Sunday, February 19, 2012

Downton Abbey

I first wrote about Downton Abbey, that magical 1910s-themed soap opera from Julian Fellows, back in September when I noted that it was then named as the most critically acclaimed show in television history. Those who know me on Facebook also have been following my occasional posts on all the grandeur and excitement of the show. I've even used Maggie Smith's picture as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, as my profile image in honor of tonight's final episode of Season 2, which has been dubbed "Christmas at Downton Abbey." The show is fantastic and rightfully deserves all the awards it has earned. To me, the writing has been key to its success, but equally so have been the attempts at historical accuracy with the costumes, settings, social graces, etc. They cover lots of cultural issues, like women's rights and the challenges of the working classes, but then there are the love stories, and you cannot help but root for Anna (the head house maid) and the lame, married Mr. Bates (Lord Grantham's valet). It's all not perfect, of course, and the high drama that goes on with some of the characters (like finding a dead Turk in your bed) can be a bit over the top at times, but that's part of the charm. Season 2 has been a little more challenging in that the war has preoccupied much of the storyline, making character development suffer a little, but the show still had held on and has been excellent. Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess, however, is simply divine. She has the best lines in the show ("Don't be defeatist, dear, it's very middle class."). Although her character becomes comic relief she also is an excellent representation of how older Victorian social mores were being forced to change with the onset of World War I and the gradual decimation of the "upstairs/downstairs" social class hierarchy. Best of all, however, she also represents the determination of family and protection of one's loved ones. No matter what happens, we take care of our own, servants included. (Now, who is going to pour the tea?) I won't go into all the details about the show, as you can learn all about the characters and storyline simply be visiting the official US website for the show. If you're interested in knowing more about the manor house, Highclere Castle, home of the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, you can visit their website as well. (No doubt visitors to their estate will increase greatly and match those of Castle Howard after Brideshead Revisited was filmed there.) You can see episodes of Downton Abbey from Season 1 (which opened with the sinking of the Titanic and ended with the declaration of war) on DVD and streamed online, and the Season 2 DVD set (which covers WWI through 1919) is on sale now as well. I cannot wait until the final episode tonight airs, but I'm also devastated knowing I have to wait a year for Season 3, in which Shirley Maclaine will be joining the cast as Lady Grantham's American mother. Fortunately, New York magazine has provided us with Downton Abbey paper dolls so we can entertain ourselves until next season begins. Lady Sybil Crawley gets female empowerment symbols, but you'll notice the Dowager Countess comes with a variety of facial expressions.

UPDATE 11:08 PM: A most satisfactory season finale! And now that the two seasons have passed, one can sit back and enjoy all the Dowager's best lines and facial expressions.

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