Adapting heritage: Class and conservatism in Downton Abbey

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The huge success of ITV's neo-Edwardian Downton Abbey, which has recently completed its third series on British television and is currently being shown in the US, displays the continuing, and indeed increasing, popularity of heritage television for the contemporary audience. This essay examines the ways in which Downton provides a sanitised, yet seemingly ‘authentic’, portrait of a period of instability and rapid change, which its writers have identified as having much in common with our own present. I explore here the ways Downton comments on that present, through its portrayal of a house and its inhabitants, which function as a state in microcosm. This drama can be considered, in de Groot's definition, ‘post-heritage’ in its innovative and self-conscious post-modernism, but, as I will discuss, it simultaneously recalls the Thatcherite roots of more traditional heritage in its conservative representation of class. Through an examination of these issues, and with close attention to the servant/employer relationships that are key to the narrative, I will explore the version of the past offered by Downton, its intertextual and complex relationship with the heritage tradition, and its at times confused and contradictory social ideology.
Original languageEnglish
JournalRethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 8 Aug 2013


  • Downton Abbey
  • post-heritage
  • neo-Edwardian
  • class


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