Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Downton Abbey (2010)
This is a wonderful soap opera in Edwardian clothing that brilliantly portray the lives of 18 main characters, the upstairs and downstairs residents of a stately country house, from the spring of 1912 to the beginning of World War I in 1914.
There are many more likable characters, starting with the master of the house, the Earl of Grantham, played by Hugh Bonneville as a benign dictator smart enough to realize that the world is rapidly changing around him.
The series opens with the Earl receiving a telegram about the sinking of the Titanic. His cousin and his cousin's son have drowned, leaving the future of Downton Abbey in peril. The Earl and his American wife (Elizabeth McGovern) have three daughters, none of who can inherit it, so the estate and all its money will pass to a distant cousin. Since the series is based on an original script, there are elements one wouldn't normally find in, say, an Edwardian novel adaptation, like the homosexual affair between a servant and a member of the ruling class. These subplots make the portrayed world of Downton Abbey seem all the more realistic.
Like almost all British television shows, the acting is frequently inspired. Maggie Smith plays the Dowager Countess, the mother of the Earl, as a droll snob.
The central theme of the series is the struggle between the comforts of staying the same and the potential rewards of progress. For every Mrs. Patmore, the cook who wants nothing more than to stay in service the remainder of her life, there is a housemaid such as Gwen (Rose Leslie), who dreams of becoming a secretary in a modern office. It's these dichotomies, and the way they exist within both the Abbey itself (half the rooms have electricity and half don't) and its multifaceted inhabitants that make Downton Abbey a great class study.