Thursday, February 7, 2013

Downton Abbey’s Prison Drama

With Mr. Bates in prison, Lady Edith jilted at the altar, a Catholic conundrum, and Carson facing Downton Abbey’s first electric toaster, who can cope?

By Father Gordon J. MacRae

You might have been on summer vacation when I wrote “Unchained Melody: Tunes from an 8-Track in an i-Pod World” last July. It was about prison drama, and an obscure 1955 prison film entitled, “Unchained.” TSW readers who survived the Sixties were surprised to learn that “Unchained Melody” – the alluring ode to love ingrained in our romantic consciousness by the Righteous Brothers in 1965 – was first written in 1955 for “Unchained,” a classic prison movie starring Todd Duncan. In a central scene in the film, Duncan sang the doleful song in a state of despair in his prison cell while mourning his forced separation from his beloved wife. Because of that song, “Unchained” received an Academy Award nomination for Best Musical Score in 1955. The song was later entitled “Unchained Melody” solely because of its association with the prison film.

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host -
by the Divine Power of God -
cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.

I thought of “Unchained Melody” – both the song and my post of the same title – as I watched a few recent episodes of Downton Abbey. Mr. Bates, formerly valet to the Earl of Grantham, is now in prison – and it seems unjustly so – separated from his beloved new wife, Anna. In one of the episodes, Mr. Bates was suddenly cut off from all visits and letters from Anna because he was caught up in the subversive plots of other prisoners.

Prisons haven’t changed much since that depiction of a circa 1920 British dungeon. Guards still tear cells apart looking for contraband – sometimes put up to it by the rumors of others getting even for some perceived slight. There is never a shortage of nefarious schemes among prisoners. The constant vigilance required to understand the daily score sheet of enemies and allies, and to see these plots evolving in advance to fend them off, is exhausting. I keep the Prayer to Saint Michael solidly affixed to my cell wall, and it’s not just a decoration. It’s a prayed necessity. Lots of prisoners ask me for copies of that prayer... (continued)


No comments: