Confession time – I knew there would be many good reasons to watch Downton Abbey, but I have only just recently been able to catch up with this most excellent drama. For some reason, I missed the first few episodes and felt I couldn’t watch it from thereon, but thankfully, UK TV recently re-ran all of the first 3 series back to back, in preparation for series 4 which premiered at the end of September. And I was soooo right. There really are some very good reasons to watch Downton Abbey and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.
Unlike many film and TV sets, a house or building may just be used occasionally with lots of work done in studios. In Downton Abbey, however, the house is a living, breathing family home and all shots of and in the house are THE house. The real Downton Abbey is Highclere Castle, the hereditary estate and country seat of the Earl of Carnarvon. Having a love of magnificent stately homes is certainly one of the reasons to watch Downton Abbey. Highclere Castle is a Jacobethan charm with grounds designed by much lauded landscaper Capability Brown, and the house stands where a house has stood since at least the 10th century. Unlike Downtown, which is set in the north of England in the county of Yorkshire, Highclere Castle is in the south, in Hampshire. The house has also appeared in the movies Eyes Wide Shut, The Four Feathers, The Secret Garden and King Ralph.
One of the reasons we watch TV is to escape. At Downton Abbey you can escape to another world - a world where the life upstairs is one of class and privilege and all the trappings it brings to a titled family in the first half of the 20th century. Watch with laughter, tears, joy and sadness as Lord and Lady Grantham and their three daughters embrace everything life throws at them. See them ravaged by World War I, suffer losses on the Titanic, save the estate from financial mis-management, get involved in the suffrage movement and the battle for Irish independence and learn how to love the new world that each decade brings. Currently we are in the mid-1920s, and women are finding more freedom in the Jazz Age. Without a direct male heir, many of the stories revolve around the future of the Downton estate and the marriages of the three Grantham ladies. A shout out for Dame Maggie Smith is appropriate here because she truly is glorious as the Dowager Lady Grantham. She is being dragged kicking and screaming into the new century and her irascibility is a joy to watch.
If you love social history, you’ll find plenty of reasons to watch Downton Abbey. As well as following the lives of the Grantham family upstairs, we delve deeply into the life below stairs as a Downton servant. The butler, footmen, ladies' maids and kitchen staff have as much going on as them upstairs, and face similar problems as the changes in post-war Britain bring whole new horizons for them to consider – even simple things like the introduction of the toaster and electric mixer are huge events here. In these days where there is no such thing as a job for life, can you imagine tying yourself to one place and one set of people for your entire working career?
What would a costume drama be without the costumes? Fashion lovers will adore the chronicle of changing fashions and hairstyles in Downton Abbey. We’ve already moved from the stuffy high necked, leg-o-mutton sleeved, befrilled full length dresses of the Edwardian Era to the flighty, daring, often times sexy clothes of the early 1920s and I can’t wait to watch as we dive headlong into the flapper style of the Jazz Age and Art Deco. I wonder how daring they’ll let the ladies be, given that they are titled girls and certain standards are expected of them.
Another of the reasons to love Downton Abbey is that no character is superfluous. Each character has their own story running along the main plot lines. We have love affairs, births and marriages, brides to be jilted at the altar, scandals, intrigue upstairs and down, personality clashes and people seeking revenge and retribution, births out of wedlock and accidents to cause a miscarriage. We have characters from past lives pop up suddenly, usually with some ghastly consequence, we have times when characters we thought we knew surprise us and then we have the deaths.
I feel this warrants its own category separate from the stories because no good TV drama is without more than its fair share of deaths. And boy, does Downton have its fair share. We had heirs losing their lives on the Titanic and then all the casualties of World War I, which included one of the house servants – this story was enhanced by the house acting as a military hospital/convalescent home. We’ve had a Russian Count dying in a bed he really shouldn’t have been in, a wife committing suicide so her husband would be jailed for murder, and we’ve had a death in childbirth as well as a fiancé dying of the Spanish Influenza. The most shocking death of all however was that of ******* in the finale of series three. Who knew that was coming?
Julian Alexander Kitchener-Fellowes, Baron Fellowes of West Stafford DL, known professionally as Julian Fellowes, is an English actor, novelist, film director and screenwriter, as well as a Conservative member of the House of Lords. Well – there’s a bio for you! And he’s also the writer of Downton Abbey. He’s actually played in many dramas of his own, including Sharpe, Jane Eyre, Martin Chuzzlewit and Monarch of the Glen. His first accolades as a writer came for Gosford Park, but prior to this he had written TV adaptations for Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Prince and The Pauper, and the screenplay for Vanity Fair which starred Reese Witherspoon. He also wrote the screenplay for Young Victoria and we can look forward to a new adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (released October 13 in the UK). As you can see by his work and his background there is a similar theme. What I love about his work on Downton Abbey is that he wrote it specifically with Highclere Castle in mind, being long standing friends with Lord and Lady Carnarvon.
Do you agree with my reasons to watch Downton Abbey? Are you as devoted to it as I am? Or maybe you’re going to give it a try now?
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