“Release your job”, Big Freedia sings on Beyoncé’s new single, “Break My Soul”. It’s a risky proposition heading into what economists predict will be another recession, but with wages stagnating and inflation rising, it’s clear the status quo isn’t sustainable.
A century ago, as the stock market crash of 1929 approached, it was clear that major societal changes were afoot. Fascism grew as people’s economic security became more precarious – hm, recognizable – and even in the escapist soap opera of ‘Downton Abbey’ the well-heeled Crawley family could sense it.
In “A New Era”, the second feature of the TV hit (streaming now on Peacock and out on Blu-ray and DVD on July 5), Household Head Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) – already breaking new ground, as a wife and zo – invites a film crew to shoot a silent film in Downton in 1928. While it would once have been unheard of to fraternize and fraternize with showbiz professionals under her blue-blooded heritage, Lady Mary knows that Downton is an expensive estate to run. The extra income helps keep the legendary mansion in top condition, as the Crawleys’ colleagues are forced to sell their own property to keep afloat.
Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern as Robert and Cora Grantham, Robert James Collier as Thomas Barrow, Phyllis Logan as Mrs. Hughes and Jim Carter as Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey: A New Era (Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features)
“The state of progress is painfully slow.” – Jim Carter
That willingness to break new ground—using the upper classes to only patronize the arts, not take advantage of what was seen as communal commerce or labor—is what set the Crawleys up to survive the coming economic downturn ( although they don’t know exactly what’s coming their way). In 2022, similar economic and political conditions mean the status quo – a minimum wage that hasn’t changed in over a decade; a Supreme Court that knocks down decades of precedent in one session — won’t diminish it either. Beyoncé is “looking for a new foundation,” and so are the people of today.
RELATED: Hugh Bonneville on “Downton Abbey”‘s Enduring Charm
The cast and crew of “Downton Abbey” spoke to Salon about what it takes to make progress and insights from the franchise itself.
“It’s cyclical,” explains star Raquel Cassidy, who plays a maid in the franchise. “Maybe one of the reasons ‘Downton’ is so popular — or any of these historical dramas — is because we can all see it happening, but it’s so far away and that’s why, even though we’re moved or shocked by it or whatever. anyway, it’s still at a distance. So it’s not that raw.”
But why do we seem to be facing the same struggle as 100 years ago? And how do we prevent the same problems from reappearing in another century?
“The history of mankind proves that we never learn, otherwise we wouldn’t be in this state with Ukraine right now, right? Progress is painfully slow,” said Jim Carter, aka esteemed butler Mr. carson. “We have railroad strikes today the same way we had them in the 1970s. I’m not pointing an accusing finger there, but self-interest always wins out I’m afraid.”
Phyllis Logan stars as Mrs. Hughes and Jim Carter as Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey: A New Era (Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features)In reality, progress is slow, but it is still progress. And we will continue to face the same problems “until we destroy capitalism,” Carter jokes.
Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul” sums up the feelings of the Great Resignation, yes, but the song (and the sentiment) isn’t all about quitting.
The only option: embrace change, like the Crawleys do in ‘A New Era’. Even the fictional filmmakers who take over Downton are forced to switch to mid-production with talkies. It’s a move “A New Era” director Simon Curtis likens to a shift the industry is currently feeling: “There’s a parallel with the movie industry undergoing a major technological shift with what’s going on with cinemas versus streaming right now, so I think you should embrace the new technology and make it work for you.”
But the Crawleys weren’t always so willing to embrace a new way of life. It took the family years to adjust when youngest daughter Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) fell in love with and eventually married driver Tom Branson (Allen Leech). And while the Downton Abbey residents aspired to more, only a few could move from a life of service to a new profession: Tom with his marriage, housekeeper Gwen (Rose Leslie) turned secretary, and Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) becomes a schoolteacher (and, no spoilers, his new venture in “A New Era”). Without that preparation, would the Crawleys be open to the declassé film industry as a way to maintain their home?
What does it take for one to make real progress in the current economic climate? Aside from destroying capitalism, leaving behind what doesn’t work could be a start.
Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul” sums up the feelings of the Great Resignation, yes, but the song (and the sentiment) isn’t all about quitting. More importantly, it involves recalibrating one’s priorities. And while the Crawleys figured this out, the conditions are just right for people today to realize it on their own. If we want to survive our own societal shift, it’s best to heed the advice Cassidy’s character, Miss Baxter, gives: “Times change; we have to change with them.”
“Downton Abbey: A New Era” is streaming now on Peacock and July 5 on Blu-ray and DVD.
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