TV series review: Downton Abbey: Series 1 (2010), written by Julian Fellowes
This is very much overdue, but never the less, good things come to those who wait, as they say.
Beginning in 1912 Yorkshire, we meet the grand estate of Downton Abbey, where the Earl of Grantham Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) and his family get the tragic news of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. On it was the man next in line to inherit Downton. He was also set to marry the oldest Crawley daughter (neither of his three daughters are legally allowed to inherit the title and estate), and now, the future of the family and their ancestral home is uncertain.
A distant relative is found – young Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), a lowly solicitor in Manchester. He finds the whole idea of becoming Earl very alien to him, but he does take a shine to the oldest daughter Mary (Michelle Dockery) …
Downton Abbey is set both above and below stairs. Above is the Crawley family, with the Earl, the Countess (Elizabeth McGovern), daughters Mary, Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay); there’s the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), who doesn’t get along with Matthew’s mother (Penelope Wilton).
Downstairs, the house is run by butler Carson (Jim Carter) and housekeeper Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan), with Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nichol) in the kitchen. There’s the kind Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and equally kind William (Thomas Howes), with their polar opposites snide O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran) and backstabby Thomas (Rob James-Collier). The kitchen maid Daisy (Sophie McShera) is new on the job and eager to learn, but not very skilled. The latest addition to the household, John Bates (Brendan Coyle), is controversial – whoever heard of a limping valet? – especially considering Thomas was after his job …
When I heard of this show originally, I wanted to see it just because of the period setting. When I started watching, I thought it was magnificent. Both sides (floors?) get lots of time to develop their characters, and both have sympathetic and unsympathetic characters.
My favourites downstairs are … so many. Anna and Mr Bates, for instance, what a darling couple! William is such a nice lad, and Daisy is so adorably naive and gullible. Upstairs, I really like Matthew and the Earl, and find the Dowager Countess hilarious. Of the three sisters, I probably prefer Sybil – she’s the rebellious one. Mary and Edith are too backstabby with each other. (Like the bit around Robert Bathurst’s guest character. That’s not on. It’s no way to treat your sister, even if she had been a bitch to you first!)
The costumes are fantastic, the setting (Highclere Castle) is lovely, the story engaging and everything’s just so darn watchable. Yes, it’s not full on action and things that go WHIZZ!! BANG!! CLANG!! all the time – it’s a slower pace, and you get time to get involved in the characters’ lives. The actors get time to act, and do it so well. All in all, it’s thought through, and while it might be an era seen through rose-tinted glasses, it’s still good old-fashioned storytelling at its very best.
Fortunately, the series became insanely popular, and a second series was on last year – a third one is expected later this year. I. Can’t. Wait!
5 out of 5 slippery soaps.