couldn’t help but watch this. It jumped the shark in episode three, with the ridiculous Mr. Pamuk plot.

    It is a soap opera, and the quality has gone down since the first few episodes. But I enjoy the accents, especially the Yorkshire accents of some of the downstairs staff, which one doesn’t hear on American TV too often.

    Agreed all round on Maggie Smith.

  5. someonered

    So many people whose tastes in movies, music, etc. I respect very much are raving about this show. One friend even shared Downton Abbey print-out paper dolls, FFS. Yet as usually happens when something is just so good that everyone talks about it, some kind of mental block forms in my brain which causes me to resist watching (or listening to) said latest awesome thing. No idea why.

    All that aside, Maggie Smith is brilliant. It’s wonderful that she’s involved with yet another successful venture.

  6. dillene

    So basically, this is like “All My Children” with lorgnettes.

  7. stacey

    someonered, same here. It ticks all my boxes: anglophilia, check; exquisite set design and costuming, check; all my fave actors, check; class antics, check. And yet I haven’t made the effort to see it. Too mainstream? I was into “Downton Abbey” when it was called “Pride and Prejudice.”

  8. squiggy

    The music of DA is so soothing. I could stomach the P a bit better if I had that sweeping soundtrack in my life.

  9. ew_nc

    Count me in as a Downton Abbey-ist. And I seriously have no idea why I’m so into it, as I rarely cave into the popular opinion. But I guess I’ll just shut up and enjoy it, however guiltily.

    Favorite characters are Anna the Maid and Isis the Dog.

  10. shopstewardess

    The photographs in this and the previous post have a remarkable resemblance. Just saying.

    I haven’t worked out whether historical fiction gets a pass on showing the even more vile patriarchal standards than those we currently live under. The problem with Downton Abbey might be that it is being done the way it is because it can be got away with and is thus a cop-out on feminist issues, in the same way that setting the plot of a crime thriller (or a mistaken identity/imposter story) in the days before DNA testing can be a cop-out.

    I haven’t been watching Downton Abbey. I did long ago have the privilege of seeing Dame Maggie on the London stage: she was amazing even in a not very good and now mostly forgotten play called The Interpreters.

  11. Kristin

    I watch Downton because of Dame Maggie. She is huge fun. The writer, Julian Fellowes, said in an interview that he got regular complaints (from those in the know, I presume) about DA not being realistic. For example, one doesn’t personally present one’s servants with Chrimbo presents. COME on!
    I find the self-sacrificing butler fella irritating.

  12. tinfoil hattie

    Don’t be defeatist, dear. It’s very middle class.


  13. Logoskaieros

    Favorite lines so far:
    “What is a weekend?” and
    “Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

    It is grating though that lines like the first one are about as far as the series goes in exploring class dynamics. There are way too many ‘saintly’ characters and it has crossed over into implausible that the rich family wouldn’t ever use its power to coerce/bribe/blackmail the servants. (Anyone who does do this is a minor character and labeled as ‘evil/sketchy’)

    Also, yes it’s Victorian England and all (and by “Victorian” I mean ‘old-timey’) but come one there must be at least one person who isn’t white floating around their lives. (The Turkish guy doesn’t count because if no one’s horrified at the thought of him sleeping with a white woman, he counts as white. Plus he might have been British. I was confused on that point and am ignorant of old-timey geopolitics.)

    And finally, it’s funny that in an interview the Cora actress remarked that the show’s about these women who were bored out their minds with nothing to do….and yet the show makes Isabel–who actually does something with her time–come off as incredibly annoying with all her projects while all the ‘bored’ rich women look very glamorous.

  14. susanw

    My favourite is Daisy, who doesn’t want to be a liar. If there is a glimmer of RadFem at Downton, it is she, torn between kindness and her horror of benefitting from a falsehood.

  15. Lovepug

    I have yet to get Season 3 from Netflix. I heard that it kind of went off on into a weird area. But the promise of Shirley Maclaine in Season 4 will keep me going back for more.

    I mostly have a beef with how much it rips off Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers.

    I think Mr. Bates is a total hottie. IBTP.

