Arts & Culture

Why Does No One on Downton Abbey Mention Lady Grantham’s Jewish Dad?

Rachel Shukert takes on the Semitic elephant in the room Read More

By / January 11, 2013

Today over at Tablet, Rachel Shukert raises an interesting point about our beloved Downton Abbey, whose second season began airing on this side of the pond last Sunday. She argues that for a 1920s period drama that prides itself on historical accuracy and impeccable attention to detail, that there has been no mention at all of Lady Grantham’s Jewish father, Isidore Levinson, whose heritage you’d think might ruffle a few feathers at Downton, represents a quizzical omission on the show’s part.

While this season’s arrival of Lady Grantham’s mother (Shirley MacLaine!) at Downton would seem to be the perfect time to address the very Jewish elephant in the finely decorated room—her husband, the “dry goods multi millionaire from Cincinnati”—Shukert laments that (spoiler alert) no such moment occurs:

But if you started fantasizing about Seder at Waddesdon Manor with the Rothschilds or, say, the deliciously glacial retort of Lady Mary to some Unity Mitford-esque baby fascist, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. (I’m one of the illegal downloaders Hugh Bonneville hates, and I know.) From the moment MacLaine’s hennaed and befeathered head peeks out from the door of her Rolls Royce Phantom, the J-word is never mentioned, never alluded to, never even euphemized (that is, unless you count “American”). The silence is not only glaringly anachronistic on a program so obsessed with accurate period details, if not accuracy itself. (This is Downton, after all, where the wrong class of person moving a tea tray can inspire a sudden recovery from total paraplegia.) It’s also a major loss of dramatic opportunity on a show that, having served us up one of the most dramatically inert representations of worldwide conflict—the Great War only killed characters that were dispensable, and everyone was able to make it home from the front for important black-tie events—can’t afford to miss many more.

Of course, MacLaine’s character isn’t Jewish, and Lady Grantham was raised Episcopalian. Still, I’d expect a barb or two from the sharp-tongued Dowager Countess by now, at the very least.

Downton’s Missing Jews [Tablet]
Previously: Not Your Bubbe’s Recipe: Downton Abbey Viewing Party Edition
Why Downton Abbey Is The Least Jewish Show On Television