Guns Don't Kill People—Julian Fellowes Does
An open letter to the creator of Downton Abbey
Posted Feb 19, 2013
Geez, Julian, who put the soap next to your bath? You’ve literally lobotomized Matthew and figuratively lobotomized Lord Grantham. And what did Lady Sybil ever do to you to deserve gasping to death as we gasped with her? (How did Jessica Brown Findlay make her throat look that threatening anyway?) As for cheeky Rose and her beleaguered Scottish parents, why did you dump them on us and what do you want us to do with them? Oh, and poor Edith finally meets a good man who loves her and all seems a bit encouraging until he begins channeling Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre—although at least his crazy wife is not hidden in the tower.
And really, Miss O’Brien is supposed to be the one who knows how to create a chic hairstyle? Miss O’Brien? She of the perverse bangs?
This all seems a bit cheap and lazy and ill-considered, like you have no idea how to take this plot to the next level, so you turn to death, random characters, and thin twists of fate. And we are supposed to buy it in the name of good entertainment. Well, killing our favorite people and refusing to give the others a break is a little tiring—it’s not what we’re seeking when we turn on the television.
We’re looking to be transported into the types of lives we will never live, lives that intrigue us because of their strong characters, challenges, compelling plots, and, yes, the clothes. The scenery helps, although we may be seeing more of the Downton Abbey cemetery than the house, given that the people we like seem to live there now.
You have made death into a cheap artistic trick. At least Sybil’s death brought controversy and seemed somewhat relevant—although you got bored with that and had the family move on, with only poor Thomas—or Branson, depending on which floor he’s on—mourning somewhat alone and everybody else off planning a cricket match.
And having Matthew meet his end with a farm truck is about an inventive as—well, as having a character get hit by a truck. Leaving us with a close-up of his dead eyes (well played, Dan Stevens) and blood gushing out makes it clear there will be no miracle cure this time, no “Oh, your back is not really broken” episode. Your justification for all this, that “nothing is harder to dramatize than happiness,” shows defeat rather than creativity.
I’m not sure that you understand what happiness is. The Dowager Countess, in her own way, is happy. As is Isobel Crawley—or was, until you did what you did to her son. Happiness can be quiet, even cynical or witty. And it can be fascinating, even dramatic. It does not have to be cloying or, as you fear, boring. (Apply middle high school emphasis to that last word.)
Are you confusing happiness with bliss? That seems to be the case in Mary and Matthew’s relationship, which once had the texture built by lively clashes of strong personalities. But it got downright icky this season, as you laid it on a bit thick. Those two seemed to be over the moon even when one or the other or both were being boorish or bratty and pretty hard to stomach. Insult my father and take over his house? That really pisses me off, but I will smile lovingly at you instead. And the dialogue, oh, the dialogue! Such limp lines: “I fall more in love with you every day.” Oh, bleah. That’s trite, Julian, just trite. Those aren’t characters; those are middle high school daydreams. Yes, It was a bit of foreshadowing—that cheesy dialogue seemed formulaic for Something Bad Is Coming. And then, when we saw Matthew happily whizzing down the lane in his jaunty convertible, we knew it would be soon. Here, take that rich boy—you and your little car too—you seemed to cackle.
Couldn't you have waited to kill Matthew until at least a few days later? Leave them and us some happiness? And really, couldn’t you have done better than this cliché?
Don't you like these people? If not, how and why did you make us like them?
Are you tired, Julian? Out of ideas? It feels like it. And if you keep it up, you’re certainly going to soon be out of characters as well.