Simon Schama: Downton Abbey is “cultural necrophilia”

The historian says the "servile soap opera" provides an unrealistic account of the era

Simon Schama has branded nostalgic period dramas like Downton Abbey “cultural necrophilia”, saying the series paints a far cosier picture of the era than is realistic.


The TV historian described the hit ITV show as “a steaming, silvered tureen of snobbery” and “a servile soap opera”, claiming creator Julian Fellowes had avoided some harsh historical truths when writing Downton.

“If Fellowes were really interested in the true drama attending the port and partridge classes… the story on our TV would be quite different,” said Schama, writing in US magazine Newsweek.

“Instead of being an occasional suffragette, Sibyl (sic) would have turned into a full-on militant, carving… a “V” for “votes” on her breast with a piece of broken glass,” he added.

“Lord Robert, whose income from land and rents would have collapsed with the long agricultural depression, would be unable to service his mortgage and… would have to sell [Downton Abbey]…

“And Matthew would be one of the 750,000 [First World War] dead.”

A spokesperson for the show hit back at Schama, saying “Downton is a fictional drama series… It is not a history programme, but a drama of social satire about a time when relationships, behaviour and hierarchy were very different from those we enjoy today.

“It is an entertainment with an intertwined mix of romantic, dramatic and comedic stories… [and] as with any popular TV drama series, offers an alternative to our own life experience.”


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