Monday, March 21, 2011

Review: Downton Abbey - Series 1

I had heard about Downton Abbey before it came out on Masterpiece Theater, but I didn't think too much about it. When my mom and I were at Barnes & Noble, we picked it up and bought it along with North and South (which I will review soon). I knew there were a lot of actors and actresses from other period dramas, so I was a little curious about seeing them in Downton Abbey.
Box Art

When the Titanic sinks, the heir of Downton Abbey it is discovered was on there and presumed dead, leaving the future of Downton in question. Robert Crawley/Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), Earl of Grantham and lord of Downton, feels that his daughter, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), should inherit Downton, but the entail will not allow her to. Downton instead will have to go to Matthew Crawley, Lord Grantham's third cousin and a lawyer.

The episode plots include plot lines that involve both the Crawley family upstairs and their servants downstairs. For example, in addition to the whole entail business, there is the sibling rivalry between Lady Mary and Lady Edith, the maid, Gwen, looking for a secretary job, Matthew and Isobel Crawley adjusting to life near Downton, etc. The episodes continue one after the other, so one episode will end with a cliffhanger that will lead into the next episode. In that respect, it kind of acts like a miniseries, but it is actually a new TV series (in fact, Series 2 is already in production, so I hear!).

There are a lot of actors and actresses from different period dramas... A lot. At the end of this review, I'll list the ones that you may recognize. I set it up in a table (kind of) that includes the actor or actresses name, their character in Downton Abbey, and another period drama they were in.

A small group of the servants that run Downton Abbey.
In addition to the lives of the Crawley family, it was also interesting to see the lives of the servants. In a lot of period dramas, you don't usually see what needs to happen to get food on the table for a grand party at a big estate: it's just there. Usually, you don't get the back stories of the servants, unless they happen to be a main character in the story, but even then, it might be only one or two servants. In Downton Abbey, you really get to know most of the staff that runs the estate and a little bit of their back story. Not only do the Crawleys have their family secrets, but so do the servants. Past lives of the servants come into the episode plots as one of the main focuses. Sometimes, the plots of the servants intertwines with the Crawley's plots, and vice versa. Somehow, most of the plot lines are intertwined by the end of the episodes.

Maggie Smith was hilarious in Downton Abbey! She plays the part of Lord Grantham's mother, Lady Violet. She constantly goes to Downton and voices her opinions. She has had a couple of funny remarks during her visits or when she comes for dinner. One of the plots that goes on is the "rivalry" between her and Isobel Crawley, Matthew Crawley's former nurse mother.
Lord and Lady Grantham (Hugh Bonneville
and Elizabeth McGovern)

Lady Grantham (or Cora, her name) was supposed to be American, but I didn't think that her accent sounded American. The actress was actually born in America, but I didn't think she sounded American, unless I am mistaken with her accent and it's just an accent that I am not familar with. She was a likable character, although you had to feel sorry for her because she places a lot of trust in O'brien, her maid, except O'brien is out for her own interests.

Brenden Coyle left Lark Rise to Candleford to be in this new series. Let me say... His character here (John Bates) is so much more likable! In Lark Rise to Candleford, his character, Robert Timmins, was getting more and more disagreeable to me, but here he's a lot more likable here. Here he is Lord Gratham's old friend who becomes his valet. At first, a lot of the other servants do not think that he should be working there since he has to use a cane to get around, but they do accept him and befriend him eventually. He really is a sympathetic character.

As usual, BBC succeeds in bringing an interesting period drama with lovely scenery! The colors are absolutely stunning. Scenes take place inside of Downton Abbey, both upstairs where the Crawleys live and downstairs where the servants work and live. Scenes do take place outside on Downton's grounds and inside a hospital and a cottage.

Lady Mary dressed for dinner.

There must have been some of the best costuming that I have seen in Downton Abbey. A lot of the evening dresses are very ornate and very pretty to look at. Some of the dresses had transparent sleeves, which I usually do not see in period dramas (at least the ones that I have seen). Some of the day dresses are also very nice to look at.

Some characters seem to favor a particular outfit. Lady Violet is seen often in her purple hat and outfit during the daytime making calls at Downton. Lady Grantham, when on an outing, has a white jacket with black frogs (not the animal, of course) around it.

The hats are very striking. I was never a fan of the big hats of the early 1900s, but I did like some of these. They were trimmed very nicely with bows, ribbons, and flowers.

