The Village


I just watched the first episode of the British drama, The Village . Set at the beginning of WWI, it’s a naturalistic drama and sort of an “anti-Downton Abbey” focusing on a lower class family struggling against poverty and alcoholism. It’s a compelling story told by the second oldest man in Britain, who’s getting interviewed, I’m not sure by whom.

The man, Bert, looks back to his youth, when he was a schoolboy, always getting in trouble and getting beaten at home and at school by the angry, frustrated man who rules the roost, i.e. his father and his teacher. Both men take out their frustrations on all around them.

A beautiful woman comes to town and catches the attention of Bert and his older brother who works at the “big house” filling bath tubs with hot water. So far the upperclass family are snobbish with no redeeming qualities, which makes it different from Downton or Mr Selfridge where there are good and bad eggs amongst each social class.

The Village is set in a drabber world, one of browns and grays, but I am curious about what will happen now that Joe goes off to fight the Germans and Bert is alone without his protective older brother. Also, what will happen with the beautiful vicar’s daughter, who seems to be one of two people in the village who owns clothing that is — not brown, white or gray — but a muted red.

The Village , as far as I can tell, is only available on DVD.


Gosford Park, No Downton Abbey


I began watching Julien Fellows’ Gosford Park with high hopes. After all, I love Downton Abbey and Fellows won the Oscar for this screenplay.

I was disappointed. Sorely. Despite an all star cast, Gosford Park lacked a single character I found charming or likable. There was one Scottish maid who seemed mousy but nice. She wasn’t enough to carry a film of this length. The characters all came off as cold, greedy and indolent. The upperclass people spent money like water and had nothing but disdain for each other and got no joy from their money.

The downstairs servants weren’t much better. Though not as spoiled they were all out for themselves in a different way. No warmth at all. They just wanted to get their work done with as little fuss as possible. Anyone who upset their system was glared and scoffed at.

One theme that rose was how the servants felt overshadowed by their employers. I can see that, but the grass isn’t always greener. If they worked in offices, their lives would also be precarious and as one of my new colleagues asserts if you work for one company for a long time, that company forms your identity to a great extent. So if they traded their apron for a factory uniform it’s not sure that they’d be happier or more secure.

Sexual harassment was rampant as the lord of the manor couldn’t keep his hands to himself, but in a store, office or factory women run into that too.

For the first 75 minutes we see rich people bicker, whinge and finagle for money. Then the plot picks up when the lord who’s a churl gets murdered. Yet the investigation is so incompetently carried out that I just couldn’t buy it. In the end we do learn who did it, but by then I barely cared.

Fellows sure deepened his understanding about character and plot by the time he started Downton Abbey.

Mr Selfridge Comments and Recap

Kitty tells everyone how to do their job

Kitty tells everyone how to do their job

The opening this Mr. Selfridge episode with the removal of all German products was a great way to show the patriotism and anti-German sentiment of the day.

Poor Franco, Victor’s dashing brother, got rejected when the brown-haired girl at the cosmetics counter wouldn’t go out with him because her father forbids her to date “foreign” men. Mind you Franco was born in Britain. Seems she could have been more diplomatic.

The weasel-y Thackery spies outside the store to see what Henri’s up to. He disapproves of Henri’s hat, a Hamburg, though we learn that during the war they were renamed. Agnes was still upset with Henri, who does owe her an apology for being so abrupt and rude the day before.

At home Harry finishes an early morning interview with his reporter friend Frank. Harry makes it clear that he disapproves of the U.S. profiting from war by selling to both the Germans and British. I do agree and didn’t realize we did that. We also learn from Rose that Americans are hurrying home to the U.S.

Gordon, who’s now promoted to the tea department, is getting friendly with Miss Calthorpe, the young lady who’s training him. They do make a good couple and he’s gallant enough to buy her sister a beautiful doll after remembering something she mentioned in passing.

