Have you ever felt “up the creek without a paddle”? Did you find yourself saying if only that hadn’t happened?
I’m a huge fan of Downton Abbey, the riveting Masterpiece Theater presentation on Public Television. Fans around the U.S and beyond have been watching for three seasons, and now we’re celebrating the beginning of season four. Downton Abbey is the story of an aristocratic family – Lord and Lady Grantham, three daughters, relatives and a full complement of staff from butler to second footman. Their story begins before World War I.
Julian Fellowes, the talented creator of the series, uses the backdrop of history to show how a family steeped in custom and tradition is ushered into the increasingly modern and egalitarian society. Family and staff have to deal with changing mores and economic reality. Lady Sybil falls in love and marries the chauffeur. The manor house is turned into an army hospital. The staff is allowed upstairs to hear a famous singer. Poor Carson the butler doesn’t think that’s proper at all and a house party with guests who failed to bring ladies maids or manservants…what is the world coming to?
However even these blue-blooded aristocrats learn to adapt to their changing circumstances – some more quickly than others. By the end of last season Lady Mary, the oldest and most imperious of the daughters has settled into a love-filled marriage with Matthew and they at last have their new baby. What a perfect picture! They have each suffered so much up to this point and faithful followers of the series gave a sigh of relief that all seemed right with the world.
However, back in the real world, Dan Stevens, the handsome actor who plays Matthew, informed the writers he wanted to leave the series after season three to pursue other opportunities. Are you kidding, says the imaginary Julian Fellowes in my head. You are now THE male lead in this story. You are the one taking this family into the 20th century. You will be the next Lord Grantham, the head of the estate and the savior of its future! NOW you tell me you want to leave the show?
Of course we can never know what Julian Fellowes actually said, but I saw him interviewed a couple of days ago, and his words struck me. In effect: Dan’s wanting to leave was certainly a shock. The only way to get a main character out of the script like that is to kill him off. Oh goodness!
So as Matthew is coming home from visiting his wife and new baby, his car swerves, he is thrown from the driver’s seat and the season ends with a view of his handsome head lying on the ground, blood leaking from his temple.
Julian Fellowes continued, As sorry as I was to have Matthew die, I realized it opened up new story possibilities. There could be new roles for Mary (even now we see she is stepping forward to help manage the vast estate) or new romance (Could it be the long lost childhood friend? Her sister’s widower? Or someone she hasn’t met?). The point is that since Dan wanted to leave, I had to find a way to use that to the advantage of the story.
And isn’t that the opportunity each of us has? When the script of your life goes in an unexpected direction, when one of the main characters leaves the play, what do you do?
Be like Julian Fellowes: Write a new story. Use the opening to create something better.
What story will you write this year?
I can’t wait to hear. Until next Tuesday.
Write YOUR new story in 2014, join us at the Discover Your YIPPEE! Retreat February 28 – March 1, 2014 to create a vision of where you want to go and a plan to get there.