years later his last episode, Downton Abbey continues to captivate TV fans and history buffs for its sweeping depiction of early 20th century England. The period drama remains the most popular series in British television history, with over 120 million viewers worldwide. The show spawned a movie in 2019, which grossed nearly $200 million, and a follow-up movie is set to hit US theaters in May 2022.
Downton Abbey follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and servants at their Yorkshire estate from 1912 to 1925. Although many events in the show are fabricated, the series often aims to portray a realistic depiction of the dawn of the era modern. In doing so, he addresses some of the most famous moments in 20th century history.
The sinking of the Titanic
The pilot episode of Downton Abbey begins with the delivery of a telegram and with it the news that the largest ship in the world, the RMS Titanic, has sunk. The top and bottom figures react with shock and grief to the loss of more than 1,500 lives in one of the worst disasters in maritime history.
Since the luxury liner was carrying some of the wealthiest people in the world (a first-class ticket cost up to $2,560 – around $72,000 in 2022), the disaster greatly affected Britain’s aristocracy, including the Crawley family. James Crawley, of Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) cousin and heir to the entire Downton Abbey estate, was on board the liner. The question of who will inherit Downton Abbey propels the first season of the series.
First World War
The first season of Downton Abbey begins with a telegram delivering shocking news, and ends the same way. Rumors of an impending war in Europe begin to stir among the characters after Archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated. Lord Grantham receives a hand-delivered telegram announcing that Britain has declared war on Germany at a garden party. The date is August 4, 1914.
Season 2 begins with a title card reading “The Somme, 1916”. The Somme was one of the most important battles of the First World War – on this day alone over a million soldiers were killed, including almost 125,000 British men. Matthew Crawley is depicted fighting on the Western Front. Many British aristocrats served in the war, including future King Edward VIII. Back at the Abbey, selfless Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) convinces Robert (Hugh Bonneville) and Kora (Elizabeth McGovern) to transform the estate into a convalescent home. During the First World War, many country houses opened their doors to wounded soldiers.
The spanish flu
The penultimate episode of Downton’s The second season centers on the 1918-1919 Spanish flu pandemic, which infected over 500 million people (a third of the world’s population at the time) and claimed over 50 million lives. So it’s no exaggeration that several of the characters fall seriously ill, including the Crawley matriarch Cora and Matthew’s fiancé, Lavinia Swire (Zoe Boyle).
Cora is near death, but Lavinia’s illness seems minor, and she is calm and consistent as she discusses her future with Matthew. Within hours, Cora recovers, but Lavinia gets worse and succumbs to the disease. The show accurately depicts the startling speed with which the Spanish flu claimed its victims. It also makes sense that Cora survived the virus while Lavinia didn’t. Mortality was highest among healthy young people, with the median age of death being in the mid-twenties.
married love by Marie Stopes
Mary Stopes and his bestseller married love are mentioned several times throughout the series, but it is never clarified who exactly Stopes is and why she matters to the women of Downton. married love is first mentioned in Season 4 Episode 4 when Mrs. Hughes (Elsie Carson) says that Edna Braithwaite (Myanna Burring) can’t be pregnant because she has a copy of the book. He is mentioned again in Season 5, when Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) asks her servant Anna (Joanne Froggat), to use the book to help her prevent an “unwanted epilogue” to her affair with Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen).
It doesn’t take too many detective skills to determine that married love relates to contraception. Marie Stopes (1880 – 1958) was a women’s rights campaigner who founded Britain’s first birth control clinic. married love, which she published in 1918, was one of the first books to openly discuss family planning. Although Lady Mary gives Anna a copy of the book to Anna for birth control, it is anachronistic. It is only in the second book of Stopes, Wise Kinship (1922), she openly discussed birth control methods, including cervical caps – presumably the device Anna buys for Lady Mary.
The Teapot Dome Scandal
Season 4 Episode 7 begins with the news that Cora’s playboy brother, Harold (Paul Giamatti), got himself in hot water and wants Robert to go to America to help him out of trouble. Few details of the incident are given, other than Cora saying it was “a Senator Fall”.
The case in question is the Teapot Dome Scandal, which ran from 1921 to 1923. The Home Secretary, Albert Bacon Falls, was bribed to lease Navy oil reserves at Teapot Dome, Wyoming, to private oil companies. This led to Senate investigations, criminal convictions, and Fall’s eventual imprisonment. The Teapot Dome scandal is considered one of the most sensational scandals in the history of American political scandals, so it’s no wonder that Downton Abbey would include him in the show.
The Beer Hall Putsch
Edith’s DisappearanceLaura Carmichel) handsome, Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards), is one of the most heartbreaking storylines of the series. After traveling to Germany as part of a plan to marry Edith, Gregson vanishes into thin air. Eventually, Edith receives news via Robert that he has been involved in an altercation with “a bunch of thugs…who wear brown shirts and bully people”. In Season 5 Episode 6, a telegram arrives at the Abbey, revealing Gregson’s fate.
“Brownshirts”, as they are colloquially known, are Sturmabteilung — the first Nazis. The event that killed Gregson is known as the Beer Hall Putsch. On November 8, 1923, Hitler and a group of Brownshirts forced their way into a political meeting at a Munich beer hall, attempting to stage a coup. Although the coup failed, 16 people were killed and Hitler, who was mostly unknown at the time, made headlines. Hitler went to prison, but the press he received from the Beer Hall Putsch helped him rise to power upon his release.
The King’s first radio speech
All along Downton Abbey, the characters are mystified by the advent of technologies we now take for granted – the telephone, the refrigerator and the hair dryer, to name a few. But perhaps the most captivating invention of all comes in the form of the radio, which grumpy Robert refuses to buy: “Let people waste hours huddled around a wooden book at listening to someone talk to them, gurgling nonsense from elsewhere… It’s a fad. It will not last !”
In the end, Robert’s love for the monarchy causes him to relent when he learns that King George V will do a show. The whole family and staff gather around a rental radio to listen to the king’s speech. The King made his first radio broadcast on April 23, 1924 to open the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley. Around 10 million people tuned in to hear the king’s voice for the very first time.
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