In a department meeting Kitty manages to take a compliment and turn it around to put down all the other department heads. I enjoy her lack of self-knowledge and her usually harmless egotistical quips that just make her look silly in spite of herself. Miss Mardle’s heavy sigh said it all. I love how the shows humor surfaces from Kitty, Mr. Crabb and sometimes Mr. Grove’s little blunders. Harry shares a nice moment with Miss Mardle encouraging her to enjoy her money. Yes, live a little, Miss Mardle. “Your brother would have wanted it.”


Downton Abbey, Season 4 Week 3

Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I see Julian Fellows as still finding the story. I suppose it’s harder because history in 1922 isn’t providing a definite event to build a plot on. I still enjoy Downton, the acting is just superb, but last night we just saw life carrying on.

Anna was the main figure for me as she soldiers on after being raped by a servant from a visiting Lord. Though I’m sure it would entail great hardship, I do wish she heeded Mrs. Hughes’ advice and contacted the police. It’s a false dichotomy to assume that if she speaks up Mr. Bates will kill the rapist and get imprisoned again. I know that in this era women didn’t speak up, but some might have and I’d like to see how that process was conducted – even if it was patently unjust. How would the Crawley‘s and the servants respond? By keeping silent, Anna also cuts herself off from the support of those around her. For now she’s keeping Mr. Bates away because she feels “dirty.” Understandable, but to move back to the main house without allowing time to heal seems hasty.

I’m glad Mary rejected Lord Whoever’s proposal. It’s just too soon. There’s no urgency in getting married for her. Though the pool of available men is smaller due to the war, I’m sure Mary can find love in time.

I’m concerned about Edith signing whatever paper the editor Mr. Gregson gave her. Yes, he showed his worth by beating the card sharp and getting all the aristocrats’ debts cleared, but he seems to be up to something. The convoluted marriage problems with his wife who we’re told is mentally ill are so dubious.

Looks like Alfred may take a big test at the Ritz to get into their prestigious training program. Good for him. It did take his seeing Ivy kissing Jimmy to spur him to action.

Poor Tom has been ruminating on Edna’s assertion that she expects him to marry her if she’s pregnant. What a nightmare that would be! Good thing Tom was smart enough to turn to Mrs. Hughes who put Edna in her place and convinced her to leave. Mrs. Hughes is wonderful! Downton would not survive without her.

Looks like Rose will eventually get herself into romantic trouble. She was bound to from the start. Still we only have some hints. In London she was deserted on the dance floor when the black singer sprang into action and took his place. Rose was very impressed, while her chaperone Aunt Rosamund warned her to be careful. It would be good to see more of Lady Rosamund.

So a lot did happen, but for some reason the plot doesn’t have the same momentum.

Downton Abbey Background, Part 3

So I’ve explained how these families like the Crawly’s amassed huge estates, but how did English estates come to look as they do? Barbara Geiger enlightened us on this question as well.

Wealthy young English men of the 17th and  begin to cap their education with a trip abroad. Often these classically educated men would spend time in Europe and value paintings of Greek pastorals with beautiful expanses of land dotted with sheep and enclosed at the horizon with a line of trees.

By Thomas Cole

Sometimes a nymph, probably naked would show up.

By John Reinhard Weguein

Geiger mentioned Claude Lorrain as an influential painter.

By Claude Lorraine – Note the Classical Greek structures

These sons would return home and want to recreate the images in these paintings.  In addition the price of English wool goes up so bring in the sheep.

Lancelot “Capability” Brown was a famous landscape architect who

Glamis Castle, designed by Lancelot Capability Brown

Blenheim Place designed by Capability Brown

This doesn’t seem so deep, but they aren’t crossing

More on Enclosures


What were enclosures?

  1. Enclosure meant joining the strips of the open fields to make larger compact units of land. These units were then fenced or hedged off from the next person’s land. In this way a farmer had land in one farm, rather than in scattered strips. This brought greater independence. Enclosing land was not new; it dated back to at least the Medieval period.
  2. The areas of England affected by the enclosure movement of this period were mainly the counties of the Midlands, East Anglia and Central Southern England.

