Downton Abbey

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about a British historic drama series called Downton Abbey. Decided to give it a go. I’m not disappointed, mostly.

The show follows the life of an aristocratic family and their servants in the 1910s. Most of the plot revolves around issues with the sudden and unexpected death of the family’s heir in the Titanic disaster, or at least stem from it. There’s also a strong subplot about a certain sort of rivalry amongst the servants… rivalry isn’t the best word. Incredible assholishness is perhaps a better descriptor. To leave it at that does the writers a disservice, but I could spend several pages going over some of the plot points and I’m sure nobody would want to slog through all of it.

Underneath the surface issues presented above, though, there’s a strong undercurrent of the changes that are starting to move through society at this time. Women’s suffrage is a key point, especially as the family has three daughters (hence the heir issue), and the eldest isn’t interested in being tied down in that sort of role. But it also covers the generational issues. The parents show their different concerns, and the grandmother, played by the wonderful and frequently effortlessly-show-stealing Maggie Smith, brings a good dose of Victorian sensibilities to it all. 

For all the excellent writing and setting work, there’s almost the sense that the show could exist without them on the acting alone. I know that British actors generally come across better than Americans, but here’s it’s taken to some kind of extreme. There is absolutely nobody on screen who isn’t incredibly well suited to whatever role is written for them. Not a single one of them (in the first series, at least) seems in the least out of place. Each character is quite well, quite naturally developed, and every single actor seems to have stepped into their respective roles perfectly. 

The thing that really gets to me, though, is that I am more or less hooked on a soap opera now. Granted this is a great deal better (in every measurable way) than the stuff I’d end up watching as a kid when home sick from school, but amidst the great acting and the truly interesting setting, it’s good to see some of these bitches get whats coming to them now and then. Of course, the fact that the plots only stretch through one season at a time instead of being a sort of neverending morass of garbage probably helps a great deal.

Strongly recommended viewing, though. Even aside from the brilliant dramatic aspects, there’s a lot of humor to be had. Now, I’ve heard that the second series takes a bit of a weird turn as World War I begins, so we’ll see if my strong praise continues. But I find myself extra eager to get to that, being interested in the war. Hopefully the quality remains.