Saturday 21 September 2019

Downton Abbey offers haven from ‘chaos’ of modern age, says star

Jim Carter, who plays traditionalist Charles Carson, believes the ordered world the character inhabits is a big part of the show’s appeal to viewers.

Jim Carter said there are ‘mad people’ in charge in the modern world (Ian West/PA)
Jim Carter said there are ‘mad people’ in charge in the modern world (Ian West/PA)

By Craig Simpson, Press Association

Downton Abbey offers the comfort of an ordered and class-bound society in an era of “chaos”, according to one of the show’s stars.

The period piece transports viewers back to a time of rigid social hierarchies, which actor Jim Carter believes offers a haven from modern life and politics.

Carter, 70, plays the traditionalist Charles Carson and believes the attitudes of the butler and the world he inhabits are part of the appeal of Downton Abbey.

He said the class system is in the DNA of the British people and the early 20th century is an era that appeals to an international audience living through a perceived period of instability in the modern world with its “mad people in charge”.

It harks back to a more ordered time

Carter said the romance of Downton offers an illusory ideal but he favours the fall of the class system.

He has benefited from social fluidity, which allowed him an education and a career that was chosen not enforced.

But the Yorkshire-born actor believes the appeal of Downton and his character is one of preserved traditions.

He said: “It harks back to a more ordered time. It’s a big part of the appeal. It’s safe, and it seems like a safe world.

“Everything is ordered, everything is in its place. In the chaos of the modern world I think that’s a nice haven.

“You can’t get the toothpaste back in the tube, you can never go back.  We just have to cope with the chaos of modern living – too much information, too many mad people in charge. It’s a spooky world.”

Downton is set in a different world, between 1912 and 1926, which encompasses the period of the First World War and the first Labour government but also shows a deferential working class and traditional social attitudes.

Carter said of the period show’s huge appeal: “It’s been surprisingly successful.

“The surprise is the reach of the success. I just got back from the south island of New Zealand and I got recognised, I got back from India and I got recognised in the holy city of Pushkar.

“It’s a different world, it’s historical but it’s recognisable. It’s recognising our history, it’s only one step removed. This is the beginning of our lives.

“The class system still exists in England, even if it’s more a trace memory, people make subtle assessments of people according to class. It’s in our DNA.”

Carter said the vision of a stratified English society is romanticised and the Crawley family were, perhaps unrealistically, “the most benign employers ever”.

He added: “No one get ever get sacked at Downton Abbey.”

Carter said although the order of the system might appear comforting in the modern world of seemingly unstable politics and technological change, the ability to adapt is valuable.

He said: “It’s a good thing that the class system is breaking down, I think people should be judged on merit, not on birth. I don’t think Mr Carson would necessarily agree.

“It’s very, very British. Britain is a traditional country, we hang on to our traditions, with the church and the monarchy.

“It was a very static society. I like the fluidity of modern society, the journeys we can make.

“I was born in Harrogate in Yorkshire and I live a very different life from the one I was born into.

“I just wish that there was opportunity through education, etc, that everybody could have those possibilities.

“I don’t think i was ever inhibited by class. Education breaks all those barriers, really.”

Carter is returning to Downton, Highclere Castle in Hampshire, for a special retrospective of the show.

He will appear in the guise of Mr Carson to compare an evening of live music, showcasing the John Lunn-composed soundtrack to the show.

Music From Downton Abbey will be performed on the ground’s of the grand estate on June 22, with clips from the show used to tell the stories of the series.

Tickets for the Live Nation event go on sale on December 14.

PA Media

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