Thursday, June 9, 2011

Downton Abbey's Anna & Bates and the Theory of Reality Fantasy

I have a new theory of fantasy. There are so many extraordinarily attractive people to be found in movies and on TV. These extraordinary people usually get to have exciting adventures, wear great clothes and hang out with other sexy people. For viewers, us regular folk, being attracted to purely fantasy people makes sense. They are perfect and gorgeous and fun to watch. They have lives we don't know or have and will never know or have and, honestly, don't even want to know or have. This is fantasy fantasy and it's nice, too.

But give me a choice between Brad Pitt and Brendan Coyle (Mr. Bates in the amazing television drama Downton Abbey), there is simply no contest. The winner is Mr. Bates. I know a lot of other people agree with me. Why is Mr. Bates and his touching relationship with Anna so deeply attractive?

Because of reality fantasy. Bates is someone we know -- or could know. He is flawed, interesting and compelling. He is both ordinary and extraordinary. His beauty is found partly on his face and partly in his character.  His face might not leap off the screen at you. It would be forgivable to not notice it at all and take him for just a regular person - a character actor. But blink, look again, and you'll see that he's fantasy normal. He is sort of every man, but he is so much better. Once you see it, it takes fire.

It radiates from the intelligent sparkle in his gaze. The depth of history and experience that lurks just below the surface. Oh, and maybe this only applies for Americans, but it resides in his to-die-for accent. It is found in his mischievousness mouth. The slight smile and beautiful curl to the lip line. He can talk. You can see that he can and will talk and say exactly what we want to hear - sometime. It resides in his broad, magnetic style. Once we stop to really see him, we know, instinctively, we want to get to know him better.  He works for a living. He walks with a limp. He is middle aged. He has a past. I don't know if I like him in spite of or because of these things.

Anna. Here is a woman who is beautiful on the surface and underneath. She is blond and young and pretty. But she is in a station in life where she might as well be anything else for all the good her charms will do her. She is past the first flower of youth. She works hard and is happy enough with her place but emptiness and longing are there as well. There is no real excitement in her life as she lives to work and serve. Yes, she is good -- through-and-through -- but she is not a simpery do-gooder. She is someone we like and would want to be friends with. She is someone we are, or have been.

But better.

Anna has spirit and consults her internal compass in deciding what is right or wrong. That internal compass allows her to: (1) drag a dead body from one part of the house to another in order to protect her mistress, (2) work to re-plant false evidence of theft in the room of Mr. Bates' foe after he tried to frame Bates, (3) open the corridor door between the male and female servants' halls when she was forbidden to do so, (4) seek out and conference with Bates' mother behind his back to try and clear his name, (5) cover up for her roommate when said roommate sneaks off for the day. Anna is forthright and unapologetic.

So, here is this lovely, grownup, lonely woman serving others in the house where she will likely live for a long time. The only men in her world are the completely out of reach aristocratic visitors and the servants like Thomas (the gay rogue), William (the shy, green, boy) and Carson (the much older butler). Almost from the moment she smiles a friendly welcome to Bates, we can see that this man, even though damaged goods in many ways, is the best opportunity for her in a long time. Opportunity, that is, for real friendship, shared exasperation with the goings on, and intelligent and thoughtful conversation.

By the time we learn that he is smart, kind, thoughtful, proud and sweet, Anna is already head over heels for Bates. When he walks into the kitchens where she sits alone and says tongue in cheek: "alone at last", we see the effect on her face.

For his part, when Bates comes to Downton Abbey, he is a slightly beaten man. He is deeply thankful for his chance to work. This situation must work out and he has his eye on nothing else. He is not thinking of love or even friendship - just living. Getting through. Making this work. Anna is kind to him and he's glad enough of it, but he isn't thinking about her. He has stopped seeing himself as a man. His disability, his age, and his past which includes war and taking the rap for a crime he didn't do, have put him where many of us are - in a course to the finish with blinders on. Plodding through as best as we can with the challenges life puts in front of us.

However, it doesn't take long for her presence to work on him at a deeper level. Seeing Anna and talking to her, he cannot help but notice how pretty she is. Deep inside he remembers women -- what it meant to be with a woman and it feels good to remember. But his crippled leg puts him in his place. He knows he is an old broken man. Almost against his will Bates begins to want to be young and whole again. I think this is why he looks for the limp-corrector and goes through the ordeal of trying to fix himself. He wants to be complete and even attractive. (He doesn't know, like we do, how very attractive he already is). Although the limp-corrector episode concludes with the idea that Bates must be content with who he is, we're not sure that lesson fully hits home. Instead it is his main cross and carrying it is the thing keeping him from Anna. He believes he doesn't deserve her.

How many of us regular people have lived this story from one side or the other? How many have been trapped in something small longing for something big? Or, have been changed by something big so much to think we don't deserve something small?

Anna and Bates are sexy, compelling and beautiful together because they are the story of life.

Check out Downton Abbey on Masterpiece

Downton Abbey's Anna & Bates and the Theory of Reality Fantasy. LostinBritishTV

1 comment:

  1. Even though I've never seen this show, reading your blog reminded me of something... Oh and finally it clicked. The show is the The Nanny. Ha! Yes, the one with Fran Dresher... my favorite guilty pleasure. Just sayin'. OK Mr. Sheffield is irrefutably cute even at first glance so that's different but he's kind of unaware of it, so he seems accessible. And Fran is more over the top sexy than pretty, but she's so darn funny and cute that you don't actually think about her looks that much once you get over the original shock of the outfit she's got on. You like her for the exact same reasons as Anna. She's spirited. She does what she thinks is right and is mostly very well intentioned--but it is comedy after all. The chemistry between the two is totally rad and alas can keep you tuned in for 4 or 5 episodes in a row on a sleepless night.