  16. eb

    I totally enjoy Downton Abbey but the it’s so patriarchially cliched I want to scream. I too noted that the ‘person of color’ not only defiles the daughter, but he rushes into her room, she wants him to leave, says she’s going to scream, he persists, she gives in. It’s the old “no means yes” rape trope played out. And, then he dies, because that’s what happens to POC is all white dramas (which happen to be just about all of them).

    Then, ALL but one of the men are noble. Even Sir Richard the newspaper mogul is noble because it’s his job to be an extortionist and gossip monger. Plus, he loves Mary and this makes him noble. The one man who is not noble? Thomas. And he’s what? That’s right, he’s GAY. Which, of course, makes him a defacto woman.

    The women? Mary is bitchy and petulant and the beautiful older daughter. Edith is the homely middle daughter who bitches back at her older sister. Mrs. Bates is an evil bitch trying to keep her husband from happiness, O’Brien is a bitch and baby murderer (Mrs. O’Brien, in the bathroom, with the soap), Cora can be an insensitive bitch, and the conniving bitch of a maid brought along by Lady Rosalind is fucking with Rosalind’s hapless boy toy in order to live a life full of riches.

    Ana, saintly maid, when told by conniving bitch maid, “Well, you know how men can be,” answers with, “And I know who women can be, too.” Cuz women jes be evil beetches, and men? Well, they’re noble beings who do nothing wrong and if they do anything wrong it’s because some woman is behind it all. Scheming bitches the lot of them.

    And Jesus Jumped Up Christ, if Mr. Bates isn’t the biggest dumbshit that ever lived in fiction. All because he’s so damn noble he had to tell the prosecutors every fucking conversation he had about his evil wife.

    But, it’s all worth it to watch Maggie Smith spin her magic.

  17. Lovepug

    For a patriarchal themed craft project, Downton Abbey paper dolls:


  18. stacey

    shopstewardess says:

    …in the same way that setting the plot of a crime thriller (or a mistaken identity/imposter story) in the days before DNA testing can be a cop-out.

    But in what way? I find historical mysteries to be pretty entertaining, because they cannot rely on forensic evidence, and therefore have to rely on observation.

  19. rubysecret

    I can’t help but hear the phrase “like a perfect ripe strawberry in a gilded Spode bowl of Cool Whip” in Smith’s own crackling, lilting Scottish accent, and feeling as though that phrase means she’s just caught me misbehaving in the back of Transfiguration class.

  20. ivyleaves

    How timely, I just watched the entire 1st season all over again yesterday because Netflix doesn’t have the second one yet. My son overheard and asked me if that was Professor McGonagall talking.

    Love her, can’t wait to see more.

  21. Hippolyta

    I generally detest the series of videos that have sprung up under the name Sh!t People Say. However, Sh!t Dowagers Countesses Say (Downton Abbey) is highly entertaining. There are immitators but this is the original and the best, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IzpM1qBLio.

  22. Twisty

    I think you can argue that there’s a political element to the romanticization of Edwardian sexism that just isn’t there in a historical mystery.

  23. lizor

    I’m Downton Abbeyist as well, for all reasons listed above and I’d watch Maggie perform the phone book.

    The series gets compared to Upstairs Downstairs quite a bit – a Granada series from the 70s of which they have produced a sequel series. The sequel is OK, but the original is pretty fantastic. It was created and produced by Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins. Fay Weldon wrote for it regularly and it is as non-sexist as anything I seen on TV. Also a really great dissection of class structure (a lot less wealth worship than Downton).

    It’s hard to find and perhaps a bit lo-fi by today’s standards. I love that part because it means that the souped up production does not get in the way of great writing and great acting (rather than compensating for lack of those two elements).

    I scrounged the torrents and found it. It’s one of the only things I can watch without feeling enraged or particularly guilty.

    Here is the first 9 minutes of the series pilot.


    Also, “Upstairs Downstairs Abbey”, a send up.


  24. Tamarind

    Regarding the Mr Pamuk incident, according to Julian Fellowes, interviewed in a “Making Of” recently screened where I live, that was based on a real incident. He found some letters written by some Englishwomen (sorry can’t remember where)describing said incident which really took place.