How was land enclosed?

  • Before about 1740, most villages were enclosed by agreement. This was when the main owners of the land made a private agreement to join their strips together. This may have involved buying some strips from the small farmers to get rid of any possible opposition. Where all the land in a village was owned by one or two people, enclosure by agreement was relatively straightforward. Unfortunately, it is impossible to tell how much land was enclosed in this way, as little documentation was kept.
  • Where a number of smaller landowners provided determined opposition to enclosure by agreement, an Act of Parliament had to be obtained. This became the accepted procedure after 1750. It had a number of factors in its favor:
    1. Each enclosure had legal documentation and certification
    2. It provided the machinery for opposition to be heard
    3. It allowed the whole of the village to be enclosed at the same time (that is, commons, waste
    4. land, meadows and open fields.) Up to 1750, many villages had been enclosed a little at a time.
  • Between 1750 and 1850 there were approximately 4,000 Enclosure Acts of Parliament.

Why was Parliamentary Enclosure so widespread in the periods 1760-1780 and 1793 to 1815?

  • Between 1760 and 1780, some 900 Enclosure acts were passed. Historians agree that high cereal prices motivated farmers to enclose land in order to produce a greater amount, thereby earning bigger profits. Also, where land was enclosed, landlords could charge tenants higher rents.
  • The years of the French Wars (1793-1815) saw almost 2,000 Enclosure Acts being passed. This can also be explained by high cereal prices, which were the results of a series of poor harvests and the difficulty of importing foreign corn at a time when Europe was involved in a major war. This led to widespread enclosure with even marginal waste land being enclosed. With enclosures the farmers could grow more food to feed the domestic population and make larger profits.

Downton Abbey Background, Part 2

So much of the drama of Downton Abbey rests on the entail. If you’ve read Jane Austen or To Kill a Mockingbird, you’ve heard about these mysterious legal arrangements. Last night at the local library, I learned for once and for all what an entail is and what their history was.

Any Downton Abbey fan knows that Lord Grantham can’t leave his estate to his daughter because of the entail. It must go to the oldest male heir and that heir died on the Titanic. A distant cousin, Matthew will inherit the massive house, all its furnishings and grounds. That information can suffice, but as we’ve go to wait till January for our next Downton Abbey fix and since the library had a historian speak on Downton Abbey background, and since I’m geeky enough to dash off to such an event, I can now illuminate this entail business.

Get out some No Doze and here we go!

Way back when in England everyone who helped out the powerful got parcels of land and the poor could work as farm hands and use the commons for pastures. The problem that soon surfaced was that as the father died all the sons would get a divided parcel of land. Well, that would mean in a few generations people would be living on like one acre. That’s no good. Land meant wealth, power and status.

So when the Normans invaded they were bright enough to be careful that the parcels of land they confiscated and doled out remained intact. So land was passed down by primogenator, i.e. to the eldest living son. This method gave the British aristocracy a lot of power. In fact, by the 18th century the aristocracy in England had more power than the monarch. (That wasn’t the case in France so I guess they did things differently over there.)

Women’s property and money was subsumed by the husband upon marriage.

Entails (Sometimes In tails)

According to LexisNexis, an entail means:

To settle property upon a person with limitations in respect of the succession. Precisely, to create an estate in tail, that is, a fee tail, in conveying or devising real property. To involve, e. g., the trial of a law suit “involves” much preparation.

But we figured that. Entails made this even more secure, power more consolidated. The land the nobles got in the Henry’s era weren’t all that big compared to what the Crawleys have.  Why?


Small fields and forests got taken by a few families

Because of the Privatization and Enclosure Acts, which began in the 1600s, allowed people to petition Parliament to consolidate plots disenfranchising small farmers. Before you knew it 4 million acres in Britain were owned by 12 individuals (Ye Olde 1%). Enclosures allowed the rich to become richer. They also made farming more efficient for a time. Yet the small farmer sure got squeezed out.

