The "Downton" Lowdown: Get Ready for 1922
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because everyone wants to know what’s next on Downton Abbey.
By Barbara Fletcher
Oh, it was such a depressing Series 3 of Downton Abbey. Death after death and financial doom and gloom. And that heartbreaking finale, which aired in the U.K. at Christmas – how can everyone possibly go on?
We don’t know what’s going to happen in Series 4, as producers and actors are infuriatingly tight-lipped. Worse, while the show resumes in England on September 22, the U.S. has to wait until early next year to find out what happens next. Sure, you can follow along via the British press, which is all “goodbye Matthew, hello electric food mixer.” (WTF?) But knowing would spoil things, now wouldn’t it?
So, in the meantime, let’s just calm down, carry on and review important events from the year 1922, when Season 4 begins.
This is what the Western world looks like in 1922
In 1922, there is a tremendous undercurrent of change. It’s the Roaring Twenties, after all – a time of economic prosperity, invention, discovery and cultural revolution. London is having a pretty good time, with the affluent Bright Young Things and bohemian young socialites partying and sexing their way through the nights. The British Empire is the largest it’s ever been, covering a quarter of the world geographically. Tensions are high between Ireland (both Southern and Northern) and Britain. The U.S., led by President Warren Harding, is under Prohibition. Mussolini comes to power and sets up a fascist dictatorship in Italy, and Gandhi is imprisoned in British-controlled India. King Tutankhamen’s tomb is discovered, and James Joyce’s Ulysses is first published. What a time.
The suffrage movement is also dramatically changing the way women are perceived — women are even members of Parliament. Given her reaction to Edith’s turn as a newspaper columnist, we can only imagine how aghast the Dowager Countess will be.
Discrimination lows, music highs
Racial tensions are running high in post-war England. Soldiers returning home to scarce employment are accusing nonwhite workers of stealing their jobs. Racial rioting in 1919 has led to immigration “alien” clampdowns that require non-British citizens seeking jobs or residence to register with police.
But amid these troubled times, a new music trend is taking shape. In the 1920s, Britain is falling in love with jazz, and Downton is about to get a dose of this “hot” (or “straight”) dance music, with the introduction of the show’s first black character, a jazz singer named Jack Ross.
In 1922, relations between Ireland and Britain are just plain bad. With the Irish War of Independence ended, and Britain splitting Ireland into north and south, Northern Ireland is now under British rule. (We all know how that went over.) Britain starts pulling out of Ireland in February, with the last of the troops leaving in May. But then the Irish Civil War starts up in June.
New ways to press Mrs. Patmore’s buttons
What might this mean for Downton? Potentially, a lot. How will Tom Branson, the Irish nationalist and Lady Sybil’s baby daddy, react? There’s a whole lotta fierce Irish pride and Catholic faith brewing under the former chauffeur’s skin. But with his position in the house, he’s bound to be conflicted. Which can only make for great TV.
The 1920s is also changing the way people communicate, travel and perform day-to-day tasks. Radio is all the rage: The BBC is born this year, and Harding becomes the first president to be heard over public airwaves. More people are driving cars, and there are major advancements in medicine — the first successful diabetes treatment happens in 1922, and the Band-Aid was invented the year before, in 1921.
But perhaps even more exciting for downstairs Downton is the invention of the refrigerator and other electric appliances. Mrs. Patmore, the head cook, is bound to freak out when an electric food mixer finds its way into her kitchen, while wide-eyed Daisy will probably think it’s pretty rad.
With the Roaring Twenties as the backdrop to this series, who knows what the show will deliver? Will we be waiting in the parlor in our best formal wear to find out? Quite.