There are few things us moms enjoy more (well, outside the joy of being a mom) than that moment when our child has finally gone to sleep and we can sit down with a glass of wine, turn on the DVR and watch a show we love. It’s often something soapy or mindless, like Real Housewives. But I was never one for reality TV. My relaxing show of choice is Downton Abbey – or, in its absence, anything English. Luckily for me, the new season premiered this week.
Lots of people like Downton, but I feel like it was made for me, like some TV god answered my prayer for a show in my favorite time period, favorite locale and favorite accent. OK, so the past season or so hasn’t been quite as good, but I still can’t get enough.
You see, I’m a total Anglophile. It started when, as a teenager, I happened upon the Merchant-Ivory film A Room With a View, based on the E.M. Forster novel and starring Downton‘s own Maggie Smith and a young Helena Bonham-Carter. Not exactly teenage fare, but as I’ve said, I was kind of an old soul. True, half of the movie takes place in Italy, but then it comes home to the glorious English countryside.
From then on, I haven’t come across anything English that I haven’t liked. I love Jane Austen. Big Harry Potter fan (I even got to do a set visit for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for my job as a magazine editor). Inspector Lewis on Masterpiece Mystery. Bridget Jones. Classic children’s literature: Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, Peter Rabbit. One of my favorite movies is Gosford Park, written by Downton creator Julian Fellowes. Old Britcoms (I still watch Keeping Up Appearances and As Time Goes By, which starred Judi Dench, Saturday nights on PBS). Love Actually. Colin Firth. Hugh Grant. Prince William. Red telephone booths. Anything having to do with England makes me just feel warm and fuzzy.
Is it the accent? The manners? The quaint villages? The dry British wit? The beautiful country estates?
All of those things, but most of all I love the mannered way the British express themselves. How they are so articulately able to communicate, both in writing and speaking. Although I write well, I am horrible at speaking and wish I could possess that kind of command over the English language. Too often I’m tongue-tied and unsure of how to express what I want to say without sounding stupid or offending anyone. This is probably just a projection, but I imagine that if I were English, I would have such a better grasp of language that words wouldn’t fail me.
The other fascination England holds for me is, especially in the world of Downton Abbey, its strict code of behavior. And while that kind of lifestyle would have been extremely restrictive, there is a part of me that thinks things would be easier if there were more prescribed rules to follow. This will sound passive-aggressive and horribly anti-feminist, which I’m not, but there is a weight lifted off your shoulders when you don’t have choices to make.
And although the whole “stiff upper lip” thing seems old-fashioned – isn’t it better to express emotion? – there is something about that state of self-possession that makes me a bit envious. I wish I could have that much control in my emotional life.
Plus, there is always the fantasy of being a “Lady” with a maid and a butler and a cook – wouldn’t it be nice to have servants to do things for you? (I swear I’m not an elitist either, but come on, who doesn’t want a maid?)
Although I have actually been to England a bunch of times and have a few English friends (who, if they’re reading this, probably think I’m nuts), I have to admit that my view of Britain largely comes from works of fiction. So my obsession is probably just based on an illusion, or at least an idealization.
Nevertheless, I’ll be watching Downton Abbey next Sunday night on PBS.
Moms, what is your guilty pleasure? Are you obsessed with Downton Abbey and England too?