    I also confess to finding DW really watchable (having watched up to and including the Xmas Special). And Daisy is great.

  25. Ruth Ellen

    “When stealing images of Maggie Smith off the Internet, one may choose between sexy ones and witchy ones”

    Well, some of us think that the witchy ones ARE sexy!

  26. Rididill

    Actually you can watch Upstairs Downstairs on

    www. tv-links.eu

    Seasons 1 and 2 are awesome and often unsexist, though I was a bit annoyed at what a spoiled shallow idiot the daughter was.

    Season 3 so far has been all about the men, who are in many ways grotesque, so that’s been a bit less enjoyable.

  27. qvaken

    Darnit! I’ve never seen this show. I’ve HEARD of it.

    Anyone for a BBC Pride and Prejudice? Anyone?

  28. Sarah

    My non-Portland-based boss said to me today, “You didn’t watch the Oscars?!? Isn’t that, like, illegal in Portland??”

    Clearly, she has never been to Portland.

    Anyway, I’ve never watched the Oscars nor Downtown Abbey. I don’t get the appeal of the former (unless you’re into watching circle-jerks, in which case, I get the appeal) and I’m scared of period dramas for no discernible reason. My roommate watches it, though, and now that it’s quasi-endorsed by Internet Blamer Extraordinaire I may well give it a try.

  29. Triste

    Does that have explosions?

    I only watch things with explosions.

  30. Fede

    BBC’s Pride and Prejudice; check!

    It doesn’t quite do justice to Jane Austen’s not inconsiderable brilliance, but hey – anything that gets Colin Firth wet. Sorry, I know there are ladies present who might be a little squeamish about such tawdry details of one blamer’s unfortunate inclinations, but there it is. I am but human.

    It has no explosions, I’m afraid.

  31. Twisty

    now that it’s quasi-endorsed by Internet Blamer Extraordinaire I may well give it a try.

    NO! It is not even quasi-endorsed. My Downton Abbiness is my (formerly) secret shame, and I bring it up only to demonstrate the insidiousness of patriarchal conditioning. If it can sucker in so advanced a patriarchy blamer as myself, I can only deduce that my blaming is not as advanced as I had thought. Do not succumb!

    After dashing off this little post today I began thinking of a gajillion more ways in which Downton Abbey is a patriarchy-replicating force for evil, and I see that many blamers have already noted same. The thoroughgoing honkiness; the mythical “benevolent slavemaster” theme; the preponderance of characters who are paragons; the glaring absence of a) any kind of feminist politics b) any real sense of the below-stairs drudgery; the utter pukiness of Mr Bates; and the painful shallowness of all the characters but in particular the Maggie Smith one because it’s Maggie effing Smith — all this makes me want to rip my own head off.

  32. qvaken

    I’m realising the patriarchiness in just about everything that I enjoy or have ever enjoyed. But that’s such a grim thought! So I just go ahead and still enjoy things, but I’m slightly pickier with what I’ll be a fan of.

    Fede: High five, but only a little high five, because I never really got that whole enjoy-a-show-because-there-are-nude-men-for-the-ogling thing. But that’s just me.

  33. thebewilderness

    I too fell prey to Downton,two weeks ago. I simply had to see Maggie Smith.
    I went to the website and streamed and gorged on the first two seasons. Meh, except for Dame Maggie.
    Every opportunity, and there were many, to explore the social issues of the day was glossed over or simply dismissed.

  34. speedbudget

    mr. speedbudget was exhorting me to watch this, as he had watched two episodes and wanted me to catch up. I was unsure, but now that I know Maggie Smith is in it, I will. She was absolutely delightful in _Room With A View_.

  35. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Yes, a guilty pleasure indeed. It was the costumes and the music that sucked me in. I swore I wouldn’t succumb, but resistance was futile. The final disk of season one is on its way back to the Netflixians.

    As for the Oscars, never. But I probably will sneak and look at everyone’s dress later on today.

  36. Fede

    A small high-five, then, qvaken!

