Who Runs The World? Women of Downton Offer Leadership & Life Lessons
I dare say the women of “Downton Abbey” would not be at all surprised.
Yet reviewers, pundits and even the creators of the film, “Downton Abbey,” a follow up on the big screen after six seasons on television, were surprised that in its first three weeks at the box office the movie earned $135.4 million, more than 10 times its operating budget.
According to CinemaBlend, “On top of that, Downton Abbey has consistently impressed both critics and audiences. The movie managed an incredible 84% Fresh Rotten Tomatoes critic score and 94% Audience score.”
Even though Robert supposedly is the head of the estate upstairs and Mr. Carson and later Thomas Barrow downstairs, make no mistake that even if it is 1927, it is the women who are in charge. With a plot surrounding the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Downton to the Crawley family, the female characters lead with grace, wit and of course, an astonishingly marvelous wardrobe.
Acknowledging the excessive privilege of this fictitious bunch, Take The Lead takes liberty here to deconstruct the overt and subtle lessons in life and leadership from the women who run the world of Downton.
Lady Mary: The movie opens with her looking very 20th century modern. Still working to run the estate, the farms and manage the tenants, Mary offers pushback that is very modern, indeed. Questioning the wisdom of continuing and not abandoning running the estate in favor of a simpler life, she says, “Isn’t it time to check in the towel? I want everything to stop being such a struggle.” Yet, this working mother decides to “battle on,” as she explains she is “full of passion for what matters.” No spoiler alert here, but there’s a tear-jerker scene with Mary and the Dowager, with Mary declaring she will lead Downton into the future.
Lady Edith: “I expected more from life,” says the second sister who is head of her own estate, no longer a working journalist and feels lost as a second fiddle to her husband’s aspirations. “I want to own my own life,” she says. “I used to have a job that I loved.” Edith, pregnant with her second child, is every ambitious mother who feels torn about a life balance that she can’t seem to achieve, even in all her enormous privilege. She does speak up to her husband about what she wants and that is not what every character in the movie does.
Violet, Old Lady Grantham, The Dowager Countess: Offering lines that make audiences erupt in laughter, Violet proves she has a keen handle on the state of aristocracy, fairness, sarcasm and the future. “I am an expert in every matter,” she declares. That is just before she sums up her heavy-handed leadership style with, “Machiavelli is completely underrated.” At another moment, she explains the look of dignity: “We are not meant to grin like a Cheshire cat.” And defending her straightforward style, she says, “I never argue, I explain.” She does exhibit tenderness, understanding and forgiveness with a family feud and with her friends and granddaughters. She is a leader with a stern outer armor and an inner softness. And in the end she smiles, “I’ll be fine until I’m not.”
Anna Bates: Not going to give anything away here, but it is Anna who orchestrates the entire turn of events, from inception to execution. “We want to defend Downton’s honor,” she declares. She also helps Lady Mary hang on to the role of running Downton. “In the end, it’s deciding what’s important,” she says.
Mrs. Patmore: Not to be outdone by the Royal Family’s pompous imported French chef, she orchestrates the entire formal dinner herself to praise from everyone, including the king and queen. She proves a supportive manager, even as she sequesters away the supplies for the dinner and manages to do the extravagant meal quickly and with no added support.
Daisy: The assistant in the kitchen to Mrs. Patmore, who is engaged to be married and keenly aware of her position in life in the downstairs of Downton, speaks up about being ordered around by the royal staff. “We’re not footballs and we don’t deserve a kicking.”
What’s uplifting about this movie set at a time and in the social class when women were relegated to being arm candy at balls and elaborate meals, is that the women are all central to the action and take charge in the major decisions.
It isn’t Robert or Lord Grantham, Mr. Carson, Mr. Bates or even King George who are central to the film. It is the women of Downton, and though they are fictitious, they offer hope.
According to CNN, “Nine years after the series debuted on the BBC, ‘Downton Abbey’ creator Julian Fellowes contends that he's not entirely sure why ‘Downton Abbey’ continues to strike such a nerve among its faithful.”
"Lots of people have written lots of words about why, but then nobody seems really to fully to understand or explain it. It's been tremendous fun to be at the heart of it, to be at the center of it— you can be sure of that. But as to quite why it has been a worldwide phenomenon and the way it has...I really don't understand it," Fellowes tells CNN.
He may not understand it, but the women—and fans—of Downton do.