After six memorable seasons, Downton Abbey (ITV, PBS) has come to an end. Like many die-hard Downtonians, I’ve been dreading this day since I first fell in love with the show, and now that it’s finally here, I’m asking myself, “Now what?” But the intriguing world of aristocrats, servants, and proper table manners doesn’t have to end here. As we bid farewell to Downton Abbey, here are some films worth (re)visiting as we move through the stages of grief.
The Rules of the Game (1939)
This French social satire and comedy of manners written and directed by Jean Renoir is the definitive upstairs-downstairs movie. Set during a weekend gathering on a marquis’ country chateau, the film tackles the decline of the aristocracy between the World Wars through events that transpire among the aristocrats and their servants. Using both farcical and tragic elements, the film shows how life is made difficult by the arbitrary “rules of the game.” If one doesn’t know those rules, he isn’t able to survive in the society in which he lives. The Rules of the Game is a thought-provoking examination of human behavior and how it can make life more complicated than necessary, and the characters learn the hard way that if you play with fire, you will get burned.
Gosford Park (2001)
Though it was written by Downton creator and scribe Julian Fellowes, Gosford Park is closer to the cynical tone of The Rules of the Game. Like Rules, Gosford Park is not an idyllic depiction of aristocratic life; it’s an explicit critique of it, with characters that are much less likable than those on Downton. It’s also a murder mystery, and everyone’s a suspect. Still, there are plenty of similarities between the Gosford Park and Downton, and it’s obvious that Fellowes borrowed some of the plot elements and characters for his TV series. The outstanding acting ensemble even features a few of the Downton cast members: Maggie Smith (the Dowager Countess), Jeremy Swift (Spratt), and Richard E. Grant (art historian Simon Bricker). The film earns its R rating with some cursing and sex thrown in, so put the kids to bed first.
The Remains of the Day (1993)
Carson and Mrs. Hughes shippers, this one’s for you. Set in the years leading up to and after World War II, a butler’s (Anthony Hopkins) world of staunch servitude is challenged by the possibility of romance with the new housekeeper (Emma Thompson) and his master’s ties with the Nazis. Hugh Grant and Christopher Reeve co-star, and a nearly unrecognizable Paul Copley, who plays Mr. Mason on Downton, appears in bit part as an inn patron. An intriguing portrait World War II era Britain from the butler’s point of view, the film covers the historical territory Downton might have if it stayed on for several more seasons; thankfully, we will never know if any of the Crawleys would favor appeasement.
In this romantic comedy from director Billy Wilder, Audrey Hepburn plays the titular daughter of a chauffeur for the wealthy Larrabee family on their Long Island estate. Sabrina has been hopelessly infatuated with the family’s playboy younger son, David (William Holden) her whole life, but he pays her no attention until she returns from a two-year stay in Paris a stunning, sophisticated woman. When the Larrabees need to seal an important business deal by marrying David off to a wealthy heiress, his hard-nosed older brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart) devises a scheme to make Sabrina fall in love with him instead. Though the film’s focus is on the complicated love triangle, class distinction has an underlying presence in the story. There’s also something for those who love the fashion aspect of Downton; Hepburn’s wardrobe, including the famous Givenchy gown, is to die for.