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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Clever (Julian) Fellowes shows Charles the First eavesdropping on a brewing family civil war at the Downton dinner table before order is restored



It may be hard to believe, after all the evidence I’ve brought forward the past 2 days which collectively establishes a dense web of allusion to Edith Crawley as a latter day Charles the First, but I’ve found yet another witty piece of the puzzle, which expands the allusion beyond Edith.

It was less than a month ago that I and other American viewers watched Episode 2 of Season Five, and watched the following spirited debate at the Downton dinner table. It occurs right after Tom sees Miss Bunting off, whereupon Robert rather cavalierly (sorry, couldn’t resist) expressed relief that she would not be joining the family for dinner—and Robert’s unconcealed sneer clearly displeases Tom, setting the stage for a sarcastic exchange between them:

CHARLES BLAKE: So you're collecting clothes for the Russian refugees.

ROSE: I said no at first because, well, it didn't feel terribly me. But then I thought about them leading their lives before the fall.

CHARLES: Doing everything you would do.

ROSE: Exactly. Dancing and shopping and seeing their friends and then suddenly being thrown out to fend for themselves in the jungle. Well, I thought I had to help if I could.

ROBERT: It's lucky Miss Bunting refused our invitation or she'd give tell us how they're aristocrats and so they deserve it.

TOM: She believes the old regime was an unjust one. She hopes the new system will be an improvement. Does that make her a firebrand? Because I agree with her.

ROBERT: Don't acts of savagery forfeit sympathy for the perpetrators?

TOM: It was terrible, of course. But the English KILLED KING CHARLES THE FIRST to create a balance between the throne and parliament.

ROBERT: I didn't kill him personally.

TOM: I didn't shoot the Imperial Family.

BRICKER: Goodness. Is this what they call a lively exchange of views?

MARY: t's about now that Papa usually fetches his gun.

CORA: Mary, don't tease Mr Bricker. He's come to see a painting and finds himself in the middle of a CIVIL WAR.  I don't think we'll split tonight.

EDITH: They'll only fight if we do.

CORA: You want to see THE PICTURE and delay is torment.

BRICKER: You read my mind.

As far as I am aware, this is the one and only explicit reference to Charles the First so far in the series. For viewers unaware of the covert allusion to Charles the First which I haves sketched out in my previous posts, this is merely a bit of English history, recalled by Robert and Tom. But for those aware of that covert allusion, this is the icing on that allusive layer cake.

First, it is a subtle but brilliant touch on Fellowes’s part to seat Tom at the bottom of the table facing King Charles’s huge equestrian portrait on the wall opposite him. This makes it organic and natural for Tom to bring up the example of Charles being booted off the throne (and eventually beheaded), as a historical parallel to the plight of exiled Russian aristocrats after the Russian Revolution.

And it’s also brilliant that the testy verbal confrontation between Tom and Robert is quickly characterized by the other knowledgeable folks at the table as a Crawley family civil war in the making.

And the final witty touch is that  the official reason for Bricker to be at Downton is to see a very valuable picture---which, even though it is not the same picture, is EXACTLY what the Van Dyk portrait of Charles the First is, as stated by the article (I linked to earlier today) quoting Kevin Doyle (Moseley) about the special care taken by the actors when near that portrait---and if the King could have spoken as he eavesdropped on this conversation, and felt snubbed, he might just have mentioned that fact!

Just a soap opera? I think it’s clear by now that Downton Abbey carries a whole lot more literary and historical weight under its sparkling surface, than has been dreamt of in the philosophy of almost all of its viewers and critics these past 5 years.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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