    I never really got that whole enjoy-a-show-because-there-are-nude-men-for-the-ogling thing. But that’s just me.

    Just shows that you have better and less corrupt taste than I. In my meagre defence, let me just say that I won’t watch a show that has no other redeeming qualities than its ogling potential! I do think Pride and Prejudice has a lot more going for it apart from that.

  37. Tei Tetua

    Downton Abbey is too much soap opera for me, but my partner loves it, and I hear the plummy accents drifting over to my lonely spot in the kitchen. But if it were real Yorkshire, you’d never understand it.

    Shopstewardess, you aren’t the only senior citizen here. I also saw Dame Maggie on stage in London, just before she did “The Interpreters”–Congreve’s “The Way of the World”. You can’t expect a male playwright of 300 years ago to be much of a patriarchy-blamer, but he knew enough to create Millamant. When she finally agrees to marry Mirabell, she insists on what’s basically a prenuptial contract (though the details are pretty trivial) and finishes it by saying “These articles subscribed, if I continue to endure you a little longer, I may by degrees dwindle into a wife.”

    Maybe not enough, but that’s blaming, isn’t it?

  38. lizor

    @ Rididill, thanks for the link! Just to reiterate – the degree of sexism comment was in the context of what I have seen on broadcast TV. That’s an extremely low bar.

    And what is with the world’s rapt attention to the oscars? I am sure it did not hold the primary position in the public’s attention that it does now. Same with the f**king superbowl. I have had struggling artists around me all my life and no one ever gave a side glance to either of these. Now everyone is glued to the screen- even for the football.

    Here in Canada it has recently come to light that our reigning Bushites rigged the last election, yet this story was sixth in our national paper yesterday.

    The lead story was about the frigging oscars.

  39. Hippolyta

    How does the Blametariat feel about period pieces in general. Accuracy seems to dictate, sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. Is choosing to create a period piece by its nature patriarchy at its worst or can a period piece be handled in such a way as to mitigate the oppressor/oppressed themes? I’m thinking of the Iron Lady, which though insanely white and upper class is also about a woman breaking into a male dominated realm of power.

  40. speedbudget

    Period pieces can be wonderful vehicles for patriarchy blaming, but instead they get turned into a big old “See how much WORSE it could be, ladies??”

    Kind of like how the Democrats campaign, now that I think of it.

  41. Twisty

    The success of a period piece, from the standpoint of feminist analysis, can be judged by the tone of the narrative. Is the piece told from the point of view of the oppressor, and is it just an excuse to get away with sexism and racism like in the good old days, and does it basically say “white dudes are awesome!”, or does it offer a critique of the barbaric mores of yore through the eyes of marginalized characters who are developed beyond the usual stereotypes? Furthermore, for optimum excellence, any critique of barbaric mores of yore should challenge the present day status quo.

  42. Tiakristi

    speedbudget: great analogy.

  43. yttik

    “I can only deduce that my blaming is not as advanced as I had thought. Do not succumb!”

    Well wait, Twisty. There is something refreshingly honest about Downton Abby. Certainly the thin veneer that covers up today’s classism and sexism is stripped away so there are no illusions left. Those classist and sexist themes are alive and well today, they’re just usually hidden under a fog of gaslighting so you begin to wonder if you might just be crazy. We’ve “progressed,” beyond all that, haven’t we? Hell no! You can still smell it right under the surface. Downton Abby has an appealing way of letting you know where you really stand.

    I watched Angelina Jolie, but not her leg, her tiny skeletal arms and it made me want to cry. Her and Demi Moore used to be healthy, even had roles that required some muscles in their arms. The change is shocking. Once again I’m reminded that the pursuit of unnatural female thinness that Hollywood demands is just criminal.

  44. buttercup

    Boardwalk Empire sucked me in for the sets and costumes, (and kept me coming back for the period music) so I can relate. It’s on HBO so it’s got scads of gratuitous violence and a minimum requirement of female nudity. It’s an interesting show though. Some of the women have very interesting parts and character development, and there is a major story line about the people of color in AC.

