TV Review: Downton Abbey
Diana Pinguicha reviews period drama Downton Abbey.
Ok, so there I was, lying down on my bed, my two kitties nearby, hacking away at C++ code and failing miserably to load textures properly onto OpenGL. Then, because my boyfriend always leaves the TV on for background noise, I hear this beautiful piano melody from a series opening.
Let’s face it: I’m a big sucker for beautiful piano pieces. It comes with having playing the instrument for so long. So, the next day, during class, I asked my friend Joana if she had watched it (being that she’s a lover of all things properly British). She had, and told me I needed to as well. I, being the TV drama junkie that I am, decided to obey.
I had all the episodes on DVR thanks to the wonderful auto-save technology of my cable provider. Plus, they were all in HD, so I had extra-pretty details to look at. Without anything to complain about, I lay down in bed, Jubas sleeping next to me and Sushi peering down from her perch atop the piano, and I start watching.
I ended up finishing the entire first season in a day.
First of all, the cast is gigantic. There’s the aristocratic family that runs the house and is composed of Lord and Lady Grantham, their three daughters, the Dowager Countess (portrayed flawlessly by the wonderful Maggie Smith), their cousin, his mother and a whole lot of people.
Then, you have the servants and oh God almighty, there’s so many of them! From butler to second footman to lady’s maid to housekeeper to kitchen helper – I kid not! I cannot tell you for certain how many there are. It’s crazy. I was often lost in the first episodes and had to go to Wikipedia to know who’s who and “Oh , so that’s what a footman’s supposed to do!” Still, it’s an accurate portrayal of a noble family and its needless amounts of staff.
As for the plot itself: the first season starts with the infamous Titanic disaster and how Lord Grantham lost his heir to the sea. You ask, “But can’t his daughters inherit the gigantic estate?” Nope. This is 1912. Women couldn’t inherit anything but a dowry once they got married – and that was to their husband, a sort of a “thank you for ridding me of a daughter” gift. It’s not that Lord Grantham doesn’t love his daughters, because he does. But be prepared for a lot of your typical early 20th century sexism and misogyny in the series.
So, what happens when you lose your male heir? You find one and get to know him, because an estate like Downton deserves to be in good hands. But oh, tragedy of tragedies! The next living heir is a lawyer! What a common-man profession, is it not?
I kid! I kid! Still, the outrage of the family when they find Matthew, the heir in question, works for a living is hilarious and so perfectly done! It’s a joy to see, really!
Matthew comes to the Abbey and the drama unfolds. He and Lord Gantham’s eldest daughter Mary (the beautiful Michelle Dockery) are attracted to each other, but she’s a snob, and so on and so forth.
Then you have your downstairs drama, with Thomas, the first footman, conspiring with the lady’s maid to bring down the newly appointed valet, John Bates. There’s a myriad of plots and sub-plots unravelling and I cannot get into most of them, but they’re all brilliantly acted and cleverly put together.
You’ll find yourself at the edge of your seat, wanting to know what comes next. You’ll be rooting for the good people, wishing the villains to die, and then finding yourself having some sympathy for those more misguided people. You’ll laugh at the Dowager Countesses’ indignity over the most trivial things, at Carson’s properly British mannerisms; you’ll rage at how homosexuals are treated and at how women had little rights but to get married. Downton is very well-written and no one’s truly good or truly evil. Everyone has flaws – it’s just that some are more despicable than others.
Last, but not the least: the set. The series is filmed on Highclere Castle and Bampton, and the scenery is breathtaking. Everything is meticulously done to match the era in which the series it’s set and it’s gorgeous to look at. From Mary’s clothes to the Abbey’s decoration to the town nearby… everything is so well-done and pretty that I just want to go back in time and live there.
Downton Abbey will melt your heart and have your teeth grinding within minutes, always with impeccable style and, more importantly: always thoroughly British. A definite must see if you love British history, a plot full of drama and incredible acting. Trust me. You won’t be disappointed.