Life Lessons from Downton Abbey

downton abbeySeason 4 of Downton Abbey is now over; I admit I’m missing my Sunday night ritual of watching my favorite high-falutin’ PBS drama.  Happily, though, I got a dose of Lady Mary last night when I went to see the new Liam Neeson movie, “Non-Stop”.  Lo and behold, a few minutes into the film, Lady Mary appeared!  Except she wasn’t Lady Mary.  She was Nancy, the not particularly well-developed flight attendant character designed to highlight key elements of Neeson’s character, Bill Marks. Poor Nancy doesn’t even have a last name (although we do find she has a thing for the nerdy-yet-lovable and ultimately brave co-pilot).  But I digress.

It was a bit of a shock to see Lady Mary in contemporary clothes; no, she was not bedecked in jewels and sequined finery,dressed by ladies’ maids.  She was not sitting around a candle-lit dinner table being served by footmen who spoon out gravy with a silver ladle worth more than all my silverware put together.  No, Lady Mary (the very talented and lovely actress Michelle Dockery) was serving others, bringing them blankets and beverages at 35,000 feet.

As I watched, though, I thought about how sort-of proud I was of Ms. Dockery for breaking out of the corset and opting for a more contemporary role (since the last non-Downton role I saw her in was the recent film, “Anna Karenina”).   Some actors stick with their niche because it works.  I mean, how many of us thought that Gwyneth Paltrow was British for the longest time? Yeah, because her niche was playing a very believable Brit. There’s something to be said for the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  When you find what’s profitable, stick with it.  There is wisdom in that.

But Ms. Dockery recognizes that her talent extends beyond the rolling green idyll of Downton. And while I don’t think she’s leaving her series anytime soon, I applaud her for trying something different, so that “the masses,” who only know her as Lady Mary can appreciate her work in a different context.

All of this to simply say that seeing Lady Mary serving drinks reminded me that it’s good to step out of our comfort zones, to walk in the opposite direction of others’ expectations.  It’s an exercise we should all practice every now and again. You never know what you (and others) will discover about your abilities when you do.

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