I never saw Downton Abbey on television and felt no deprivation but this week I attended the movie premiere… in Bucharest.
For some reason, there were three premieres – London, New York and Bucharest. Our Ambassador smartly put together a celebration of Britain’s creative industries and heritage brands. Full marks for initiative.
Since everyone in Downton appeared to wear tweed, it was essential for Harris Tweed to be invited. Hence my presence at what proved to be a cinema in a Bucharest shopping mall. The glamour of it!
Frankly, the movie was not great. Its chief message seemed to be that no matter how obsequious the hoi-polloi were towards their social betters, even more zealous purveyors of snobbery could outdo them.
Paradoxically, it reminded me of an old friend, John McEwen, whose firm view was that every stately home should be demolished, as they only serve as monuments to the enslavement of working people.
John, who lived to 108, never forgot his childhood experiences on an Argyll estate, dependent on the landlord’s grace and favour. In the 1970s, he compiled the monumental work “Who Owns Scotland?’.
How much Downton Abbey mentality survives today? Quite a lot – because essentially, the structure of land ownership has not changed and that is where the power of the big house resides.
Sure, there are now Russian and Middle Eastern potentates in the cast, but the principal characteristic of land ownership is less how much it changes than how much it stays the same.
Equally, the occupants have been pretty successful in safeguarding titles and privileges – without enough scrutiny of how they got them in the first place. That really would be worth a movie.