Step Inside Downton Abbey
- Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Anglophiles, rejoice! Another season of Masterpiece Classic's Downton Abbey miniseries has begun, hoping to recapture the success of the highly acclaimed first season, which has earned numerous awards including 5 Emmys and a Golden Globe for Best Miniseries.
It is an understatement to say it has been a critical hit, and viewer ratings have been exceptional. For those who have not yet had the chance to visit this fictional piece of Northern Yorkshire: what is all the fuss about? Is it worth sending for those DVDs or streaming episodes to catch up?
In a word: yes… if we enjoy history, drama, impeccable acting or gorgeous production design. Creator and executive producer Julian Fellowes (Academy Award winning screenwriter of Gosford Park) set Downton Abbey in the tumultuous period of World War 1, beginning just before the war's onset.
The story centers on the aristocratic Crawley family. The Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) finds himself in a predicament familiar to readers of Jane Austen, as his estate is entailed to male heirs only. He had saved the estate financially by marrying an American heiress (Elizabeth McGovern), but her wealth is tied to this succession, and their marriage has produced 3 daughters but no sons. A marriage of eldest daughter Mary to the next male heir would have solved this problem, but this cousin was lost on the Titanic. Will Mary or her two sisters become linked with the next heir whom they scarcely know?
The future of the estate hangs in the balance, but it affects not only the Crawleys, but their staff as well. Reminiscent of Upstairs/Downstairs,the story is just as much about Downton's domestic staff. Many are dedicated and committed to the Crawley family and the status quo. Others serve less willingly, and are manipulative, ambitious and resentful. As the arrival of the next heir launches romantic intrigues, the staff are involved in plans of their own.
Using the ensemble cast to explore the social forces at work, Downton Abbey captures many issues including the slowly expanding roles of women, political upheaval, technological advances (Just how does one answer a telephone? Should women learn to drive automobiles?) and ultimately fractures in the social strata especially with the onset of war. Downton becomes a microcosm for British society as the subsequent episodes unfold.
*This review first published 2/14/2012
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