Downton Abbey: fifth series gets political

Downton Abbey

The rise of Labour threatens the upstairs way of life at Downton Abbey – but is the latest plot pure history or a bit of political spin?

LAST UPDATED AT 11:49 ON Fri 15 Aug 2014

A sneak preview of the new series of Downton Abbey has revealed a plot line that is decidedly more political that viewers are used to.

The fifth season of the hit ITV show, which will air in September, is set in 1924. Britain is adjusting to life under its first Labour government, which is expected to bring about great change both upstairs and downstairs.

"I feel a shaking of the ground I stand on – that everything I believe in will be tested over the next few years," Carson the butler says as the episode draws to a close.

The social and political setting brings about "upheaval that filters into the cushioned world of Downton privilege and threatens to divide its inhabitants", writes Hannah Ellis-Peterson in The Guardian.

"This government," the Earl of Grantham warns, "is committed to the destruction of people like us and everything we stand for." While Jimmy the footman asks his fellow servants, "When did we last have a politician who understood the working class?"

Speaking after the screening of the first episode, Gareth Neame, Downton Abbey's executive producer, said the political environment and its affect on the aristocracy would be a key theme running through the next series.

He said the rise of Labour would have unsettled the inhabitants of Downton Abbey.

"The people who are upstairs see it as a direct threat to their lives," he said, while "the characters below stairs see it as a huge opportunity for change".

Actor Allen Leech, who plays chauffeur-turned-landlord Tom Branson, said it was an exciting time for Downton, as viewers would finally be able to witness the "the blurring of the lines of class".

Commentators were quick to point out that series creator Julian Fellows is a staunch Conservative peer, who, the Daily Telegraph's Anita Singh points out, "has never hidden his dislike of Labour".

But Naeme insisted that the latest plot line was not politically motivated, saying that the slow demise of the aristocracy has always been a part of the narrative. "It was inevitable that we would [come to] use the first ever socialist government" as a backdrop, he said.

Labour leader Ed Miliband once likened Downton's aristocrats to members of the Conservative party. "A tale of a group of out-of-touch millionaires who act like they’re born to rule but turn out not to be very good at it," he said. "It sounds familiar, doesn't it?" · 

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