I’m a patriotic American who flies the flag of our great nation, pledges my allegiance proudly, and belts out the national anthem with a tear in my eye. But give me five minutes with a 19th century housemaid, a member of the monarchy, or a forbidden love affair between them and I’m all “God save the Queen!”
I can’t help it. I love British television.
My name is Heather, and I am a binge-watching-obsessed, English-accent-infatuated, unashamed British Period Drama junky.
It all started about four years ago when my curiosity finally got the better of me, and I cued up Season 1, Episode 1 of Downton Abbey. I couldn’t understand why any of my friends could be so completely enthralled with any show appearing on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater to the point that they saturated social media with gushes of sentimental babble and ridiculous memes.
To be totally fair, all I knew of Masterpiece was the Sesame Street spoof back in the day with Cookie Monster’s alter ego, Alistair Cookie, hosting Monsterpiece Theater, sitting in his robe, eating cookies in a plush velvet chair before a roaring fire. Nothing about that memory compelled me to give the real Masterpiece Theater even a slight pause as I flipped through the channels.
Oh, how naïve and unaware I was in my pre-BBC life! I was clueless of the love affair I’d soon have with British television.
As an avid reader and lover of historical fiction, it took less than one episode for me to fall in love with the characters who made Downton Abbey their home. The sinking of the Titanic. An unknown heir. A pretentious Dowager Countess. Blackmail of a summer dalliance between a valet and a Duke. It was just too rich to stop watching. And just like that, I was hooked on British television.
Over the past few years I’ve found my own personal binge-watching niche, settling in somewhere between King Henry VII (Tudors) and the current Queen Elizabeth (The Crown); riding horseback across lush moors in Cornwall (Poldark) or riding bicycles in London’s East End (Call the Midwife); hiding in sanctuary during the War of the Roses (The White Queen) or hiding birth control devices for spoiled ladies of the upper class (Downton Abbey).
Regardless of the era, all this British television binge-watching has allowed me to deepen my understanding of history and international affairs while expanding my repertoire of cheeky British phrases.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
One must always be clever.
I don’t know if it’s just because the British use the word “clever” so much more than we Americans do or if it’s because I’ve finally grasped a deeper understanding of what the word actually means, but I’ve come to accept that being called a “clever, clever girl” is definitely a good thing.
Wanderlust is a real thing.
Rugged cliffs. Medieval castles. Lush meadows. Glacial lakes. Sandy coves. Emerald green mountains. Sprawling gardens. Time to renew my passport.
A baby changes everything.
Lady Edith of Downton Abbey had to leave the country to birth baby Marigold in secret and then tried to pass her off as a local tenant’s child before she realized she could never part with her precious babe. All of Europe watched to see if Queen Elizabeth could produce “an heir and a spare” for King Edward in Tudors, which mandated the control of power for the English crown. And even the midwives’ worlds got flipped upside down when both Chummy and Sheila welcomed new babies into their lives in Call the Midwife.
Every mom should learn to channel her inner queen.
While not always entirely effective, occasionally yelling, “Guards! Seize them!” and “Off with their heads!” can actually be a therapeutic way to clear the room of loud, obnoxious, and/or needy children.
Likewise, “It’s time to accept my fate!” is a fun disclaimer to shout before starting a day of laundry and toilet scrubbing.
Everyone needs a good maid.
This is especially true if you find yourself needing to move dead bodies (Downton Abbey) or in need of a wife (Poldark).
We really can’t help with whom we fall in love.
York’s Princess Elizabeth fell in love with her uncle, King Richard, in The White Queen. Angelique found herself falling fast for German airman Bernhardt Telleman in the German-occupied fictional English Channel isle of St. Gregory in Island at War. And Lady Sybil fell in love with her charming chauffeur in Downton Abbey.
Women should never be judged by their looks.
Call the Midwife‘s larger-than-life character “Chummy” was a mountain of a woman with a soft and cheerful soul. Soft spoken, diminutive Queen Victoria became one of the most powerful women in the world. And let’s not forget Poldark‘s “Aunt Agatha” who looked and acted like a crazy old hag but truly had more wits about her than anyone at Trenwith. Books should never be judged by their cover, and neither should we.
British men of British television, however, should be.
Can we just take a moment to just pause in appreciation of the gorgeousness that is Aidan Turner (Ross Poldark in Poldark), Dan Stevens (Cousin Matthew in Downton Abbey), and Henry Cavill (Tudors)?? Those eyes. Those accents. Yes, please!
When in doubt, quote the Dowager Countess.
Downton Abbey‘s dear granny has more snarky one-liners than you can shake a stick at (whatever that means). I have go-to Granny Violet quotes for everyone in my family. For my teenage daughter who is at war with Algebra: “Don’t be a defeatist dear. It’s very middle class.”
For my husband: “Vulgarity is no substitute for wit.”
And for my oldest: “You are a woman with a brain and reasonable ability. Stop whining and find something to do.”
You get the idea. And if you don’t, “You know me- Never complain, never explain”.