Is Downton a soap? There was an audible intake of breath followed by a burst of nervous laughter when an audience member dared to ask that question at Cheltenham Literature Festival this week.
Series producer Liz Trubridge expertly batted the question away: “I just don’t categorise it. It doesn’t matter to me. As long as it’s good stories, well told, which resonate with the audience then people can call it what they like.”
Jessica Fellowes – niece of Julian and author of The World of Downton Abbey – speculated that it was soap-like in its authenticity. “Uncle wouldn’t give a fig”, she finally decided, “because he adores Corrie”.
Nor did Phyllis Logan – who plays Downton’s no-nonsense housekeeper Mrs Hughes – have any objections. “I wouldn’t take umbridge at that necessarily because you can get some good soap operas,” she mused in her soft Scottish burr. “I can see why people might say that because there are a lot of stories and a lot of characters, and it can be quite dramatic or it can be quite every day.”
“I heard someone the other day describe it as a spoof and that made me uncomfortable,” chipped in Lesley Nicol, better known as Highclere Castle’s cook Mrs Patmore. “Because that implies that we’re not doing the job. Soaps can be great so that’s not an insult. A spoof might imply that you’re just not really accurate and you’re not really doing it to a standard and that would upset me because we are trying very hard to do both of those things.”
What do you think? Is Downton Abbey as highbrow as it appears? Or is it just Corrie with corsets?