  45. piratequeen

    Hippolyta, thanks for the link to all the good Maggie Smith lines. It looks like her character gets to speak her own mind — one of the advantages of being assigned by the P to the “unfuckable” category.

  46. Kathy McCarty

    It looks like her character gets to speak her own mind — one of the advantages of being assigned by the P to the “unfuckable” category.

    Well that, PLUS unimaginable wealth!

  47. bitch with opinions

    This show needs an entry on “Stuff White People Like.” I say this as a pasty, ladyparts-owning, hardcore Downtonite.

    The fact that it’s another “well, it’s HISTORICAL, so of COURSE there are no non-white people on screen except for the one that dies immediately also BRITAIN had no non-white people!” drama makes me sad, but not sad enough to stop watching and loving everything Maggie Smith ever says.

  48. stacey

    One great example of period drama that overtly makes comments on class, race, and sexism is Patricia Rozema’s Mansfield Park of 1999. It is universally disliked because of its divergence from the novel and its free-and-easy license with period detail; that’s unfortunate, because it’s a story that hangs together really well, with very pointed references to slavery and sexism.

    There’s also the most graphic sex ever in a Jane Austen adaptation, and in the uncut version there’s an ENTIRE BOOB to look at.

    Austen usually had a line or two in each novel about the limited opportunities for “ladies”, but they certainly don’t stand out very much in the film or mini-series versions. 1995’s Persuasion has the line about all novels being “written by men” (and they handily gave the line to Anne, whereas in the book it’s uttered by a man) and Emma Thompson made sure to include the thing about men getting to choose their profession in her screenplay adaptation in 1995’s Sense and Sensibility. I can’t recall the recent round of late-2000s adaptations to have given much weight to those aspects.

  49. Jezebella

    Stacey, I would argue that Austen’s entire oeuvre is entirely ABOUT “the limited opportunities for ladies.” Why else is marriage so central to their lives? It’s all they’ve got. Marriage or spinsterhood and inheritance entirely direct and determine the lives of the women in her books. Austen doesn’t make it overt because she doesn’t need to. One look at her personal life – in which she chose writing over marriage/family – tells us all we need to know about what her priorities were, and that she was well aware that she couldn’t have both, not at her middling income level.

  50. AlienNumber

    yttik, why so hard on Angelina? Truthfully, I was watching her starving legs and, on the verge of getting a headache, I instinctively reached for more cake. And some chips and some cheese. She’s very inspiring!

    In conclusion: one is truly privileged who can have cake whenever one wants.

  51. gogo

    The original Upstairs Downstairs is on the Netflix, streaming or DVD, and is probably available thru people’s local libraries.

    PBS had all of Season 1 of DA on their website, and I think Season 2 went up as each episode aired.

    The tvlinks is another option. Just in case folks want to watch it.

    I thought Season 1 was much better than the silly second season. The clothes and jewelry and Maggie Smith are the best parts, the rest is goofier as the plots go tediously on & on.

  52. stacey

    I totally agree, Jezebella, that Austen doesn’t make it overt because it’s understood that women have to play the marriage market to their advantage. But I do like it when she comes out and says so. :)

  53. G


    Good Austen quote from chapter 14 of Northanger Abbey. Two women are talking about reading:

    “But history, real solemn history, I cannot be interested in. Can you?”

    “Yes, I am fond of history.”

    “I wish I were too. I read it a little as a duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all — it is very tiresome: and yet I often think it odd that it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention. The speeches that are put into the heroes’ mouths, their thoughts and designs — the chief of all this must be invention, and invention is what delights me in other books.”

  54. minervaK

    OMG. I am also digging this program, and in a similar vein. SHINY!… PRETTY!… It’s also something of a relief from the usual prime time American fare, in which all the women are sexay and all the men are Rob Schneider.

  55. minervaK

    Fede said:

    In my meagre defence, let me just say that I won’t watch a show that has no other redeeming qualities than its ogling potential!

    To which I reply: by Freya’s Pigtails, why the fuck not?!?! IBTP for women thinking they can’t look at shit for the sheer pleasure of looking at it.

