Have you caught the Downton Abbey fever? I know I have! I am going to take a little divergence from the normal entries in this blog to discuss the show. Apologies at first, I am going to cut and past from Wikipedia the general…and boring information about the show.
Downton Abbey is a British period drama television series created by Julian Fellowes and co-produced by Carnival Films and Masterpiece. It first aired on ITV in the United Kingdom on 26 September 2010 and on PBS in the United States on 9 January 2011 as part of the Masterpiece Classic anthology.
The series, set in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey, depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in the post-Edwardian era — with the great events in history having an effect on their lives and on the British social hierarchy. Such events depicted throughout the series include news of the sinking of the RMS Titanic in the first series; the outbreak of World War I, the Spanish influenza pandemic, and the Marconi scandal in the second series; and the Interwar period and the formation of the Irish Free State in the third series.
I love period pieces. My favorites are the ones depicting the 19th and early 20th century. This show depicts the early 20th century and I believe it accurately captures the look and the feel of these times along with the social and political challenges of the time. One of the things that struck me recently when watching the show was how it is relevant to our modern times.
Although the issues we deal with are some what different the human reaction is still the same. It seems that nobody likes change, even when that change is necessary, and it society as a whole often has to be dragged kicking and screaming through the changes. Downton Abbey displays this real well. Lord Grantham, and in particular his mother, Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, (played by the brilliant and scene stealing Academy Award winning actress Maggie Smith) are both stuck in the 19th century and its values. Lord Grantham’s American born wife, Cora, and his daughters are caught up in the changes of society and in fact are welcoming the change.
The show also intertwines the story lines with the service help that is taking care of the family. These people also feel the effects of the changes within society and similarly to those upstairs, the elder members of the service team are more resistive to the changes than the younger members of service.
Years ago I read a wonderful book, 1919 The Year Our World Began by William K. Klingaman. The book details how the events of World War I truly did sweep away the old aristocracy and the ways of living in the world that was centuries old. The sinking of the Titanic (that even is talked about in the pilot episode), World War I and other events begin the slow breaking down of the walls of class society that had existed for centuries.
These struggles are depicted in the show while being acted out by a troop of wonderful actors. This truly is a gem to watch and although it takes the form of a soap-opera to some extent, it is by no stretch of the imagination cheesy or melodramatic. Just the opposite. The stories are done with class and dignity and are very well written with great dialogue.
Before I close my final thoughts have to do with Royalty. The show is now up to the early years of the 1920s (it began in 1912) and at this time King George V and Queen Mary had been on the throne more than 10 years and lived through all of these changes themselves. I would love to see the king and queen or the flamboyant prince of Wales (future Edward VIII) visiting Downton Abbey.
The show airs on PBS’ Masterpiece Theater Sunday nights at 9:00pm but check your local stations! They are currently on season 3 but your local libraries or netflix will have the previous two seasons.