A country manor, a dog, the rustling of a curtain, high ceilings, a trilling bell, the mail that is sorted, a butler who keeps order downstairs and a count who tries to affirm himself in a house full of women.
Don’t you have any idea of what I’m talking about? But it is unacceptable, my dears, you should definitely fix this!
Downton Abbey, the series created by Julian Fellowes (author of “Gosford Park”) is exactly what it takes to face the Fall.
Who went to England knows that the weather is almost dull and rainy, like a melancholy memory postcard. And the Fall is like this: it looks a bit like an impressionist painting where the brushstrokes are violent, thunderous but delineate a gentle, comforting landscape. Downton Abbey fits perfectly to this type of climate and atmosphere.
“Downton Abbey” proved that drama didn’t have to be dark…or revolve around some ill-shaven antihero to be popular and good, which was part of the reason it was so popular.
It is a rich source of details, a charming minuet between individual freedom and rigid social rules, a skill contest among the many actors who make up its cast, a reflection on the relationship between servant and master, which follows an established dramaturgical English tradition.
I promise that you will love the characters, especially Lady Violet interpreted by a divine Maggie Smith, who with her posh wisely pearls, can convert the melodrama in satire with tears in smiles. Not to mention the butler, Carson, the most conservative, even more than the aristocracy itself. Anna and the downstairs adversities, even Lady Mary always struggling with her moods.
It might look like a frivolous series, more a soap opera than anything else, but it’s not, it’s a show that can still engage in serious issues such as homosexuality, disability, war, politics, gender equality , mixed couples (for social class and skin colour), with a delicacy and a critical eye that I have rarely found in other programs.
Someone has criticized it as being “too-good”, but I would identify the positive … I like that the show tries to send across messages of altruism and generosity, because we already see too much violence and negligence, and not only on the screens, unfortunately.
For those familiar to the American TV series, D.A. will be a bit slow in the beginning, but the profundity of the characters, the chronicle of the individual stories in the big picture that is the manor, the beauty of the scenery and of the costumes, the elegance of the language, will involve you so much that you will look for other British productions.
Having said that, I strongly recommend to see it in the original language because the way of speaking and the emphasis of the chosen actors is so sublime that it becomes a physical pleasure.
And, if the entire series is a tribute to the English manners (once), I have to recommend you to roll up your sleeves and get into the kitchen as Mrs. Padmore to prepare a delicious and traditional Yorkshire Pudding * matching it with a Wrotham Pinot or eponymous wine to immerse yourself entirely inside the atmosphere of the show.
*Yorkshire Puddings With Sausages, Broccoli And Shallot Gravy
(the recipe is from my English friend, John)
Ingredients x 4 people:
-4 chipolata sausages
-4 shallots, peeled and cut into quarters
-2 tbsp olive oil
– Sunflower oil
-2 sprigs fresh thyme
-60 g broccoli
-60 g plain flour-
-60 ml milk
-60 ml water
-1 tsp dried mixed herbs
-Salt & freshly ground black pepper
-1 tbsp plain flour
-80 ml beef or vegetable stock
-35 ml red wine
We need a calmly day, because this typical English recipe requires time!
For the first thing we have to pre heat oven to 200°C . When it is warm, we add the sausages and shallots to a sturdy bottomed roasting tin. Decant over the olive oil and add the thyme, that we season with a little black pepper and toss to mix well. Leave all roast in the middle of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes.
After that the sausages are cooked, we heat oven to 230C and we make a little sunflower oil evenly into 2 x 4-hole Yorkshire pudding tins or a 4-hole non-stick muffin tin and place in the oven to heat through. In the meantime we put the plain flour into a bowl and beat in 2 eggs until smooth. We gradually add 60ml milk and carry on beating until the mix is completely lump-free. We season with salt and pepper.
Than we pour the batter into a carafe, then remove the hot tins from the oven. Carefully and calmly pour the batter into the holes, we place the tins back in the oven and leave undisturbed for 20-25 mins until the puddings have puffed up and browned
We compose gravy in roasting tin by placing over a low heat on the cooker top. We sprinkle in the flour and stir well, scraping at the bottom to release all of the lovely caramelized bits, than we transfer in the stock and mix though the wine, if using. We bring up to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. We need to taste it to check the seasoning, we may want to add a little salt and freshly ground black pepper.
We take out the Yorkshire pudding off the oven and we place over a low heat on the hob – it is important that the oil stays as hot as possible. With a little care, ladle or pour the batter into each of the oiled holes in the tin. We get the tin back into the oven as quickly as possible and cook until puffed-up and golden. This should take around 10 to 15 minutes for the mini sized puddings or 15 or 20 minutes for the larger puddings.
In the end we assemble the dish by arranging the sausages and roast shallots in the Yorkshires, we put in the cooked broccoli and pour over a little gravy.
Good luck and… enjoy it.