Monday, February 21, 2011

Thoughts on Downton Abbey

Hi Cozies! The hub and I are back from a short family sojourn in Florida. The weather was fantastic - 80 degrees! - and the two-day respite much-needed. As much as I loved soaking up the sun (and wine), I have to say that whenever I'm away for more than a day at a time, my favorite part of the trip is coming home to three furry labs. It's hard to sleep without at least one of them warming the foot of the bed :)

Sunday when the hub and I returned home and settled in, I finally found the time to watch all seven episodes of the BBC mini-series, Downton Abbey. I may primarily write contemporary novels, but that doesn't stop me from having a love affair with period dramas. It's wonderful to hear that Downton will be returning for a second season this year. The first thing that strikes me about the series is the time period. It's not everyday we see 1912-1914 tackled by writers of either the screen or historical fiction. Downton shows us, however, there is no apparant reason for this lapse. The series begins with the news that the Titanic has sunk, leaving the estate of Downton in need of a new heir. It ends with the news that Britain is going to war with Germany and we feel that even more upheaval is eminent for the aristocratic family as well as, if not perhaps more so, its colorful staff. In between these events, the writers find plenty of conflict to keep viewers watching and guessing. There is a myriad of characters, starting of course at the top with Lord and Lady Grantham, the Dowager Countess (played by the fabulous Maggie Smith), the Granthams' daughters - Mary, Edith, and Sybil - and the new heir apparant, cousin Matthew and his progressive mother, Mrs. Crawley.
The most interesting aspect of the series, however, is its peek into the lives of those belowstairs. I found the journey of the butler, Mr. Carson, the housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes, the valet, Mr. Bates, the maids, Mrs. O'Brien, Anna and Gwen, the footmen, Thomas and William, and the cook and her assistant, Daisy, even more piquant than those of the titled residents of Downton. Of course, with this many characters to keep track of, there's no end to story conflict. It is apparant early on that the comfortable lives of Lord Grantham and his ilk are fading with the times. Similarly, the need for a staff like that at Downton begins to seem a bit superfluous to more modern characters such as Matthew. One maid, Gwen, is studying to be a typist/secretary on the sly in the knowledge that her position as a maid might soon be eclipsed by convenient gadgets like electricity and telephones (which are hilariously introduced to Downton toward the end of the series). Another sure sign of change is the fight for women's suffrage which embroils Grantham's youngest daughter, Sybil.

Downton is a period drama so there is no shortage of fantastic costumes on hand to discuss! I was impressed with Maggie Smith's wardrobe as well as Lady Grantham, Mary and Sybil's. And, surprisingly, there's hardly anything more dashing than a chaffeur's uniform at Downton Abbey, modeled by my Irish friend Branson here.... ;)

Some of the storylines, like Branson's, had me in the throes of story-envy. If I were writing Downton Abbey, you could be sure I would have found a way for Branson and Sybil to be together, despite their opposing stations. In fact, Downton Abbey makes heroes not just of the aristocratic men so often featured in period dramas (most of the earl's daughter's suitors turn out to be more naughty than nice...and I don't mean that in a good way, unfortunately), but of everyday, blue collar men like Branson, Mr. Bates, and even the footman, William. Maybe that's what I find so refreshing about the series as a whole. And, of course, I can't wait for season two simply to hear more quips from Maggie Smith...

“What’s a ‘weekend’?”

“No Englishman would *dream* of dying in someone else's house - especially somebody they didn't even know.”

“We can’t have him assassinated. I suppose.”

“Sometimes I feel as if I’m living in an H.G. Wells novel.”

“Your quarrel is with my daughter, Rosamund, and not with me. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.”


marybelle said...

"Downton Abbey" is new to me & I do lover my BBC dramas. It looks amazing. I must seek it out.

Amber Leigh Williams said...

It is amazing, Marybelle - I highly recommend it! It aired in the US on PBS recently and I think it might already be on DVD. I found it on Netflix :)

Linda Morris, Romance writer said...

I loved this series! I was so surprised at the end when none of the plots lines were resolved--I hadn't realized that another season was coming. It really left the viewer hanging, and they haven't even started filming the second season yet!

Amber Leigh Williams said...

I know, Linda! The suspense is killing me. Can't wait for season 2!