October 10, 2011

series: Downton Abbey

The storyline:

Lady Sybil Crawley
Lord Crawley sees his family heritage, especially the grand country home Downton Abbey, as his mission in life. The death of his heir aboard the Titanic means distant cousin Matthew Crawley, a Manchester lawyer, suddenly is next in line and accepts moving onto the vast estate with his even more modernist, socially engaged mother, who clashes with his lordship's domineering, conservative mother the dowager. Marrying off the three daughters is another concern. Meanwile the butler presides over a staff which serves the family but also lead most of their entire lives in the servants quarters, intriguing amongst themselves. Written by KGF Vissers

Needless to say, the entire production and all it entails is as carefully crafted as the social status among the characters moving about in this period piece.  It's like a thick slice of artful confectionary has been laid out before us, moving forward from 1912 until the world changes forever with the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. The 'world' being aristocratic society in Europe and Great Britain.

Back to Downton Abbey: we have the 6th Earl of Grantham and his wife, the Lady Cora, played by Elizabeth McGovern (she is great in this role). She is the American heiress who brought all the money into this relationship. Apparently, it was common for rich American ladies to travel to Europe in the hopes of marrying a title in exchange for their riches. Since there is this complicated law called "entail" none of their three daughters can inherit Downton Abbey. Only a male heir is allowed to inherit, hence distant cousin Matthew Crawley appears.  Mary, the eldest daughter, is encouraged to marry cousin Matthew. The Earl's mother is the Dowager Countess Viola - the ever acerbic Maggie Smith. She gets the best dialogue and delivers on the mark every time. She is the one who "hates change" and exclaims "what is the world coming to" when the 'telephone' is installed.

The three daughters cover the spectrum of cliched characters: the eldest, Mary, is beautiful, aloof and frustrated by her situation, there is the middle daughter, Edith, homely in appearance and frightfully jealous of her older sister and Sybil, the youngest, full of passionate indignation at various levels of social injustice. While the characters are somewhat stereotypical, the drama played out is still fascinating to watch and paint a detailed picture of life back then.

The "Downstairs" characters, the servants, are more diverse and interesting.  In its entirety, "Downton Abbey" is like time-travel; quite brilliant.  The first four episodes have aired already in the States on PBS. Currently, episodes 5-8 are being broadcast on ITV in Britain.


3 comments:

Midnight Cowgirl said...

Love Downton Abbey!

Veronika said...

me too. I've seen each of the first four episodes about 5 times each. I love Maggie Smith's comment about women and their opinion (at the dinner table)

"Women don't have an opinion. And when they marry they share their husband's opinion." (paraphrasing here) but she is absolutely brilliant. The entire cast is great. :)

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