Downton Abbey in Your Class #2 – Today in the Past!

Welcome to the Labragirl Film Project’s weekly film literacy discussion. Every Monday morning Labragirl provides a resource, activity, or methodological discussion to help incorporate film analysis into your classroom.

Last week we turned to TV images with our discussion about Downton Abbey’s introductory score. 

This week we continue to explore the popular historical drama with a discussion about how the past is portrayed in Downton Abbey.

Do your students watch Downton Abbey?

What did they think about these discussions?

Please comment below or discuss with us on 


Downton Abbey in Your Class #2

Today in the Past!

Classroom Discussion Synopsis: 

This week’s Moving Images-Moving Forward conversation explores how Downton Abbey illustrates the past. We also discuss how historical television shows shed light on the time period in which they were produced.

This particular exercise moves away from film and movies to examine TV images. Although much of what we do here at the Labragirl Film Project is about film and movies, our core belief is that all moving images are important and therefore TV and music videos also fall under our purview.

Grade Level: High School & College

Educational Goals:

  • Introduce students to film analysis & reading
  • Incorporate film analysis into popular culture discussions
  • Help students understand how televisions shows shape the way we understand the past
  • Enable students to participate in discussions about the fluidity of history
  • Encourage students to navigate critical thinking discussions about moving images & historical images
Exercise Philosophy:

The goal behind this exercise is to apply our discussion about viewing films (and TV shows) as primary sources to Downton Abbey.

What do these images teach us about the time period in which they were made?

How does Downton Abbey reflect our current time and culture?

See: Moving Past Historical Accuracy.

Exercise Activity & Process:

Today in the Past

In a L.A. Times interview with Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens, a journalist asks Stevens:

One of the things people critique about “Downton” is also one of the things people like about it, which is that it shows more emotional vulnerability than you probably would have seen in that moment historically, right?”  Citation

Stevens responds:

There is a modern emotional sensibility to some of the characters, but if you watch historical drama of any period — if you watch a historical drama made in the 1970s, people are behaving a little bit 1970s! But yes it’s struck a chord. I think it’s nice when history is dressed up not so stuffily — and actually these people, they did behave differently to how we behave now but they were still human. It’s fun to imagine that a character like Lady Violet was not always this thunderous dragon, that often her heart did melt and in such a long-running series you get to see that. Over nine or 10 hours we go all over this estate.”  Citation

This excerpt is a good starting point to discuss how moving images reflect the time periods in which they were made. It also shows students that this concept is not theoretical or abstract, but something that journalists and actors are very familiar.

How does Downton Abbey shape the way we look at the past?

Certainly, a number of clips from the show will work well to discuss how modern ideas help to create our portrayal of the past.

Here is a suggested clip.

Lavinia at Dinner

Additional Questions:

Can you apply these concepts to other TV shows that you watch?

Did you use any of these discussions or activities in your classroom? How did it go?

We’d love to hear from you.

Please comment below or discuss with us on .

*Disclaimer: All movie & television clips are suggestions for class use, only. All instructors should screen clips to determine if they are appropriate to use in their classrooms. 


UP NEXT 4/1: Talking Film

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Previous Blog Entries

Downton Abbey in Your Class #1 – Roll Sound!

Reading Film

Fictional Projections of History

Think Globally Using Film

Our Relationship with Movies

Moving Past Historical Accuracy

Images Telling Stories

Film Shaping History

Think Film Images


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