  56. Fede

    Ha. You’ve got a point there, minervaK, and a really good one.

    Patriarchal double standards are seldom more blatant than in the disparate rules of etiquette governing the female and the male gaze, respectively. So much more propriety is expected of women.

    I guess when I say ‘a show that has no other redeeming qualities than its ogling potential’, I imagine something that, apart from having good-looking actors, is either desperately boring, infuriating, or both. Something like Heroes.

  57. qvaken

    minervaK: “IBTP for women thinking they can’t look at shit for the sheer pleasure of looking at it.”

    Naw, you guys can ogle all you like – it just never got my motor up, that’s all.

    Fede: Hercules!

  58. Fede

    Hercules, ha ha! Yes, I’m sure. I have only ever seen a few clips from it, but was not moved to try out an episode. It would seem to fit the bill perfectly, though. If one considers the bulk beasties worth ogling, that is.

  59. Katherine

    It says a lot about UK television that Upstairs Downstairs was decades ago, and is still now considered a bit on the subversive side, and that nowadays Downton Abbey is the best we can produce.

    And speaking as en English woman living in Yorkshire, the accent fetishism means nothing to me.

  60. eilish

    Upstairs, Downstairs was my mum’s Show of Secret Shame. She loved the drama, but would be compelled to point out the Evils of English Upper Class Oppression to us. I believe the presence of Gordon Jackson’s accent was a mollifying factor for her.
    I love me some period dramatization usually: but my dance card is full, sorry DA.

  61. CH White

    I’ve been caught up in the shiny/pretty aspect of DA as well. I want to parade around in all the clothes and jewelry including the mens’ even though/because I spend nearly all my time in Carharrt’s best. Way too many holes in the characters’ actions to make them very interesting-like why IS O’Brian so mean? Or that sisterly rivalry between Edith and Mary that borders on murderous?
    The series I found to be far more entertaining was Jewel in the Crown some years back.

  62. Jaffa

    I definitely recommend Austin’s Persuasion, which at first seems to be a gloomy mediation on lost opportunity to marry. The main character has an amazing speech at the end, however, tells her won-again man that it’s nice they’re going to get married now, and yes she had been very depressed by their separation, but her strong sense of duty to her (female) friends and family (who advised her against the match, but now are more amenable) mean more to her and she’d do it all again.

  63. blondie

    “What is a weekend.”
    Love her!

    Sure, it’s wildly problematic, but what isn’t?

  64. Woman


    Caption: “Maggie Smith does not approve of your bullshit.”

  65. gogo

    Oh crap, since this thread I have just tried to watch some Upstairs Downstairs and it’s just so dowdy and flat. 1971: not a good year for the staged historical tele-dramas. Brideshead Revisited (the first of these I ever watched) and DA are lavish, and if ya start there & try to go to UD, the loss of color, sets and costumes, histrionics and convoluted plot twists is too much to handle.

    I’ve fallen asleep 6 times thru 1.5 episodes of UD! !

    I feel like I must finish it just to decide which has the superior storytelling but Christ’s balls it is so duuuuuuulllll.

    Good thing these Brit TV series are short

  66. B. Dagger Lee

    About a year ago Miss Patsy expressed the desire for a “big-ass hi-def TV,” and so I am now here to tell you that Downton Abbey is all about the FUCKING KICK-ASS TEXTILES (and Maggie Smith, but that’s been amply covered above).

    Otherwise, it’s just a class cozy, if I may borrow a mystery term and coin a masterpiece theater term.

  67. phio gistic

    BDL! Huzzah!

  68. stacey

    B. Dagger Lee! yay!

    I agree. One of the reasons i so love period pieces is for the textile detail.

  69. Diana

    Ah, perhaps I have found the only place on the Internet which will agree with my hatred for Branson! Bona fide Edwardian Nice Guy Branson. He actually tells Sybil that her job doesn’t matter. Dude, your job is to drive a car. Even Edith can drive a car.

  70. rootlesscosmo

    textile detail.

    The fine British woolens in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” look fantastic on the big screen. The tailoring is good too, but those fabrics!