The music is much more serious in Downton Abbey than most other period dramas. In Episode 1, I thought I detected a soundtrack piece from Little Dorrit (2008). If you have seen Little Dorrit, you remember the music that plays whenever Fanny Dorrit and Mrs. Merdle meet? I think that song (or an incredibly similar one) played during the first episode. If that is the case that it is the same song, that song keeps with the serious nature of the show.

Overall: 4.5 5/5
Why, oh why did it have to end with so many cliffhangers? I really wanted to know what happens next! Well, I guess I'll have to wait for next year to see Series 2... Anyway, this was a really gripping series: at the end of each episode, I really wanted to know what happened next! There was a chance to get to know each of the characters, upstairs and downstairs. Just a warning: there were some mature themes and accompanying scenes, although I would say that the scenes were mostly in the first couple of episodes (the 1st and the 3rd, specifically). In the rest of the episodes, there is a scandal that is talked a lot about, but that was about it. I would still watch this at your own discretion. But overall, this was a very good series: great costumes, great acting, and lovely scenery! I can't wait for Series 2 to come out!

Downton Abbey - Series 1 is available on DVD and Blu-Ray. There are seven episodes in it, the first and the last being one hour long while the others were about 45 minutes long.

Recognizable Actors/Actresses

Actor -- Role in Downton Abbey -- Other Period Dramas
  Hugh Bonneville -- Robert Crawley -- Mr. Grandcourt from Daniel Deronda
Michelle Dockery -- Lady Mary -- Ermina Whyte from Return to Cranford
Maggie Smith -- Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham -- Lady Gresham from Becoming Jane and Betsey Trotwood from David Copperfield (1999)*
Jim Carter -- Mr. Carson -- Captain Brown from Cranford
Brendan Coyle -- John Bates -- Robert Timmins from Lark Rise to Candleford and Nicholas Higgins from North and South*
Dan Stevens -- Matthew Crawley -- Edward Ferrars from Sense and Sensibility (2008)* 
Penelope Wilton -- Isobel Crawley -- Mrs. Hamley from Wives and Daughters
Samantha Bond -- Lady Rosamund Painswick -- Mrs. Weston in Emma (1996)

* Information from Melody from Regency Delight ~Jane Austen etc.~. Thank you, Melody!


  1. Brenden Coyle was also on North and South. :)
    And I know that the person who played Edward on the new Sense and Sensibility is on there, only I never got to the part where he came.
    I never saw the whole first episode of this series. Once we got to *that* part we turned it off. >.<

    There's also a lady who was a very funny character on David Copperfield (1999[I think]). :-)

  2. I didn't know that about Edward from the new Sense and Sensibility. Would you mind if I put that up? I'll give you credit. Now that you mentioned it, I think I remember reading that Brenden Coyle was also in North and South. Could I put that up too and give you credit?

    For David Copperfield (1999), was it Maggie Smith as Betsey Trotwood?

  3. Interesting review! I guess I'll wait to ask Mom about watching it, though, until all the seasons are out...cliff-hangers are SO SO SO annoying. :P ;)

    PS: Are you going to do a mid-voting evaluation again? My computer has gone blank on the poll so I can't see who's ahead!

  4. Charity U,
    I didn't realize that the poll was half over; I'll write up something and put it up soon. Thank you! :-)

  5. Elegance of Fashion,

    You can mention those if you like, and you don't need to give me credit.

    Yes, Betsey Trotwood. ;-) That was her. Haha
    She had a lot of funny quotes. =)

  6. I never seen David Copperfield (I looked up Maggie Smith's character). Is it good?

  7. Lady Grantham (or Cora, her name) was supposed to be American, but I didn't think that her accent sounded American. The actress was actually born in America, but I didn't think she sounded American, unless I am mistaken with her accent and it's just an accent that I am not familar with.

    I believe that Elizabeth McGovern was trying to achieve some kind of upper-class East Coast accent. Which I found odd, considering that her character, Lady Grantham, came from Cinncinati, Ohio.

  8. Downton Abbey! Just wanted to point out that it's actually an ITV production, not a BBC one. :)


Thank you for visiting Elegance of Fashion. If you wish to leave a comment, please do. I ask that you refrain from bad language and are polite and constructive. If you are posing under "Anonymous", if you could leave a name, that would be great! I reserve the right to delete any comments that I deem family unfriendly.

Thank you very much and please come again.