Common Recovery document

An entail could be “smashed” as Violet periodically urges and even by Jane Austen’s time they were becoming unpopular. One way to break an entail was this loop hole – when the legal son turned 21 he could turn the property over to fee simple (i.e. owning a land with a deed) that way the new owner could do with it as he pleased, will it to anyone, split it up, sell off parts.

There was also something called a Common Recovery whereby an owner could break an entail by creating this legal mess whereby the landowner transfers the land to an agent or lawyer and then some bogus chap John Doe, Richard Row, Moses Mill or such seems to take the land and sell it all so the owner can do what he wants with it. It’s all quite confusing and I have no idea why the owner could sell to an agent but not to someone else, but then these property laws are all about power and injustice when you start reading through some of these articles.

The Fines and Recoveries Act of 1833 put an end to this charade and allowed that a lease could trump and entail.

So it seems that Robert Crawley could have signed away his entail at age 21, but if he was a serious sort who liked tradition, he wouldn’t have felt the need to. Most 21 year olds probably figure they’ll have at least one son. He still could . . . we’ll have to see what happens in January.

Commoners try to keep the commons


Anonymous speculates that William Shakespeare didn’t write his plays and offers a theory that the 17th Earl of Oxford did. Though I don’t buy this idea because I do think genius springs up in all classes, I do love historical and even speculative historical fiction enough to enjoy a film that has an interesting theory.

For a couple hours it was worth it to put aside my beliefs and enjoy rich costumes, romantic landscapes of yore, even the muddy ones and bold dialog (though it wasn’t as Shakespearean as Elizabeth Rex‘s dialog). The thesis put forth is that the Earl of Oxford had the education and background that William Shakespeare lacked and he wrote plays to influence Elizabeth as she ruled the British empire. The implication is that a woman wouldn’t have been wise enough to rule as successful on her own. Well, I don’t buy that, but I did find it interesting to see what this screenwriter believed as the story takes a lot of interesting twists.

I will quibble with the portrayal of William Shakespeare. Here he’s a buffoon and one that’s a far cry from say the jester in King Lear. In fact, we’re told that although he can read, he can’t write. Poppycock. Writing isn’t hard and in a week Asian students have the alphabet down. We know Shakespeare went to grammar school and unless his hand was injured during that entire period, someone would have taught him how to actually write letter.

The film proposes that the 17th Earl of Oxford was the real Bard. In the film this earl was very stately, but for the life of me I can’t recall a line of dialog he said. Now if a film wants to depict the real Shakespeare, shouldn’t that character be eloquent, someone who’s conversation is memorable? That’s why the film failed. I wasn’t convinced that because this man was well dressed and was given a good education, that he was a genius. Genius isn’t that well hidden.

The political intrigue gets complicated, but not impossible to follow. But then I’d seen Elizabeth Rex recently so I knew about the intrigue and the Earl of Essex‘s execution. I do wish someone, perhaps a woman, would write a play about Elizabeth that isn’t so skeptical of her ability to lead.

Downton Abbey Withdrawal?

Wouldn't you want to live here?

There’s a good documentary on English manor homes available on the PBS website. Elucidating, though not as witty.

Royal Wedding

I’m a sucker for British Royalty. I did wake up for Diana and Charles’ wedding and felt I should get up for William and Kate’s. And I’m glad I did.

My 4:15 alarm did not go off, but I woke up anyway at 5, just in time to see the vows.

She was stunning and he was dashing. We don’t get much pomp and circumstance in our lives and this event hit all the right notes. From the sermon was touching and inspiring. The couple seemed both elegant and approachable.

The grumpy bridesmaid was so real.

My mother put together a fitting breakfast of biscuits, lemon curd, and royal cookies.

With all the depressing news going on, it is nice to indulge in something beautiful and romantic.


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