  71. Gertrude Strine

    The producers aren’t wasting time. Introducing a second caricature grand dame is jumping the shark at least, and even worse taste than the rest of that tripe. Could Maggie Smith be for some reason not a good long run prospect?
    I qualified as a critic by enduring 2 consecutive episodes a year ago to report for the local rag.
    The irony of revolutionary yanks loving shit set in the dying days of UK empah is not lost on me.

  72. Buttercupia

    Another textile geek here. Fatally distracted by anachronous handknits in movies. Love the clothing details in shows like Boardwalk Menpire. (that and the music are the only things that keep me watching, MARTY.)

  73. Kristin

    Never mind all that DA and UD shitey shite, viewers. I recommend a few cosy hours with the 1995 (or thereabouts) BBC production of George Eliot’s “Middlemarch”. Great textiles, great acting, great story, beautiful music – and even some women having minds of their own and getting rewarded for it. Well, ultimately.
    Nice line: dowager lady frowns at seeing local doc attending party, “There was a time when medical men knew their place”.
    You’ll love it.

  74. dimples

    Women are their own worst enimies, except for Muslims, Catholics, Communists and Zionists and Republicans.

  75. Onely

    I had tried Downtown Abbey on Netflix I believe, but couldn’t get into it because of the combination of lovely accents with terrible laptop speakers. Now I want to retry it. . .

    With the costumes, mansion, etc. it at least has the aura of cliched “culture”, whereas the last regressive trash TV show I got addicted to, Nip/Tuck, didn’t even play at being refined entertainment.

  76. FM

    Angelina Joelie broke the leg crossing rule and wore black, which was forbidden to actresses this month by the shadowy overlords of the fashion houses.

    It’s amazing that Hollywood survived.

  77. FM


    “If it can sucker in so advanced a patriarchy blamer as myself, I can only deduce that my blaming is not as advanced as I had thought. Do not succumb!”

    It’s less misogynistic than “America’s Next Top Model”, and it is not one of those shows where brains go to die. In the current awful TV climate, it’s a very addictive combination.

    I tried to recycle my TV and go cold turkey, but then I found iTunes and YouTube. Damn.

  78. chacha1

    The textiles: “The Tudors.” It’s costume porn. I had to run my fingers through my bead stash to wear off some of the excitement.

    Regarding class, I am not an enormous fan of the BBC-type period drama, haven’t seen any Austen adaptations except “Sense & Sensibility” (the one with Emma Thompson) and “Persuasion” (the one with Ciaran Hinds), but loved and still love “Gosford Park.”

    In terms of patriarchy blaming and mass media, may I direct you to “Being Human,” in which a nearly complete absence of apparent government refreshingly allows the characters to build their own extremely odd hidden societies? It is, unfortunately, still very whitey. Which considering it’s purportedly set in Boston, is pretty rankly lazy.

  79. phio gistic

    “Costume porn”? Costumes that make women into subhuman fucktoilets for the pleasure of the patriarchy? I think I will be skipping that show.

  80. Jezebella

    Indeed, that is not what is meant by costume porn, and that interpretation why I’m not fond of the construction “food porn,” “costume porn,” “design porn,” etc.

    I tried watching The Tudors, mainly for the visual pleasure of the costumes and the oh-so-pretty Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, but I could not stomach the rapey-ness of every single sexual encounter. It was always abundantly clear that no woman had the option of saying no to the king or his powerful inner circle.

  81. Katherine

    may I direct you to “Being Human,” in which a nearly complete absence of apparent government refreshingly allows the characters to build their own extremely odd hidden societies? It is, unfortunately, still very whitey. Which considering it’s purportedly set in Boston, is pretty rankly lazy.

    May I, just for completeness of information, direct you to the fact that this is a US copy of a BBC series. I have no idea what the US version is like, but the BBC one was pretty good.

  82. stacey

    “…but the BBC one was pretty good.”

    I agree. And there’s a black lead character, as well. Still mostly whitey though.

  83. Occasional Expositor

    About 20 years ago, I saw Maggie Smith as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest. Fabulous!

    “A handbag?”

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