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Dickens in the details at Downton.

By ELLEN MOODY [Ellen and Jim] – One area we’ve begun to discuss is the long TV mini-series, or the experience and art of watching the serial instalments of a multi-hour story, and I invite my students (and all readers) to read and comment. The following comes from viewing many many mini-series over years (especially my study of the Pallisers), but most recently Poldark, Small Island and Downton Abbey. It’s heavily indebted to Robert C. Allen’s “A Reader-Oriented Poetics of the Soap Opera” found in Marcia Landry’s Imitation of Life, an anthology of film studies. I write this blog to help my students in the last part of our term together.

To study a season-long mini-series, one must take into account three kinds of time: 1) story duration: the days, months, years, depicted in the narrative. Say in Poldark, Episode 1-4 (Ross Poldark more or less); 2) text or film duration: how long it literally takes to watch (how many parts) — so how much of your life has gone by over the course of watching the sequel, and 3) the actual time it takes to read the text or see each film. In TV mini-series the happenings become inter-involved with our lives.

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There are gaps in narratives. Viewers use these gaps in instalment publication to imagine what happened, to fill in. Characters themselves may change a great deal and also have new relationships to one another: so not that character-dominated, an ensemble with a lack of overall narrative closure, complicated and slowly evolving network of character relationships. The consequences of action are therefore more important than any action itself. Some small particular matters: the kind of artistry is often theatrical not dramatic, pictorial, and paradoxically can concentrate on a small emblematic details: Ross pulling a coin from Demelza’s palm so she cannot get herself an abortion, Sarah Obrien putting a cake of soap on the floor of Cora, Lady Grantham’s bath so Cora will slip, fall, miscarry a possible new heir.

Continued at Ellen and Jim | More Chronicle & Notices.

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