Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)

Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)
Oh, to be in England...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Julian Fellowes- Downton Abbey vs Gosford Park

Julian Fellowes with his Oscar for Gosford Park
Having just blogged about Robert Altman's Gosford Park  in June of this year it seems a bit soon to be revisiting it, and yet a sick day at home had me pulling it out of my DVD collection again. It is a testament to the brilliance of the film that you can watch it that often!

Gosford Park cast 2002

I can't think of a better film to watch this winter as we North Americans are savouring the second season of Downton Abbey. Both Gosford Park and Downton Abbey were written by Julian Fellowes, an actor/writer who, by being a bit of a toff himself, is quite well placed to write about the English Country Houses he has been visiting for decades.

Maggie Smith is the most obvious similarity between these two productions. She gets all the best lines in each show and apparently the characters were based on a great aunt of Julian Fellowes. (by the way, anyone else notice the similarity between the names? Countess of Trentham/Grantham?)

Constance, Countess of Trentham
Constance, Countess of Trentham: Difficult colour... green.

Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham
Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham: Oh, dear, such a glare. I feel as if I were on stage at the Gaiety.


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There are other similarities as well.  The imperious housekeeper who knows all and anticipates everything.

Mrs. Wilson of Gosford Park
Mrs. Wilson: What gift do you think a good servant has that separates them from the others? Its the gift of anticipation. And I'm a good servant; I'm better than good, I'm the best; I'm the perfect servant. I know when they'll be hungry, and the food is ready. I know when they'll be tired, and the bed is turned down. I know it before they know it themselves.

Mrs. Hughs of Downton Abbey
Thomas: There *is* such a thing as free speech.
Mrs. Hughes: Not when *I'm* in charge! Don't push your luck, Thomas. Now, tea's over. Back to work! 

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Although, the Butler with a secret past is perhaps more comparable.

Jennings the Butler of Gosford Park
Morris Weissman: Thank you, Mr. Jennings.
Mr. Jennings: It's just Jennings, sir.
Morris Weissman: Then thank you, just Jennings.

Carson the Butler of Downton Abbey
Bates: Even Mr. Carson wasn’t born standing at attention.
Thomas: I hope not, for his mother’s sake.


Jennings had a criminal record as a conscientious objector from the Great War and is derided by the constable. Carson only had a vaudeville past to haunt him, but seemed to be just as ashamed of it.

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Sir William McCordle has a little fling with Elsie, among others

Robert Earl of Grantham would never diddle with the maids...would he?
Now the Lords of the manor are quite different as Sir William McCordle is new money (factory ownership) and Lord Grantham is from an old English family, short on cash until he married American heiress Cora. And our dear Lord Grantham would never diddle the maids like Sir William...or would he? We don't yet know where Julian Fellowes is taking this apparently devoted husband do we?

Maids caught in flagrante with their "betters", war heroes and shirkers and conscientious objectors, backbiting sisters both from upstairs and downstairs, and nasty footmen tend to be themes in both story lines. And the cook always seems to be grumpy at first but then ends up with a heart of gold.

Do you think Dorothy the maid (Sophie Thompson) would have gotten together with Mr. Jennings if there had been more time to develop their story lines? And do you think Elsie became a film star after she took off in the car with Ivor Novello and Mr. Weissman? The maid wishing to get out of service does seem to be another theme with Julian Fellowes. Ah, the man writes about what he knows and that is why we love to watch his films and miniseries.

Titanic 2012 airing on ITV and ABC on April 12
Speaking of which, publicity for Julian Fellowes latest venture, TV miniseries Titanic has been suspended in the wake of the Italian cruise ship wreck Costa Concordia. This will air on ABC in North America starting April 12, 2012. Who knew the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic would involve a real ship sinking along with the inevitable film versions? Eerie, really.

My blog post about Julian Fellowes and his novels
My Blog post about Gosford Park

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