As the TV phenomenon Downton Abbey migrates to the big screen this month, will audiences follow? And how will it be welcomed by that toughest of crowds, the film critics? All I know for sure is that I'm looking forward to catching up with the world of Downton.
The TV series covered the years 1912 to 1926, and the film is reportedly set in 1927 (so the 1929 stock market crash that will usher in the Great Depression is still safely in the future) as the inhabitants of the manor prepare for a visit from King George V.
The curmudgeonly head butler is my favorite character at Downton. He is too much of a stickler for rules and tradition, but his devotion to those he loves and serves can be inspirational. P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves books seem too obvious a choice. Instead I'd recommend something to help him feel more prepared for the impending royal visit. He could read about King George's grandmother in Victoria the Queen. (Check out Mary Jo's Queen Victoria blog post for more on her.) But it sure would be nice if he also read the forthcoming Fair Play by Eve Rodsky to better understand the give-and-take of marriage.
Among her efforts at estate management, the no-nonsense Mary surprisingly found herself interested in pig farming and breeding. I think she'd enjoy The Good Good Pig, naturalist Sy Montgomery's memoir about a pet who stole the hearts of a whole community.
Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham
Sharp-tongued matriarch Violet might enjoy relaxing with a murder mystery. Sure, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was published in 1926, but if my other reading suggestions require some kind of time travel, why make her wait for 1934 to read Christie's Murder on the Orient Express? (Downton fans are always fussing over Violet's unlikely longevity, so let's not make her wait.) Might she also find a kindred spirit in Dorothy Parker, who shares her gift for cutting wit? The Portable Dorothy Parker might meet with her approval.
The Irish chauffeur initially resented his employers for their wealth and luxury, but he gradually succumbed to their charms. He might enjoy The Immortal Irishman, about an Irish revolutionary who became a hero known around the world.
Because she is the most sensible, compassionate and fair character in the mansion by a mile (she really ought to be running the place, in my book), and since she works awfully hard, I'd love to see Mrs. Hughes have a chance to put her feet up and relax with a book of pure pleasure. Maybe one of the pioneering romance author Georgette Heyer's novels, such as The Grand Sophy. If the plot reminds her a bit too much of her daily life, perhaps she could find escape with the jazz era sensation that spawned several musicals and movies over the coming decades, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos.
With her numerous misfortunes, you have to admire Edith's resilience (even if she can sometimes be a bit of a martyr). To inspire her work as a journalist, I'd recommend Personal History, the classic memoir of a pioneering woman of news publishing.
Robert and Cora Crawley
As the American of wealth who married into a titled British family, Cora strikes me as something of a Henry James character, so I wonder how she'd enjoy The Portrait of A Lady. With his stiff upper lip, Robert might find a biography of Churchill of great interest. He could try the acclaimed Churchill. He would undoubtedly be disturbed to learn of what's coming in the near future, but with his tendency to look to the past, it might just be the preparation he needs.