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A Brief History of British Actors Bad-Mouthing 'Downton Abbey'

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | November 26, 2013 |

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | November 26, 2013 |

Here in the States, when we see British actors in fancy period costumes delivering posh British accents, our critical faculties become scrambled. We can’t see the forest through the trench coats and riding boots. Is that a romantic updo? Is that a bejeweled headband? Look at those harem pants! Oh my! This show is wonderful? Wait? What just happened? Did I just zone out for the last half hour? Where’s Bates? Did they Lady Sybil him? OH NO. Bates died during childbirth? Oooooh, is that an Antique Cotton Petticoat. Give this show ALL the Emmys.

But over in the UK, Edwardian dresses and delicious accents are old hat (cloche hats, to be specific). It’s just a Tuesday over in the UK, where even the hipsters wear Mary Janes, retro wavy bobs, and carry around riding sticks. How do you think they get there horse-and-buggies around in London, otherwise?

What I’m saying is, it’s all very familiar to British actors. They can ignore the adornments and peer underneath to see Downton for what it really is: A badly written, melodramatic sh*tshow. That’s why, when British actors are asked their opinions on one of their most popular imports, they often speak ill of the series:

Let’s take a look:

Ian McShane (Deadwood) on Downton Abbey this week:

Yes, I love Phyllis [Logan, his co-star in Lovejoy and the actress who plays Mrs. Hughes] and I’m very happy for her about Downton Abbey. It’s not my kind of show, but she’s such a marvellous actress. She’s good in everything.

Asked why he doesn’t like it he replies: “I don’t think it’s well written. Upstairs Downstairs was better.”

Benedict Cumberbatch on Downton Abbey last year:

“Although Downton traded a lot on the sentiment in the last series…but we won’t talk about that series because it was, in my opinion, f*cking atrocious.”

Jeremy Irons on Downton Abbey early this year:

“What I’m really excited about with Shakespeare Uncovered is we’ll see some of the best British actors playing Shakespeare. What you can do is to open up to this huge American audience, show them that actually television doesn’t end with Downton Abbey,” the Borgias star said. “If you think that’s good, then watch the Shakespeare productions. You’ll see what real writing, what real stories, what real characters are about.”

And just to add a little more insult to injury, he compared Downton Abbey to a Ford Fiesta that will “get you there and give you a good time,” while Shakespeare is more like a speedy, sexy Aston Martin.

When asked about the challenges of tackling the works of the legendary playwright, Irons couldn’t resist one more dig. “It’s practice, practice, practice with Shakespeare. You can’t sort of mutter it in a sort of Downton Abbey way.”

Elizabeth McGovern, who plays the countess Cora Crawley on Downton Abbey, on the show’s second season:

“There is a slightly different tone to the second season, partly because the show had to deal with this huge elephant which is the First World War, and in some ways ‘Downton Abbey’ wasn’t set up for that,” she said. “What’s made the show successful and different is that attention to character detail, and that’s what the audience likes. … Writers [in the second season] had to do a lot of glossing over the domestic life, and some of the small moments between characters that characterized the first season.”

“[T]he show in the first season was more to my taste than the show in the second season,” McGovern added, according to the story.