PBS' Masterpiece Classic Downton Abbey makes me love my Telly, some thoughts
By April MacIntyre Jan 7, 2011, 6:36 GMT
In fact, if you love \'Boardwalk," you will truly appreciate this snapshot in time that is as deeply delicious as a custard filled fruit and cake filled Trifle, spiked with good Sherry and whipped cream. Lots to savor here in a lush production filled to the rafters with brilliant actors.
Joining many legendary British tomes depicting life of the Gilded Age, Edwardian times to the 1920's industrial England, the television drama "Downton Abbey" reveals a country and time in the throes of major upheaval, with an insular upper-class fighting the changes tooth and nail with only the stubbornness that stiff upper lip types can do with such style.
It is set in a time just prior to the "Boardwalk Empire" days, and like that fabulous HBO effort, reveals how women slowly but surely got a leg up, so to speak, and gained opportunities and aspired to be more than a poor man's daughter condemned to servantry, or a wealthy man's daughter whose future was solely hinged on the match her parents ensured through societal machinations.
In fact, if you love 'Boardwalk," you will truly appreciate this snapshot in time that is as deeply delicious as a custard-filled fruit and cake filled Trifle, spiked with good Sherry and whipped cream. Lots to savor here in a lush production filled to the rafters with brilliant actors.
"Gosford Park" witer Julian Fellowes' beautiful period drama "Downton Abbey" begins January 9th on PBS' Masterpiece Classic.
Downton Abbey is the country estate of the Crawley family, and in proper upstairs-downstairs fashion, exists on two planes and even has an American mother and lady of the house, played by Elizabeth McGovern, paired in scene with the formidable Dame Maggie Smith, the Dowager Countess of Grantham and her mother-in-law, who sniffs still at her American ways, twenty-odd years after the wedding.
The lives of these people are made effortless by an army of ladies' maids, footmen, scullery maids, cooks, butlers, livery men, and many more who exist and work in the shadows and under the floorboards while the grand parties and dinners entertain the rich.
The English aristocratic rule has many codas, and what young women do and how they maintain their reputation is an art form in itself. Marriages are made less by love and more by need and quid pro quo, as was the Crawley marriage, fueled by Cora's (McGovern) American money and Robert's (Hugh Bonneville) prestigious land holding and title.
Funny thing, the Crawley marriage was born of this arrangement, but grew in real lustful love.
Presented in four nice fat episodes, the series commences with the news of the Titanic, which claims the lives of the two Crawley heirs next in line to inherit both the estate and bearer of the Earl of Grantham title.
Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, is always in scene with his loyal dog, and has fixed notions for his three daughters, who cannot inherit Downton Abbey.
The daughters are all at odds with their lot; the eldest is cruel and careless, the middle daughter is smart yet plain and the baby is pretty and a budding firebrand of a feminist.
With no male heirs, the estate and the money that Cora brought into the marriage are part of the entail. And with Robert's death, the laws of the land see the Abbey and the fortune inherited by a distant cousin, Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), a middle-class lawyer from Manchester.
Matthew resists the notion of a pampered existence at Downton Abbey until Robert makes him see the pastoral beauty of it, and has his plucky mother Isobel (Penelope Wilton) take on a useful role in the township's hospital, all overseen by the Dowager Countess of Grantham, Robert's mother, Violet (Smith) who bristles at this hands-on nurse full of energy and ideas.
So we have problems, as the Crawleys have no immediate male heir, their daughters are all unwed and fighting each other in different ways, and the cousin has limited interest in running the Abbey.
Cora's fortune is part of the estate, which means that the surviving family will lose their home when Matthew inherits it. The solution is a legal fight and the hopes eldest daughter Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), lands a rich titled man.
But Matthew at first is not for Mary, but through a series of dramatic turns, she begins to warm to him.
Mary's cruelty towards her sister Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), is quite something, as is Edith's payback. Youngest daughter Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay) is a striver who apears in flapper clothing and absolutely refuses to go the route of her eldest sister.
Meanwhile, there's a hive of drama going on downstairs, as Butler Carson (Jim Carter) dotes on Lady Mary, housekeeper Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) keeps track of all the servants and cook Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nicol) is slowly losing her eyesight.
Head Housemaid Anna (Joanne Froggatt) is the kindest of the lot. Housemaid Gwen (Rose Leslie) is studying to be a secretary and taken under the patronage of youngest daughter Lady Sybil; chauffeur Tom Branson (Allen Leech) is a bit of a Irish radical chauffeur who falls for Lady Sybil; and valet John Bates (Brendan Coyle), who served in the Boer war with Lord Grantham, struggles with his post war injuries and earns the contempt of the rest of the staff, which is ultimately reversed.
Diabolical characters are found with First Footman Thomas (Rob James-Collier), ladies' maid Sarah O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran), both vile as the day is long.
I cannot divulge anymore, as the twists and turns are too good. You should enjoy "Downton Abbey" at your leisure by a roaring fire, preferably with your faithful dog laying next to you.
"Abbey" is much a study of the historical shifts in British society as it is a good rollicking potboiler of sex, status and back-stabbing drama.
Television is rarely this good. Please make sure you catch it.
Post note: Laura Linney does a fantastic introduction to each segment, giving you a flavor of the impending teleplay.
Downton Abbey begins January 9th at 9 pm ET/PT on PBS' Masterpiece Classic.