Have you ever stopped to think about how similar the stories of the Godfather from Sicily, Vito Corleone, and the Dowager from Downton, Lady Violet, really are? Please enjoy this tongue in cheek look at two powerful family leaders who are, after all, fiction.
They both manage a multi-generational dynasty that is business mixed with family. They both are benevolent dictators of all who live inside their spheres.
First and foremost, for Lady Violet and Don Corleone, it’s all about the family. Family, family family. Either you’re in-as Michael and sigh, Fredo are, and as Tom Hagen isn’t. As Mary, Edith, Sybil and even Matthew are, and as Tom Branson isn’t. There’s people like us, and there’s everyone else.
Lady Violet: “Robert, people like us are never unhappily married.”
Godfather: “Never tell anyone outside the Family what you are thinking again.”
Lady Violet and Don Corleone both have a strong sense of national identity. It’s Rule, Britannia! And Cosa Nostra! all the way.
Violet: “I’m so looking forward to seeing your mother again. When I’m with her, I’m reminded of the virtues of the English.”
Matthew: “But isn’t she American?”
Godfather: “No Sicilian can refuse any request on his daughter’s wedding day.”
Lady Violet: “Last night! He looked so well. Of course it would happen to a foreigner. No Englishman would dream of dying in someone else’s house.”
Godfather: Mr Corleone is Johnny Fontane’s godfather. Now Italians regard that as a very close, a very sacred religious relationship.
Both Lady Violet and Don Corleone run their dynasties with an iron hand and a cunning eye for success because they both understand the difference between friend, ally, and enemy- and what to do with them.
Cora: “Are we to be friends then?”
Lady Grantham: “We are allies, my dear, which can be a good deal more effective.”
Godfather: “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”
As much as it is about the present family, neither Lady Violet nor Don Corleone take their eyes off the next generation for very long. As much as it is about the family, it is more about the heir. To whom will the heirship go? Who will run the next generation dynasty? Fredo’s not capable and Tom Hagen’s Irish, so it has to be Michael. Sybil, Mary, and Edith are girls, and Patrick and James are dead, so Matthew it is.
Lady Violet: Mr Travis, may I remind you? William Mason has served our family well. At the last he saved the life, if not the health, of my son’s heir.
Godfather: She’s very beautiful. To you, she’s beautiful. For me, there’s only my wife and son.
Both Lady Violet and Don Corleone know the how to apply velvet pressure, requesting a favor in oh, so pleasant terms.
And who can forget Lady Violet impressing every so, erm, gently upon the Vicar to Marry William and Daisy…
Lady Violet: Finally I would point out, your living is in Lord Grantham’s gift. Your house is on Lord Grantham’s land and the very flowers in your church are from Lord Grantham’s garden. I hope it is not vulgar in me to suggest that you find some way to overcome your scruples.”
Don Corleone: “Do me this favor. I won’t forget it. Ask your friends in the neighborhood about me. They’ll tell you I know how to return a favor…”
And if the velvet glove approach doesn’t work, there is always the radiator–
Lady Violet, on Branson as her grandson-in-law: If we can show the county that he can behave normally, they will soon lose interest in him. And I shall make sure he behaves normally because I shall hold his hand on the radiator until he does.”
Vito Corleone: Bonasera… Bonasera… What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully? Had you come to me in friendship, then this scum that ruined your daughter would be suffering this very day.
Both Lady Violet and Don Corleone know their position and expect beneficence as their due.
It’s been fun to compare the dark and violent mob world and mafia don to the light and Edwardian airy chiffon world of the Countess. The upshot is, we all love tough old cookies who know how to keep the family running.