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Downton Abbey: Classy Television.
Why do I like Downton Abbey?
Downton Abbey is a British Television series that began in 2010 on ITV and has since been broadcast on PBS and is in DVD format. Always a fan of the Brits, I was introduced to this series by some of my friends on Facebook and I sat two days and watched both seasons in their entirety. I could not stop watching! I love the time period of the piece, which starts in 1912 and has thus far moved into the 1920's.
The show is cleverly and anachronistically real in terms of its mise en scene. The characters are entertaining, you grow to care about them and the costuming is fantastic. The best part of this show is the writing and the progression of the plot. I cannot wait for part three. It is the best show on TV, bar NONE.
Those general statements being said, I feel the necessity to comment further on the writer, the actors and actresses and the wonderful costuming and scenes. From the very first episode I was captured by the haunting melody of the music in the series and a world that began as a kinder, yet not gentler place, except for the aristocracy. We are introduced to a grand cast of characters, from the kitchen undermaid to the Lord and Dowanger Countess of the manor. Each one has an intricate story to tell and it is weaved intricately into the fabric of the dialogue and the events unfolding in the world at the time.
We see the proper way that things are handled by the servant class and we also are treated to the innermost thoughts and intimate details of the family's life at the castle. The ladies offer us a look into the lives of their world via their strengths and weaknesses, and the statutes of the law make being a woman a difficult cross to bear, in some cases.
One also is involved "upstairs" with the pecking order of the staff that care for the family over time. We see the difficulties of life in the working class world and the amount of time given over to cleaning, cooking, and all manner of household chores. The severity of breaking rules is examined and the hairstyles, working garb and conditions in which to live are brought to the fore. Living in a manor such as this, one must accept their role in the functioning of the household duties and must also be upright and intelligent to their various duties expected of them.
Some of the most fascinating characters in the house are the ones you love to hate. We all know that the actors who play these people must work hard to be creeps! O'Brien and Thomas come to mind, as a scheming duo who spend time dreaming up ways of making Bates life miserable, while smoking their cigarettes behind the house! The Dowanger countess, played by Dame Maggie Smith is a delightfully nasty addition to the family dynamic. Her comments and retorts are always quick and effective. She need not even speak some of the time for one to understand her completely!
The Lord of the House, played by Hugh Bonneville, is casting genius. He is a man who is dynamic and yet kindly. He abhors discord, although he can create it at times and is not afraid to speak his mind. His kindness to the servants is well known, and even when he steers a bit from his wife with a maid in the house, he is not offensive or sexually animalistic. He is a gentleman of the highest order, a real man. His wife, played by American actress Elizabeth McGovern is a fairly good choice for the Lady of the house, although for some reason I find her to be looking a bit grim and gaunt in appearance.
The Countess of Carnavon who lives in the castle where the filming is shot wrote a fantastic book about the home and its inhabitants entitled "Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey". This book was a quick and fascinating read and the book offered a look at the history of the manor with pictures for all to see. Some of the story, according to writer Julian Fellowes, has been pieced together by events that have happened not only to Lady Almina, but are based on real events that happened in Great Britain in that time period. One never knows where the writing will go next, which makes it all the more exciting to watch.
Downton Abbey is not perfectly historical, but it does offer us a glimpse into the travesty of World War One and its impact in terms of loss at the Somme, and other major battles. It also reminds us that this war not only brought death and destruction in its wake, but also soldiers who lost their limbs, faces and other body parts due to the effects of the weaponry. It also reminds us of the mustard gas that destroyed their lungs and brought a sometimes slow and painful death.
There is much more that could be said about this series, but to do so might invoke a spoiler alert. Suffice to say, watch the first episode, and if you like what you see, you will not be disappointed with the rest of the series. It is classy television, intelligent fare that we often do not see on television. It will bring you the look into a way of life from our 100 years ago. Bravo!