Tuesday, 10 November 2015

The Butler Did It

Well, in the last ever episode of Downton Abbey (bar Christmas shenanigans), the butler really did do it - to himself.

If you haven't seen it yet and don't want spoilers, go read somebody else's blog for a bit.

I'm not a mad Downton fan. I don't dislike it either. It's just sort of become one of those background programs like Doc Martin and Midsomer Murders which is so quintessentially British that it quietly reaffirms our heritage in the background whilst we're running a bath and contemplating what's for tea.

But this week the long-foreseen-unless-partially-blind plot inevitability came about, whereby tortured, lovelorn Mr. Barrow the Butler, gay in a time when you got jailed for it - and narrowly having avoided just such a fate in previous episodes - finally decided to pack it all in and top himself.

Actor Rob James-Collier played it so well that you understood it was headed that way, but I still found myself a little dismayed.

"I really like Mr. Barrow. He's my favourite character," I said. 
"Why?" my friend replied. "He's an arsehole."

Well, yes. But arseholes are often the most interesting characters.

He's always been so very:

Not exactly evil - well, yes, sometimes a little bit evil - but perfectly understandable. I like arsehole characters because they're complex, and complexity is the closest constant of the human state. Open your mouth and what comes out is not necessarily what you meant to say, but it defines you in the eyes of others.

Poor Mr. Barrow. So much ambition, trapped in a place where you must know your place. Think most of us know what it's like to dislike our job, miss out on advancement over personality clashes, be misunderstood, feel unloved, ashamed or embarrassed. I think he's the most human of the lot.

I think, as writers, that's what we're always looking for - the reaction behind the action. What are characters reacting to in order to behave the way they do? What triggers them, what pushes their buttons, what effect does that have on those around them?

It's harder to do that with real people. Characters allow you to slow things down, rewind, and consider the situation from different angles without being embroiled in the plot. Whereas Real Life (tm) drama rarely gets a rewrite, and our own characters play out before objectivity has a chance to step in and rescue us.

Anyway, I'm glad they fished him out of the bathtub in time.

On another note, I also caught London Spy. I gave a little squee of delight to see Ben Whishaw and Jim Broadbent together (total Cloud Atlas fan). As someone tweeted, it was refreshing to see a lead gay man where his sexuality was just him, rather than the be all and end all of his character. I think we are seeing this more and more. Telly is getting more complex over sexuality with things like Black Sails, Last Tango in Halifax and that traumatic ending of Outlander. When I think back to what I used to watch round the box with my parents and grandparents - we're living in interesting times. Possibly the most fabulous time ever to be a writer.

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