*Spoilers for Downton Abbey ahead*
This Friday is a big day. The Area 51 ‘raid’ is set to take place in the wee hours, massive youth strikes for climate action begin almost simultaneously around the other side of the globe, and the new Downton Abbey movie will hit theaters as the grand conclusion to a truely underrated Masterpiece Classic series.
My mom and I have been re-watching the seasons in preparation, and I’m reminded of the things that bugged me the first time around, most notably how Tom Branson, an Irish socialist who comes to Downton as a chauffeur, is painted as the “respectable revolutionary,” with moderate behaviors and gradual concessions that the Crawley family accept as progress assimilation.
Yes, Tom, you do. From the beginning, Tom Branson makes his beliefs as a socialist known to the Crawleys, and supports Sybil in her choices to be politically engaged, become a nurse, and persue life outside of Downton Abbey and the rigid ways of the upperclass. Through his dialogue, we follow the progress of other revolutions, such as the Bolshevik, as he first assures the other House staff that no harm would ever come to the tsar’s family, to heartbrokenly informing them that Nicholas II’s family had been brutally killed.
We can almost be happy for Tom when Lady Sybil agrees to marry him, and they leave for Ireland. Things are tense with the family as Lord Grantham barely gives his blessing to the Odd Couple before their departure, but doesn’t attend the wedding himself and isn’t keen on his family going either. However, things escalate when Tom suddenly arrives at Downton on a dark and stormy night… without Sybil. He’s in tears, and tells the family she’ll be following him, because he’s on the run from the police after being involved with the burning of an upperclass family’s castle by revolutionaries.
The wary family anxiously awaits Sybil’s return from Ireland as Tom explains that he was never in support of violence against the upperclass families, and is chastised by Lord Grantham for yet being in support of property destruction. Tom explains that he doesn’t see the castles and estates as family homes, instead as symbols of the oppression that the Irish ‘radicals’ have faced… but then goes on to say that when he saw the family turned out of their burning house, “with their children… it was worse than I expected.”
This theme of having Tom Branson take a step forward and two steps back repeats several times throughout the series. He’s shown again and again to be likeably moderate and only slightly more liberal than other characters, and only when it’s appropriate to the plot. We are expected to respect him for having beliefs and love him for not acting on them as he grows to be a part of the very kind of family and world he says he resents. He stops fighting the dress code early on, has his table manners instilled quickly, and he even takes a job working for the Estate.
All I can say, folks, is, don’t be like Branson.
This Friday, September 20, no matter where you are in the world, don’t be a Model Revolutionary. Don’t hold your tongue and walk back your radical ideas out of some sense of shame or need to reduce yourself to a more palatable level of passionate. Don’t sit on your hands and act like there’s a way we can all get out of this (the climate crisis and subsequent end of the world) as friends, should things continue as they have.
Now is not the time for respectful silence and dinner table conversation rules. Now is the time to be so very, very firm in the stance that change must and will come, or we will face mass extinction and deaths. What’s that saying about how only after the last plant has died will the wealthy realize they can’t eat money? That’s when we’ll eat the rich.
Whatever your plan for the #YouthClimateStrike, may you make the most of it, and #DontBeABranson.