All I wanted was a cool theater and popcorn. The late summer selection of movies was meager. In desperation, we tried the Downton Abbey movie. Neither of us had watched the TV airings. To our surprise, we found the movie engaging. I then amazed Kit by checking out the PBS series from our library–all six seasons. We watched the episodes over several months. They made a restful diversion after busy days.
Soon, as an author, I also became intrigued by the story-telling craft of Downton Abbey. The stories have no special effects, no stunts, and almost no violence. Clever dialogue carries the unpredictible plot. Nearly all the storylines are about relationships and about choices. Although only occasionally referring to God and religion, the programs show consequences of bad behavior. They give positive messages about self-sacrifice, honesty, and caring for others. Tremendous worldwide audiences followed the program.
How did the writers manage this? I first observed meticulous and detailed research. Maybe they idealized the cozy relationship between the lords and their servants, but the settings and historical context are authentic. Tension is maintained by multiple sub-plots involving both likeable and unlikeable characters. Nearly all the characters are nuanced–like most people acting good or bad depending on the circumstances. Many subplots have non-religious, nevertheless redemptive, themes.
Stories change lives for better or for worse. We are trying to incorporate some of the same story-telling techniques into our novels and books. But unlike Downton Abbey, we position God well.