The world is changing, the characters on Downton Abbey so often like to remind us. Electricity, telephones, and automobiles have one by one arrived to alter the residents’ way of life and upend years of domestic tradition. But no matter the technological advancements of the 20th century, one character always appears immune to change, having managed to stay resolutely the same since Season 1: Daisy the kitchen maid, who has seemingly remained a teenager for the entire 15-year span of Downton’s story. Are she and Mrs. Patmore subject to a kitchen-specific time warp? Do the servants’ quarters of Yorkshire’s great houses have anti-aging properties? Have we been paying too much attention to the aristocrats upstairs to notice that she’s actually a vampire? What’s going on here?
Let’s back up: When Downton Abbey begins, it is 1912, the Titanic has just sunk (taking Downton Abbey’s presumptive heir with it), and Daisy is roughly 12 years old, according to our calculations. Domestic servants in England at the time were “usually recruited between the ages of 10 and 13,” according to the Great Courses, and Daisy mentions on the show that she left school at age 11, so it stands to reason she started at Downton shortly after that. Adding to the confusion, Sophie McShera, the baby-faced actress who plays Daisy, was 25 when the show first aired in 2010. Still, the character couldn’t have been more than 14 or 15 at most. And that’s more or less how old Daisy remains throughout six seasons of the show and in the new movie, which picks up in the year 1927.
There we find Daisy back in the kitchen as of old, engaged to her fellow servant Andy. Perhaps Julian Fellowes, Downton’s creator and the movie’s writer, didn’t want to give Daisy a husband and family to care for when Anna is already filling the maid-turned-mother role. It’s more convenient to keep Daisy right where she’s always been, in the kitchen with Mrs. Patmore—which requires some reengineering of the ending she got in the television series, as there’s no mention of her father-in-law, Mr. Mason, or the farm she fought so hard to secure for them. At least Mr. Carson and Mr. Molesley earn a few lines of backstory to explain why they end up at Downton again in the movie. Poor Daisy, despite her education, is still confined to the kitchen, as if by an ancient curse.
But, you might protest, a lot has happened to Daisy over the course of the show. She gets married, her husband dies, she falls in love with just about every new footman who comes to the abbey, she’s promoted to assistant cook, she learns arithmetic, she gets a chic new bob, etc. True, but all of these plotlines that were supposed to take place over the course of a decade are best suited to a 15-year-old girl, even the marriage: Mrs. Patmore, her surrogate mother, pressures Daisy into that one. Even her later political stances smack of unfocused, adolescent rebellion that would do James Dean proud.
This would be all well and good if Daisy were still the teenager she was when she started the show, but she’s a fully grown woman who is presumably supposed to be in her late 20s or early 30s and has been working at Downton for more than half her life. That’s why it’s so silly to see Daisy crush like a schoolgirl on a plumber who comes to Downton in the movie. Yes, the castle has indoor plumbing now—things really are changing!—but other things, the movie tells us, like Daisy’s girlish penchant for swooning over inappropriate men, are always the same. By early 20th-century standards, there would be no room for waffling on marrying her fiancé: She would already be considered, quite literally, an old maid. And yet all the other characters continue to treat her like she’s some young flibbertigibbet who has plenty of time to figure out her life. She doesn’t! There was no such thing as millennial-extended adolescence in post-Edwardian England.
Even physically, Daisy doesn’t look a day older than when Downton Abbey premiered. How does the show justify not using makeup to cover up McShera’s ageless visage? Surely 15 years of back-breaking labor in the kitchen would have some physical effect on a servant. Instead, Daisy looks like she’s been off buying anachronistic skin care potions in the village. Pale, prone to love triangles, perpetually a teenager … this is all starting to sound familiar. Has anyone ever checked if Daisy starts to glitter in direct sunlight?
Though Daisy is the most extreme example, these timeline issues are not exclusive to the downstairs denizens of Downton Abbey. For instance: How old is the Dowager Countess supposed to be? It’s true that having never worked or struggled or wanted for anything, she might have expected to live a bit longer than average, but by now she should at least have gone from dowager to dowager-er. Maggie Smith herself went on record guessing that the Dowager must have been 110 by the time the show ended, though the film’s director, Michael Engler, guessed that she’s more in the range of late 80s. (Carson surely would not have made it to 1927 either, right? That guy was already ancient when the show began, but the mysterious tremors that forced him into early retirement have been forgotten by the time of the movie.)
I don’t blame Fellowes for wanting to pick up with Downton’s characters in much the same place he left them. Bringing the series to 1927 means the chance to dress the cast in a new period-appropriate wardrobe filled with flapper dresses, but moviegoers will want to revisit the Downton Abbey they remember, and part of the movie’s charm is in the comfort food it serves up. But the balance of serving comfort food while ostentatiously announcing “It’s 1927 now!” is a tricky one.
Part of the problem here in that while only nine years have passed for the actors, 15 have passed for the characters, so none of the actors—many of whom are professionally good-looking to begin with—have really aged enough. Still, most of the characters on the show began it as adults already, so it’s a little more reasonable to expect them to stay adults, even if 15 years of stasis does begin to strain the bounds of plausibility. But as a near-child when the show began, Daisy demanded a more serious transition, which never arrived. Season 1 Daisy and Movie Daisy are basically interchangeable. And for this reason, I’m looking forward to the inevitable Downton Abbey sequel that will focus on Mary, Edith, and Sybil’s children’s coming of age—and one scrappy kitchen maid’s quest to conceal that she is still, somehow, only 15.