by Jessica Walters
Thank goodness for PBS! They are responsible for showing so many good programs. My latest discovery is a British period piece called Downton Abbey. I wasn’t sure if this was worth the investment of purchasing or if I should just rent it or even wait and see if I could catch an episode every now and then but after completing the first chapter, I feverishly had to watch the next and the next and the next until my entire Sunday was consumed by the first season, then I was on to the second season and finally the third. If you’re in the mood for drama with a side of malice and mystery then you’ve got to check this out!
The show is centered on the daily life of a manor called Downton Abbey. The focus is split equally between the Crawleys, the wealthy and aristocratic owners of Downton, and the staff of servants that keep it running. Patriarch Robert, Earl of Grantham, his American wife Cora, daughters Mary, Edith and Sybil; and his mother the Dowager Countess make up the primary cast representing the aristocracy. And while some of their actions and attitudes seem stereotypical, none of the characters are ever completely one sided. Cora is kind and thoughtful, but also more jaded than her husband. Youngest sister Sybil is sweet and beloved by everyone, but ultimately shows a very rebellious streak and is drawn to politics that are at odds with her family. My favorite character is the Dowager Countess, played by Maggie Smith- her plotting and witty asides will just make you smile. Downstairs, the staff includes footman Thomas, who is arrogant and devious, and Mr. Bates, who is on the receiving end of much of Thomas’s ill will. Despite this, he handles himself with grace- even as Thomas and Miss O’Brien (Lady Grantham’s maid) tirelessly scheme to get him fired. The workforce extends beyond just these few characters however, and each of them is given a chance to tell their story.
The series starts off with the Crawleys learning that Robert’s next of kin, who was also supposed to be engaged to Mary, was aboard the Titanic and is presumed dead. Lord Grantham’s new heir and nearest kinsmen is a distant cousin and a total stranger named Matthew. Everyone is fearful of the day when Lord Grantham passes away and this stranger becomes the new lord of Downton. The family plots and strategizes any way possible to maintain their means of living once Matthew has taken over.
Season two begins somewhat slowly and uneventfully. Yes, there is a war going on and the characters are affected by it in some manner or another but it didn’t have the excitement that the first season had. That is until about the second half of the show and the drama intensifies. Both the servants and the Crawleys get in these sticky situations where you wish you could just shout, “Snap out of it! Look what you are doing!” The frustration of seeing people making the wrong decision is almost too much. Just as you are at your wit’s end, we are given the closing Christmas special. At Christmas time, everything has to work out, right?
In the third season, due to some mismanagement of funds it looks like the Granthams are going to lose Downton Abbey. Their only hope to save the family home is Matthew Crawley. Matthew may inherit a large sum of money and if he does, he’s not sure that it would be right to use it for Downton. I must advise that during this season, you will probably need a handkerchief, a Kleenex or possibly a shirt sleeve. I hate crying and I had to fight back tears all the way through. By now the characters are so familiar and well developed that you feel sympathy and empathy and joy and happiness for them as if they were family or very dear friends.
Downton Abbey is a sure treat and I am so pleased that I made the investment of my time and money into this show. I can’t wait to see what happens next. I don’t know what else this family can go through that they haven’t already but I am sure something will turn up. Now, I just have to stay away from any media sources that might spoil the fourth season for me. British period pieces are not for everyone but I would advise any skeptics to watch a few episodes because I am sure that you will be hooked just like I was.