Downton Abbey, Series One (2010) - TV's Newest Period Drama Addiction

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Since Downton Abbey is about to premiere its second series in the U.K., I thought it was the proper time to look back at its first. At its premiere reports swirled that the British were going to cut many costume adaptations (it looks like that wasn’t completely accurate). So long as these continue, I see no reason to be disappointed with the Brits since this just proves that they still have some amazingly talented people bringing these productions together. 

The date is April 1912, the Titanic has just sunk and news of it travels quickly across British societies. The household of Downton Abbey is abuzz with the news. When it reaches the earl, Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville), the question of whether or not anyone the family knows was aboard is posed. Before long, he learns that his cousins were indeed on the passenger list and being the heirs to his estate, the title and fortune is uncertain. Especially since the Earl’s three children are girls. 

Robert’s wife, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) brought the fortune to the abbey which leads her to form a tentative bond with her mother-in-law (Maggie Smith). Both agree, eldest daughter, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) should inherit the fortune even if her gender disallows her the title. This inspires the women of Downton to look for a promising match between Mary and a visiting duke. Plans crumble when it becomes apparent the Duke had other motivations for visiting…

The sinking of the Titanic is much talked of “downstairs.” Coinciding with this is the arrival of a new valet, Bates (Brendon Coyle). Since a war injury left Bates slightly crippled, he cannot perform his duties as efficiently as the other men on staff, before long, he becomes a source of aggravation of the butler, Mr. Carson (Jim Carter). Bates presence causes even more friction when young footman, Thomas (Rob James-Collier) becomes jealous, assuming his temporary position as the Earl’s valet would become permanent. Despite it all, Bates finds a friend in the kind-hearted, Anna (JoAnne Frogatt), the head house maid. Meanwhile, Lady Mary’s romantic possibilities become more tangled when a distant cousin of Robert’s, Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) is found to be the next in line to inherit Downton. His arrival causes a stir in the household when everyone realizes that the man not only holds an occupation but has no idea how to conduct himself among the wealth he is set to receive on Robert’s death.

BOOK REVIEW | Heiress by Susan May Warren

This household offers more than one interesting scenario and more than enough engaging characters to hold one’s interest for the entire hour-long seven episode span. It was pleasant to find just how much you adore every character, even those that aren’t meant to be as likable as others are intriguing – there is probably only about three regulars that are detestable and evil. Each time credits rolled, I found myself anxious to immediately pop the next disc in but held back at the idea that each passing hour was inching ever closer to an end, something that was dismal indeed. Many dramas have allowed servants and their “betters” to play just as equal a part in the stories, but I’d not seen it done quite as this one. Fellowes does a masterful job here and I enjoyed it tremendously - from the best Brittan has to offer.

One thing that did surprise me was how prevalent the downstairs staff became. Perhaps mistakenly, I naturally did assume that the wealthy Crawley’s and their circle would be at the forefront. Instead, writers allow us to get to know the people who ready the house for their employers, something that came alive on-screen very well. Anna and Bates were undoubtedly my two favorites while the poor klutzy kitchen maid, Daisy reminded me greatly of Minnie from Lark Rise to Candleford. To find myself so attached to Robert as a main character was interesting and a switch since generally speaking, it is normally the lady of the house who endears herself the most. Masters are often depicted as stern in nature and while they may not be cruel, it’s not a character that viewers find that likable. He and Cora’s marriage was written well, something all to often missing from these since it was rare to find marriages forged of love instead of convenience. I look forward to seeing the younger two Crawley daughters come into a larger role, since they would be interesting studies, if given the chance.
Recent BBC productions have had disappointing costume designs – many were recycled due to budget limitations. Here the magnificent costuming is nothing to sneeze at. All of them are gorgeous and almost always complimentary. The colors and fabrics are stunning, and the hats! Oh, the millinery in the series is just beautifully elegant. And the score is grand. Before anyone goes out to rent this (I cannot imagine many of you haven’t seen it), make sure to do your homework first, because it isn’t content-free. One odd thing about the series has Mary frantically awaking Anna, only to realize that her lover is dead; comically, the women drag him to his room where he’s discovered the next morning. (Who else thinks this likely is reflections of Fellowes award-winning work on Gosford Park?) Simple delights are many.

This couldn’t receive enough praise from small and large media outlets alike – from an enchanting blog, a paramount journal to a fun place celebrating these unrecognized dramas, this is worthy of every bit of praise. Recognizing so many familiar faces is amusing. Placing the faces where we'd seen them became a kind of game for my family. It’s a shame little things served to soil an otherwise intelligent script because in all other regards, this is marvelous. It did surprise me that while I am anxious to enter another chapter of this family’s life, I was “satisfied” with how series one resolved itself. Since I rather expected the news at the end to be the subject of a continuing series, I was fully prepared for the conclusion. Now I can only wish that the next installments will prove as enlightening as these were. The only dreadful thing about the final credits is the wait for the changes upcoming to the house of Crawley - and trust me, it has been agony.

What are you hoping to see resolved in series two? 

(Content intrudes in such a way that while “mild” - because of its length - does bear mentioning. There is a homosexual subplot in episode one. There is evidence of letters and one same-sex kiss. Another attempt at a similar relationship is rebuked. Mary’s honor is compromised and we understand she went through with it willingly.)


