The sixth and final series of Downton Abbey is well underway, bringing the Crawleys into the mid 1920s. 1925 was a year of great change politically, (the introduction of the ‘Administration of Estates Act’ and the return of the ‘Gold Standard’) and technologically (the first use of TV transmission and hairdryers). It seems appropriate that the final season feels like a farewell for the characters too; a departure from the old traditional class system in the early twentieth century.
Despite change being widely accepted today, the last series highlights the stubbornness against change in any form, particularly with the growing independence and ascendancy of women. Just within the first three episodes, we have witnessed Carson turn his nose up at the thought of Mrs Hughes not wanting to sexually engage with him once married, the farmer abhor at the idea of Lady Mary being the agent (“it’s a changing world…”) and even sweet Lady Edith being shunned for taking over as publisher for her beloved Gregson’s magazine, “The Sketch”.
Yet, with this revolted ideology comes retort, and much of it (especially from Lady Mary). Edith shows us her rebellion by working (as hard, if not harder than a man) until the early hours of the morning to edit a magazine cover in time for its printing, Mrs Hughes addresses Carson and finally gets the wedding of her dreams, and even Daisy, the once timid mouse of downstairs, sparks outrage in her outburst at the thought of her fatherin-law being turfed out of his house.
Viewers should not be discouraged in thinking the series is full of patriarchal dispute though. One great changing event, which all viewers have welcomed with open arms, was the marriage of Carson and Mrs Hughes. Despite only being given the last eight minutes of airtime, and a relatively uneventful wedding (after all the shocking promiscuity which was discussed in episode one), the audience were finally able to celebrate their wedding, which really was “about Charles Carson and Elsie Hughes. And not this glorious house.”
That’s not all. Once again, Mr Bates has melted the hearts of fans in his assurance to Anna over the disstress of her miscarriage; saying, “To me, we are one person and that person can’t have children.” All deliciously romantic, yet viewers cannot help but be angered by yet another saddening tale for the married couple. Let us just hope that Fellowes will write these two a happily ever after, as, even Mary, the branded “heartless” Crawley, shows her empathetic side: “Anna, no woman living has been put through more of an emotional wringer than you.”
On a final and happy note though, the end of episode three saw (yet another) return of Tom Branson who came back from Boston after leaving to find himself and discovering that there really is no better place than home (well, the Crawley household). Either way, hopefully this will be the final time he decides to uproot and travel on his never-ending journey of self-discovery, and stay happy or content with the Crawleys’, or as they are to him now, “family.” Whatever the conclusion for these characters by the end of the series, no one can argue that the growth of each individual has been inconsequential.
Downton Abbey has been entertaining us for five years now, educated us on historical matters, satirised the ideals of the upper-class, and even had us weeping over the death of a dog (forever will Isis remain in our hearts…and the opening credits of the show). So all we can say to Julian Fellowes is congratulations for creating a delightfully pleasurable drama and understanding when to call it a day. Leaving the characters, with all their quirky and individual ways, to live in our memories for years to come.