Like a good third or more of the country, I am a fan of Downton Abbey. I tape it on Sunday night and watch it later in the week. This week none of my FB friends who usually comment on the show said one word. I was totally unprepared for Sybil’s death. Oh, you see it coming of course: the early delivery, the arguments about treatment between the old family doctor and the specialist from London, the decision that you just know will be the wrong one. And still, the death itself was painful.
I have been through several very sudden and unexpected family deaths. While joining in the grief of the story, I was also aware of how perfectly the actors portrayed their grief. There was loud weeping; stoic silence that allows for no utterance; tears that reddened eyes and slipped down cheeks; the helpless anguish of the doctors who knew they should be able to do something and couldn’t. Finally there was the brilliant stumble as Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith) went to join the family, so subtle it was hardly noticeable except that some brilliant director shot it from behind so that we saw the shoulders bow, the hand reach out, the back stiffen again and the step that moved her forward. And every single one of them brought to the show the grief that was their character’s. A director can only do so much. Then it is up to the actor to take the emotion of the scene and portray it authentically so that even though we know it is a story, we are able to participate ourselves. Really, really well done.