This article appeared in the September 13, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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A comforting return to ‘Downton’

Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP
Actors Hugh Bonneville (from left) Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, and Allen Leech pose for photographers upon arrival at the world premiere of the film "Downton Abbey" in central London, Sept. 9, 2019.

Today’s stories investigate what happens next for multiple places in the news – Silicon Valley, Afghanistan, U.S. universities; whether religion and politics can mix in a new democracy; and a breakthrough discovery on another planet. 

In cinemas across the United Kingdom tonight, a new film will be pulling in fans by the busload. “Downton Abbey,” the movie, has arrived to celebrate the discreet charm of the aristocracy.

The record-breaking PBS drama, imported from England, was a smash hit for six seasons around the world, attracting 120 million viewers in 220 territories. But it was at home that the series wrung heartstrings the hardest, with its rose-tinted representation of early 20th-century life among the English social elite and their servants.

The fairytale vision of “Downton Abbey” was reassuring. The series delved into the lives and loves of its characters – from both entitled upstairs and deferential downstairs – in a society steeped in tradition. Everyone knew his or her place at home; and abroad, Britain’s preeminence was unchallenged.

That was a vision that appealed to many people in Britain, buffeted by the winds of globalization blowing across an uncertain world, when “Downton Abbey” first came to TV. Nostalgia was comforting. And nostalgia helped build the case that some politicians made for Brexit, the idea of leaving the European Union, before a referendum on the question. Things were better before, they said. And a lot of voters agreed.

But if escapist fantasy met a social need three years ago, it is even more in demand today. Brexit has still not happened, though it has filled the newspapers day after day; three years of increasingly angry debate have rent Britain down the middle; society is profoundly divided and most people on both sides of the divide are heartily sick of the whole issue.

They would probably agree with Hugh Bonneville, who plays family patriarch the Earl of Grantham. It is, he said before the film’s premiere, “great just to escape for a couple of hours from all the nonsense that we are surrounded by.”

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This article appeared in the September 13, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 09/13 edition