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Downton Abbey - Television Series Review

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by Olga R. (subscribe)
I am a writer in the making with a passion for imagery, globetrotting and exquisite designs.
Published April 6th 2013
The Downton Abbey Effect
In a brilliant article by the title "I Must Have Said It Wrong": Decoding Downton Abbey's Television DNA, Graeme McMillan proclaims Downton Abbey "the Beatles of period drama television".

Highclere Castle, author Richard Munckton via Wikimedia Commons


He goes on to illustrate the similarities between the pop group and the TV show: they were both born and bred in Great Britain, and their sensational fame made its way across the water, virtually taking over the American public in a star-struck frenzy. Both left behind a slew of would-be competitors who tried to ride their wave of success and tragically drowned in the attempt.

The show, I might add, also bears some similarity to an addictive substance, causing glued-to-the-screen binges, sleep deprivation and painful withdrawals in between seasons. It almost seems like the Christmas Special, which first appeared after Season 2, is something of a bone thrown in pity of viewers that are tentatively preparing themselves for the dry months ahead.

[Spoiler alert! Though the storyline of the series is not the main object of discussion here, there will be mentions of the plot right up to Season 3.]

Undoubtedly, one of the winning ingredients of the show's staggering success is its powerful, well-rounded and multi-faceted cast of characters.

Maggie Smith Illustration, author MmmExcellent via Wikimedia Commons


From the self serving, conniving footman (who cries at the news of Lady Sybil's death, and for a moment almost looks human) right up to the Earl of Grantham himself (who goes through a mid-life crisis while Europe is plagued by war), characters emerge in 3D from a personal background that leaks through, episode by episode, giving them life and drawing us a little further into their world, made of ancient rules, ungovernable hearts and a re-mapping of the social status quo.

Here are some favourites, chosen from both the "upstairs" and the "downstairs", which together make up the cosmos of Downton.

UPSTAIRS

Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham

Things she can't stand: The idea of the estate not being secured within the family, defeatism (because it's oh-so-middle-class), not having the upper hand in a conversation (especially with sharp-witted Americans).

Why we love her: Watch out, Horatio Cane! Looks like you've found a worthy contendent in this Queen of One-liners.

Enough cannot be said about Maggie Smith's pure-breed performance in the show. When she purses her lips, sharply tilts her head and flashes that we are not amused look, you know you're in for a good ride. Some famous lines include: "What's a 'weekend'?" and a cheeky "Do you promise?" in response to Sir Richard saying he doubts they will ever meet again.

Lady Sybil Crawley

Things she can't stand: The thumb-turning idleness of her aristocratic existence, the dos and don'ts prescribed by her position in society.

Why we love her: Of all the professions she can choose from, she bravely plunges into wartime nursing. She is politically open minded and feels no shame in first befriending, then marrying the help. She is bold but never catty, playful but not shallow.

Christmas Special photo, image from www.itv.com/downtonabbey


DOWNSTAIRS

Mrs Hughes

Things she can't stand: The house not running properly, being told to rest, immoral staff members (who she still finds it in her heart to help).

Why we love her: Along with Carson, she is the glue the holds the Downton staff together, and along with Mrs Patmore she is the voice of common sense. She is proper but not rigid, has a charitable nature and always a solid word of advice for everyone.

Mr Bates

Things he can't stand: Being pitied, his ex-wife's vindictive nature, being away from his sweetheart.

Why we love him: He is as upright as they get, and how not to be partial to someone who embodies the combination of war veteran, star-crossed lover and innocent man who wrongly gets sent to prison.

Conceived and penned by Julian Fellowes, whose past achievements include an Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) for the film Gosford Park, the show also won a Guinness World Record in 2011 for Highest Critical Review Ratings for a TV Show.

As the decades advance and the character pool shifts and re-assembles, the original spirit and charm of Downton Abbey seems to carry on. I am sure we are all eagerly awaiting Season 4 and all the novelties it will bring.
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