  1. I love this show so so so very much! It kinda took over my blog earlier this year when Series 1 aired on Masterpiece. ;) I'm looking forward to Series 2, and trying my best to remain relatively spoiler-free until it premieres on Masterpiece in the States this coming January. Wish me luck. ;)

  2. Me too! It is just... wonderful! "Downton Abbey" deserves each of its accolades as far as I am concerned, so that is awesome that it "took over" your blog. ;D

    I have already read a bunch of stuff about S2, but will try to remember to warn everyone about spoilers if I blog about anything as regards S2! And, best of luck! With all of those sites that post spoilers, it is hard to restist, isn't it!? =)

  3. Spoilers are VERY hard to resist. :) But I kind of enjoyed "blogging along" with the episodes as they aired in US -- experiencing it "new" with all the PBS viewers. But it does seem like January is a LOOOONNNGGG ways away!

  4. I love this show! I find the chararcters complex and full of intrigue...and you know I love a good story.

    Not me. I plan on reading spoiler blogs. I enjoy them =) I know what probably won't get resolved (as I have heard rumblings of a season 3), but hey, I can dream.

    Oh, Rissi--I moved my blog to a blogspot. You are going to have to UNfollow my old one and then, follow my new address @ Got that?

    That goes for Ruth too =)

  5. Ruth - I simply don't "resist" them! I KNOW, January does seem a ways off, but it will be here before we know it - and the REALLY good thing is that once it is finished airing on PBS, the DVD's are available that same Tuesday. Which is just great. =)

    Ella - me too! I found a true jewel in the series last winter. I remember watching it and being sad that each hour was bringing me oh so closer to a finale; it was such an enchanting series. In my opinion, "Upstairs Downstairs" has nothing on "Downton Abbey." A third series sounds right... It is great, but also, like you say, means that certain things won't be resolved.

    Somehow I figured out to get your "new" blog updates. After "searching" around for the right way to "follow" you I figured things out... although if you asked me how I did it, I'd have no clue! Thanks for the reminder though - most the time, I'd need that. ;D

  6. There's not much for me to say about "Downton" that I haven't said a thousand times over -- love it to pieces, can't wait to see the second season, hope they keep the content relatively tame so I can recommend the series as a whole to people. My major problem this go-around is going to be hating Mrs. Bates. I just can't hate Maria Doyle Kennedy! I loved her in "The Tudors," I loved her in "Mystics," I love her wherever I see her, so I'm going to have a rough time of it watching her play a manipulative thieving shrew! =P

  7. I know...

    Talking so much about something leaves little to say at this point, but "Downton Abbey" is totally worth its praise as far as I am concerned - it is simply marvelous. (Oh, dear! Have I already said that!? LOL!)

    That is right! I forgot temporarily that "Katherine" is a new face on S2 of this series as Mrs. Bates! This will be a very different character for her compared to the devout Catholic wronged queen - although I never did love her character as much as you...

    Where the content is concerned, I agree completely with you, Charity. Series one was "clean enough" because nothing lasted very long and was somewhat "covert," but nevertheless, it wasn't an Austen adaptation in those regards.

  8. I've been wanting to watch this series,but I wish I clould find a edited version.

  9. You wouldn't be sorry, Ella - this series is worthy of every bit of praise. The chracters are wonderful, the acting is fabulous and the costumes... well, those are just... perfect!

    I totally understand wanting to see it edited though. There isn't a lot of "bad stuff," and the one or two scenes that are in the series aren't important to everything else. I hope you are able to see it someday. If you like Austen, you'd enjoy this series. =)

  10. I would like to watch Downton Abbey.
    I might watch a bit of it to see what it's like.

  11. If memory serves correct, the SECOND episode is "clean," Ella, apart from maybe some mild "innuendo." (Don't quote me on that though!)

    Everyone has to decide what is right for them to watch and what isn't, so read up on "Downton Abbey" and decide for yourself if this series is something you are willing to watch and go from there.

    As always, it is nice of you to stop by, Ella - I enjoy your input.=)

  12. Thanks so much for commenting on my blog! I've read through yours and really enjoyed all the movie reviews!

    I've been going back and forth on watching Downton Abbey and finally got it at the library. I am a little squeamish at just how "much" content is going to be in the first episode. I don't mind a few quick scenes if it can be quickly skipped...I guess it's just the anticipation of the first time, not knowing what's coming and everything. But I've heard SO much good about this (and it has some of my favorite actors...and I adore British miniseries) that I'm going to give it a shot. :-)

    I really appreciated your review of it and it's only added to my anticipation of seeing it! Thanks!

  13. I am going to enjoy following your blog, Alexandra - thank you for following mine!

    A lot of girls have been questioning whether or not to see "Downton" because of its few immoralities. I don't regret having seen it because I can "overlook" the content in favor of a well-realized, beautiful production. The costumes, characters and story are all lovely. My only complaint is that the series moves at an alarming rate.

    As I said on your blog, ClearPlay has announced they'll be releasing a filter, so that might be something to think about for E1. To me, the first is the "worst" episode as far as content goes. Everyone has different standards, so I just give my fair opinion of a movie and leave the rest up to potential viewers.

    Glad you enjoyed this review - I had fun writing it. =) Unless you get to it before me, I'll be posting about S2 in the near future, so be on the look-out for that... in the meantime I look forward to your thoughts on the series if you chose to watch it.


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