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"Downton Abbey" Season 1

I was quite late in jumping on the "Downton Abbey" bandwagon. I'd seen vague references to it here or there but it wasn't until I saw that Brendan Coyle was in that I took a closer look. Coyle has won quite a place in the hearts of fans for his work on BBC in recent years, including "North & South" and "Lark Rise to Candleford". When I checked out "Downton Abbey" and found that it had an all-star cast including Hugh Bonneville and Maggie Smith, I was all on board.

I felt that coming to the program late worked in my favor, as in the space of a few days I was able to watch the first three episodes on the Masterpiece website before catching the finale on Sunday as it aired on PBS. While at first this story may appear to be a cross between "Pride and Prejudice" and "Upstairs, Downstairs", it quickly claims attention all its own Edwardian Era merit.

"Downton Abbey" opens in April 1912 just after the sinking of the Titanic. Downton is the home of Lord & Lady Grantham and their three daughters. The heir of the estate, Lord Grantham's nephew, was aboard the fateful Titanic and was lost at sea. The new heir, a distant third cousin, arrives on the scene none too pleased to leave his life as a productive barrister to prepare for becoming the lord of a great manor. The newly-forged relationships are full of static as all try to adjust to unwelcome change.

The household staff hold equal screen time and in some ways have even more compelling stories. A new valet joins the staff and meets with quite a bit of resistance, as a war injury prevents him from fulfilling his normal range of duties. There are plenty of storylines with the maids (house maids, lady's maid, kitchen maid!), footmen, a butler, housekeeper, cook, chauffeur and more to keep up with.

This series is beautifully filmed. The costumes are gorgeous. I recognized almost every actor, whether I was familiar enough to know their names or not. The story is interesting, has plenty of funny or memorable moments, with a few unexpected turns as well. Yet it isn't one I can recommend without a few cautions. There is a homosexual character with a few scenes that are not suitable for children. A seduction changes the plot dramatically. Major sibling rivalry between Mary and Edith causes each of the sisters to purposefully sabotage the other. Jealousies, schemes, and even murder come into play. This is no Jane Austen or Elizabeth Gaskell with many virtuous characters to pull for, and such vices takes away from a lot of the enjoyment of watching it.

At the time I watched it I didn't realize there was a second season in production and therefore was expecting some sort of resolution as the final episode was counting down. Although this was originally meant to be a stand-alone miniseries, I do believe that a second season was rightfully called for and is scheduled to air on Masterpiece about this time next year. I hope it does come to pass and is not sidelined in the fashion of enjoyable but short-lived "Berkeley Square"!

Despite the darker tones, there were some overwhelmingly tender and humorous moments. When Lord Grantham's mother speaks of the telephone, electricity and suffrage movement she says, "I feel like I'm living in an H.G. Wells novel!" I positively melted when two characters,  parting for the evening and in love but uncertain, shared this exchange: Him: "Go to sleep and dream of a better man." Her: "I can't; there isn't one." Love and friendship do play their part as this story marches headlong towards World War I. We know darker days than these are ahead... and in Season 2 we'll get a close-up look on how those monumental changes affect the lives of this household.

"Downton Abbey" will be available to watch online at the Masterpiece website until Feb. 22. It is already available on DVD from Netflix and I've heard they will have it available on Instant Play beginning Feb. 9. The DVD and Instant Play version will have about 35 extra minutes that were cut from the Masterpiece broadcast due to time constraints. If you enjoy watching familiar actors and gorgeous period dramas, do check it out!

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 2nd, 2011 02:39 am (UTC)
I watched it, too, and really felt conflicted over it, too, because I enjoyed some of the characters (Anna the maid, especially) and some of the costumes, but like you mentioned, dislike a lot of the conflicts and sexual parts. So, I may not even watch the rest of it, because for me it is a strain on my conscience and probably a waste of time in the main. I have been watching it with headphones on, knowing my mom probably would not approve of it in general...so...I really should stop the guilty pleasure. But it may be all right for you to watch it!
Feb. 2nd, 2011 03:01 am (UTC)
It's hard to know when to give up on something, whether we're reading or watching, that goes against our conscience. I would respect your decision not to watch it, if that's what you decide to do, because I understand.
Feb. 2nd, 2011 04:29 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Erin. If my comment sounded snide, that's not how I meant it. I suppose I didn't have to say anything, but it may be helpful to me to keep my resolve, and perhaps others to think about it, as well, if their conscience is bothering them. I know the sexual theme isn't all through it, and there may be good things to gain from the series, but for me, personally, it wasn't very helpful, and maybe the opposite.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )