I am a huge fan of Masterpiece Theatre, and more so, now, since Downton Abbey has begun. I love British costume drama you see, and this one in particular is right up my alley. I missed some of the crucial episodes of Downton when it first began and lamented for weeks because I simply could not catch up – you know how it is when you’ve missed the best bits? When my friend told me I could Netflix the whole of season one, I was immediately gratified. There is something that nudges me about aristocracy; juxtaposing the upstairs-downstairs family ( upstairs the Granthams and downstairs, um, well, a hierarchy of help, sort of) all within the same manor. By the way – there is a fabulous British series called Upstairs- Downstairs and a book called ‘Above Stairs’ if you want more. Fascinating right? Absolutely.
Here’s what is so delicious about Downton Abbey: The Earl of Grantham (played by the fabulous Hugh Bonneville) has no male heirs (his nephews are lost with the sinking of the Titanic). His third cousin, once removed – I think, arrives with no interest whatsoever in being heir to anything amidst family angst over what he is likely to do, now that he has such an important role in their family. I found Matthew’s( Dan Stevens) character to be quite drab at first, he seemed plain and sort of sat around being a lawyer without doing much law. Once the character grew and there was some spark to him, not to mention some brilliant chemistry with Lady Mary ( the eldest Grantham daughter) Matthew started changing. Less pale, more handsome, more take-charge – he began to remind me of certain Austen characters – um, Darcy, Captain Wentworth – you get my drift. Then I read that they ( meaning the producers) are hoping to make Matthew a bit more like Darcy – more smiles and less pride, I mean really, who can play Darcy better than Colin Firth ( by the way he is hugely supportive of Downton Abbey) Moving right along … Matthew is heir apparent to the estate of the earl of Grantham, and his three daughters have to find suitable husbands who will provide for them, for they will not receive what is rightfully theirs in any case, unless one of them marries Matthew of course.. the earl’s wife Cora( the gorgeous Elizabeth McGovern) who is American born, has her own wealth but is likely to lose all of her riches, unable to pass it on to her daughters under the same law that seems to have decided the ladies fate. While the Granthams try to make Mary fall for Matthew without much success, we observe quiet Edith who is fighting to be her own person and out of Mary’s shadow, causing Mary much pain in the process, the beautiful, sweet Sybil who becomes a brilliant nurse during the war and gradually falls in-love with the articulate and intelligent chauffeur Branson, there is the formidable Matriarch and dowager countess played by the brilliant Maggie Smith, who is a perfect addition to a brewing battle of wills with the equally formidable cousin Isabelle (Mathew’s mother). I think they have such great love for each other in spite of all the disagreements that you fall a little bit in love with them as you watch the characters grow. The plotting and planning by the dowager countess toward the Grantham future alone is simply divine.
photo courtesy : http://www.telegraph.co.uk
Downstairs the hierarchy begins with Mr Carson the butler, he is in charge of everything, he practically raised Lady Mary, as such, he is virtually a part of the family. He along with housekeeper Mrs Hughes, keeps Downton in perfect harmony. John Bates who plays the Earl’s valet is just fantastic, a dark horse of sorts, wise, silent, a wounded man, eventually rescued by Anna ( head housemaid- whom I adore) begin a relationship, taking them through uncharted waters. Bates is not quite divorced, his wife is horrid and greedy and she makes trouble for everyone in the house with one tiny visit. Yes, all this takes place downstairs, as the Granthams are dealing with their own issues upstairs. Mrs Patmore the cook and Daisy the kitchen maid have a lovely relationship – you can’t help but be involved in their story. They are like mother and daughter; constantly bickering, yet, it is a relationship filled with love and mutual adoration as well . William the footman is so sweet and kind, his character is an integral part of the story happening downstairs, and his humble honor and willingness to help, makes him a huge favorite. He is also in-love with Daisy who does not care for him at all, although she is forced to see things differently sooner than she expected. As much as they annoy me, I find O’Brien,( Countess Grantham’s personal maid) who is a perfect gossip and Thomas Barrow a footman, who has his own dark secrets and demons to fight – the best additions to the cast, as their shameless schemes in order to further their own career at Downton and cement their worth, are so brilliantly done.
You’ve got to watch it – if you aren’t already- it is a perfectly fantastic period drama- yes, I am repeating myself – and addictive to say the least. I think my heart is torn for Mary and Matthew especially after yesterday’s episode and for Bates and Anna who are yet to face so much, I literally did not sleep for hours. I have also just read that Shirly MacLaine has been added to season 3 and she will be playing Cora’s mother. It is surely a promise of fantastic writing to come.