For those of you who have been living under a rock, the British television drama ‘Downton Abbey’ has taken the US by storm. The Christmas special aired a few weeks ago here, and I think I finally have enough perspective to discuss the past two seasons.
‘Downton Abbey’ is centered around an old English household (both the nobility and the servants) in the early 1900s. In the first episode we meet Lord and Lady Grantham who are unfortunate enough to have three daughters and no heir. The cousin who is to take over the title and Downton upon Lord Grantham’s death tragically dies when the Titanic goes down. When they find the next successor he is- gasp and scandal- a middle class lawyer! The early 1900s was a tumultuous time for nobility (who were quickly losing power and socialist ideals were on the rise in Europe) without having to worry about their great estate being entailed away.
There are so many issues covered by the extensive plot-lines of Downton (with each episode lasting as long as a movie) that I hardly know where to begin. I will try not to be too descriptive and I hope that this will convince those of you who haven’t been swept-up to get caught up before season three (which hasn’t even aired in Britain yet, so those of you state-side have plenty of time).
Perhaps the strongest female characters in the show are the Dowager Countess Violet Grantham, Miss O’Brien and Lady Sybil Grantham.
The Dowager Countess is completely old school. Although the world around her is changing, she remains the figure of preening nobility. While she doesn’t believe in giving the vote to women, the Dowager Countess is unafraid to speak her mind, stand up for herself and her family, and bows to no one (which is probably because she is noble- but still). I think this video sums her up quite well: *SPOILERS*
My personal favorite moment:
Basically, she is the biggest badass of the show. Everyone else plays their little games, but Violet can end things with a simple quip.
Miss O’Brien is Lady Grantham’s lady’s maid and resident villain of season one. O’Brien is a scheming and bitter, but chooses to live out her schemes through Thomas a footman (who is amazing- but gay. Sorry ladies). Unlike some of the other servants we are introduced to, O’Brien does not let her class keep her down. She isn’t timid, but rather a total bitch. After Lady Grantham miscarries, O’Brien’s character goes through a transformation. O’Brien’s nastiness made her into a monster, and she can’t look at herself in the eye. The growth that we see in O’Brien makes her such a great character. One could argue that the characters on Downton are like caricatures of their roles, but we see throughout the series how they evolve into their own identities.
Lady Sybil. Oh, Lady Sybil. The youngest of the Grantham daughter, Sybil is the most genuinely kind. She believes in progress and equality between men and women, and for the most part class. The Granthams get a new driver, Branson, who is an Irish socialist. After eavesdropping while driving the ladies around, he gives Lady Sybil a collection of pamphlets on women’s rights (Adorable). Sybil constantly surprises her family with her strong beliefs and desire to wear pants. During the war, Sybil joins a nursing core and helps run the hospital and later the convalescent home in Downton Abbey itself. After what seemed like an eternity, she really dropped a bomb when she told her family that she was marrying Branson! Although her sisters tried to convince her not to, she stood up to her family and found her happiness.
And because I can:
I have high hopes for season three, although I’ve watched enough British television to know that this show is going to rip out my heart and smash it to tiny pieces (here’s looking at you, Torchwood!). After watching Downton, I feel like I’ve been spoiled. I want more television as gripping and involved as this show. If as much happened in an episode of… any other show, then maybe I would feel compelled to watch more T.V.
Also: If you do want to get caught up, I would recommend tracking down the BBC versions because the PBS versions cut out some of the content (which is crazy since most of the episodes are 1 1/2 to 2 hours long).