There are some days where I wish I had a house staff. As I am writing now, a pile of dirty clothes sits neglected on the laundry room floor. My closets need organizing. The puppy could definitely use a bath. In the kitchen sink, the used dishes seem to be breeding like bunnies. My entire house could use a good deep cleaning. While I am at it, I would love for someone to make me a delicious, homemade chocolate cake. Alas, the domestic staff in this home consists of one person: me (and I’m not exactly the best housekeeper in the world). But still, a girl can dream…
Now I don’t know if it was the seemingly endless chores that finally spurred me to watch Downton Abbey or if I should give my mom credit for relentlessly asking, “Have you seen it yet?” but over the past few weeks, my husband and I watched the entire first season of this Masterpiece Classic. I just wonder what took me so long to finally get around to this series. Sometimes I am just slow.
Set in 1912 England, Downton Abbey follows the lives of a wealthy family and their servants. The Crawleys have owned the estate for generations and are struggling to marry off their oldest daughter, Mary, in order to keep the property and wealth in the family. However, the times they are a-changin’ and Mary isn’t exactly on board with the whole arranged marriage thing. The servants, while involved in the affairs of the family they serve, also are wrapped up in their own intrigue and maneuvering. It’s extremely gossipy and dramatic, complete with manipulative characters—and I totally love it.
Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of Downton Abbey (to me, at least), is the time period in which it is set. The series starts with the sinking of the Titanic. While Downton Abbey had the restraint to avoid Celine Dion songs and “king of the world” references, the use of this major, catastrophic event (which the characters learn about through the newspaper) provides a clear time frame for the story. Industrialization started seeping its way into people’s daily lives, political movements (notably suffrage) were taking root, and, unbeknownst to the Crawleys and their staff, World War I lurks around the corner. Often, I feel that TV and movies tend to obsess over WWII. While I am not trying to downplay the impact and devastation of that war, I appreciate that this series examines the pre-World War I era through the lives of people in one household.
I was also very caught up by the entire cast of characters. I so appreciate the writing in this show as I can’t imagine how difficult it is to write (well) so many different storylines each of which intersects with at least two other character arcs throughout the series. The acting is excellent and I like how each member of the cast seems to be a “supporting” member as opposed to a lead. Now this is not a slam to any one actor, instead I mean it truly as a compliment. Each actor easily shares the screen with her/his peers and the cast acts as a unit (he he, I said unit) instead of a star and miscellaneous background players. I would be remiss, however, if I don’t point out my adoration for the great Maggie Smith who left her wand behind to play the Dowager Countess. I found myself looking forward to the scenes where Smith’s character would butt heads with Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton). And trust me, I wasn’t disappointed.
Downton Abbey feels very relevant to the political/economic climate today in the respect that it shows the discrepancy between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” I appreciate how the individuals in each socioeconomic class are not cut and dry. For example, just because the Crawleys have a beautiful estate and funds to employ a small army of servants, each family member treats their status differently. While some of them may not treat their staff with respect, others encourage (and help) some of their employees when they wanted to pursue other career options. Similarly, the house staff fall into a range of categories—making all characters—rich and poor—seem human instead of mere caricatures (a lesson that we in today’s society could probably use to learn).
I really enjoyed Downton Abbey and wouldn’t hesitate recommending it to people who love period pieces or dramatic shows. I am very excited to see where the second season takes me and await it with baited breath. Until then, I should probably try to make a dent on those dishes in the sink.
Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day!
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