I've heard few dismissing comments like "it is not ITV Upstairs, Downstairs  nor Gosford Park and neither an Austen adaptation" (The last claim puzzled me a bit) . I've read  that it is full of clichés and nothing original. But now that I HAVE SEEN IT,  though partly agreeing with the previous statements,  may I say  that this  is a  really pleasurable drama, the wittiest and most intriguing I've recently watched? It made me so eager to see what happened next,  episode after episode. I very much enjoyed watching the 7 episodes,  it was  some time  since something I saw made me so enthusiastic. DOWNTON ABBEY is a must see for period drama lovers. It was broadcast on British ITV 1 in October/November 2010, it is being aired on US PBS Masterpiece Classic at the moment, but it can also be bought as a DVD  ( HERE  or HERE ). Second series coming in 2011. I can't wait! And, again, if you love period drama, you can't miss it!
The story begins in April 1912 when the heir to the title of Earl of Grantham, long time inhabitants of Downton Abbey, perishes on the 'Titanic'. The benevolent current Earl (Hugh Bonneville) has three daughters, Mary, Edith and Sybil,  but the property is entailed and can be inherited only by a male heir. This P&P-like beginning shows the Crawley family at risk of losing their richness and their privileged rank. (If you want to understand properly the complex legal question  on which the fate of the protagonists depend, read this absolutely interesting and enlightening post at Austenprose : Downton Abbey Entailed? Understanding the Complicated Legal Issues in the new Masterpiece Classic Series).

The Crawleys of Downton are going to lose not only their grand manor house but the Countess of Grantham's (Elizabeth MacGovern)  huge patrimony. She is,  in fact , a very wealthy American heiress the Earl had married for convenience: her money had been indispensable to manage his wide estate. However, now, they love and respect each other deeply, though their married life, as in many other cases, had started more as a business agreement. This is what Mary, their eldest daughter, was supposed to do, too. A marriage of  convenience with the younger  heir  of Downton, now drowned with his father in the Titanic tragedy. What now?
There is only one proper solution: to marry their daughters to someone rich, especially,  her, Mary. And who's better candidate than the new heir of Downton Abbey, Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) , a distant cousin and a lawyer? Distant he is, in every sense, from the Crawleys living at Downton Abbey. He has always worked, he's sensitive but very practical-minded, intelligent and stubbornly modern, he refuses the aristocracy's stiff old manners, their formality,  and  hates the idea of becoming one of them, one of the privileged. He is a self-made man.

However, he and his mother move in from Manchester and starts being interested in the estate and its inhabitants. Matthew  goes on with his job and starts a friendly relationship with Lord Grantham. His mother volunteers in the local hospital and competes with Lady Violet (Maggie Smith), the Earl's mother, on many an occasion. Matthew falls in love with  Mary at first sight, but she doesn't like him at all. Above all , he represents what she doesn't want,  a marriage of convenience, what she doesn't accept, to sacrifice her freedom for the future of her family. So, you see, again something very P&P-like : first impressions!

The batallion of servants living downstairs and running the house, cleaning the place, taking care of the family offer other gripping plots which are interwoven with those involving the ones living upstairs.

 I loved the characters downstairs and their stories. Mr Bates's (Brendan Coyle) mysterious past and his newly-born, still timid, relationship with kind Anna (Joanne Froggatt); Mr  Carson's (Jim Carter) generous and authoritative managing the staff and connecting the upstairs to the downstairs world; Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) discreet and efficient presence as well as her unexpected past romance; the envious, ambitious and wicked pair , Miss O'Brien  (Siobhan Finneran ) and Thomas (Rob James-Collier),  and their plots to hurt whom they don't like; then Mrs Patmore's (Leslie Nicol) , the cook,  story ,  which is sad and funny at the same time;
Gwen 's dream (Rose Leslie) of improving her education who is  looking for a new position as a secretary with the secret sympathy and help of one of the young ladies of the house, Sybil; William Mason (Thomas Howes), the second footman having a crush on Daisy (Sophie McShera),the scullery maid, who is instead in love with Thomas,  the first footman, she has kind of idolized without realising his real nature; finally  the chauffeur,Tom Branson (Allen Leech) who introduces Sybil Crawley, the Earl's younger daughter's,  to his own socialist ideals .

All these incredible stories remain open to new developments. The series ends  with a cliffhanger: England is at war with Germany,  the First World War has broken out.

The location.  Highclere Castle  , in Hampshire,  is a stunningly majestic country residence in the Elizabethan style.   (Read about it and visit the official site) It has been already used as a location for films and TV series: the saloon appeared in the film The Four Feathers starring Heath Ledger;  the exterior appeared as Lord Graves's house in the film King Ralph; it was Totleigh Towers, in the TV version of Jeeves and Wooster. Shots from both the interior and exterior are used as the imposing Mistlethwaite Manor in the 1987 version of The Secret Garden.

If you live in the US and missed the first episode, PBS will be making each episode available for a few weeks after its initial airing.  Downton Abbey is available for online viewing from  January 10 – February 22, 2011.


Jenny @ Kerrfect! said...

I've been waiting for this show to be on, it looks so great and now after your post I know I have to see it!

lunarossa said...

Loved any minute of it. Actually watched it already twice. Developed a serious crush on Hugh Bonneville (he really improves with age!)...Glad you liked it as well. Ciao. A.

Charleybrown said...

Glad to hear that you enjoyed it Maria!
I'm eager for Season 2 but a bit apprehensive that I won't compare to the first, especially with its war-time setting.

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

I loved Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs. I saw Hugh Bonneville on tv the other day saying that they start filming the next series in March, I believe. Can't wait for it to reach our tv screens.

I also have a huge crush on Hugh Bonneville. *swoons*

Unknown said...

You know I'm not that postitive about DA: it is pleasurable of course, but not the wittiest drama (in fact, I've found it annoyingly predictable and quite plain, mainly re the characters... Violet apart, ;-) neither a must see, IMHO. But I reckon I'm in the minority here :)
Not that I don't appreciate Hugh Bonneville charms, though ;)
xx K

Zuhaitza | Tiendas Muebles said...

I can only take my hat off to the impressive roster of talent and skill of the English series. I really hope to continue producing more things like this in the factory yours to the delight of all.
It's just perfect the atmosphere of the time and classes cohabit in it. And then you come to mind the equally wonderful "Upstairs, Downstairs", although old, is still a benchmark.
It's a series for lovers of vintage series, craftsmanship and drama students in our country.