September 18, 2019 by Amanda Kai. Copyright 2019.
The new Downton Abbey movie is coming out (woohoo!), so naturally, I felt it was high-time I rewatched the series all over again. Luckily for me, I recently discovered that all six seasons are currently available on Amazon’s Prime Video!
If you were a big fan of Masterpiece Theatre from 2010-2015, chances are you watched Downton already at some point. If you haven’t, now is the perfect time to begin watching it.
I absolutely love this show! The storyline, characters, acting, costumes, setting, and filmmaking are all superb.
The series revolves around the lives of the Crawley family and their servants. The head of the family, Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville), who is the current Earl of Grantham, and his wife Cora, Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), are two principal characters, as are their three daughters: Lady Mary, Lady Edith, and Lady Sybil (played by Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, and Jessica Brown Findlay, respectively). A large portion of the plot revolves around these daughters as they each struggle to find love and happiness in a society that expects them to marry men of fortune and privilege in their own class. Each daughter, of course, has her own ideas of what love should look like, whether it’s being determined to only fall for someone from the suitable pool of candidates available, or bucking tradition and marrying a commoner.
The family also includes the Dowager Countess Violet Grantham, Lord Grantham’s mother, played by Dame Maggie Smith, who never fails to amuse me with her quips. I swear, she gets ALL the best lines in the show! Her counterpart is Cousin Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton), mother of the estate’s heir Matthew Crawley. Isobel and Violet’s banter makes up for most of the comedic dialogue in the story. Meanwhile, Matthew Crawley, played by Dan Stevens, is the resident heartthrob up until his departure at the end of season three, whereupon Dan went on to star as the lead man in BBC’s Sense and Sensibility, and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (both roles I swoon for, although I was sad to see him leave Downton!).
The show also pays a large amount of attention to the storylines of the servants. Downton Abbey’s faithful butler, Carson (Jim Carter), housekeeper Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), cook Mrs. Patmore (Leslie Nicol), valet Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle), maid Anna (Joanne Froggatt), and kitchen maid Daisy (Sophie McShera) are all considered stars of the show alongside the noble family they serve. Intricate plots revolve around these and other servants and characters on a regular basis just as much, if not more, than the plots relating to the Crawley family. One servant in particular, Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier), tends to function as the show’s main antagonist. Over the six seasons, there are several times when viewers may think he is gone for good, but somehow he always continues to return and provoke more trouble. Over time, though, his character evolves and gains sympathy. By the end of the series, it is clear that he too will remain a permanent fixture at Downton Abbey.
One of the things I love most about Downton Abbey is the snapshot of history from 1912-1925. The show begins at the end of the Edwardian era, heads straight into the Great War, comes out the other side into the Post-War era, and finishes swingingly in the Roaring Twenties. It was very interesting to me to see not only the evolution of fashion in response to the changing times, but to see how the characters themselves react to the dramatic shift in their culture. The narrowing gap between the upper class and the working class is a major point throughout the story, as is the demise of the old traditional way of doing things in the face of progress and invention. At the beginning, most people drive horses and carriages and cars are seen as a novelty and luxury. By the end, cars are the norm, and horses are rarely seen except in farming use, to give one example.
Another thing I really love, apart from the history and the storylines, is the music. The theme song, in particular, written by John Lunn, is full of deep, rich piano tones backed up by the sweeping string section of a 35-piece orchestra. The score is so moving, so powerful, that not only did I listen to the opening theme in its entirety for each of the 52 episodes in the series, but I found myself wanting to watch the show just to hear the theme song played again! The full suite can be heard by listening to the Downton Abbey soundtrack, but bits and pieces of it are repeated throughout the episodes, serving as the musical cues for various types of scenes presented. Other tracks of the same style as the theme song round out the score’s thematic range, giving color and life to every aspect of the storytelling.
My review wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the mansion itself. Highclere Castle serves as the magnificent real-life location of Downton Abbey. I first saw Highclere featured as the filming site for Misselthwaite Manor in the 1987 Hallmark Hall of Fame version of The Secret Garden, starring Gennie James. I was impressed even then with its amazing turrets, fierce gargoyles, grand staircases and halls, lavish furnishings, and beautiful gardens. It was no surprise to me, then, when it was chosen to feature as the main backdrop for Downton Abbey. The beautiful and iconic castle is now almost synonymous with being Downton Abbey, and images of it grace every kind of merchandise from World Market’s Downton Abbey teas, jams and tea sets to the packaging which comes with the 1928 Jewelry company’s Downton Abbey line of accessories. Footage of the castle and its grounds serve as the perfect canvas for the story’s scenes to be painted on.
After two complete viewings, Downton Abbey remains as one of my favorite historical drama series. I fully expect I shall watch it again in the future, and I look forward to watching the new movie again and again.
Downton Abbey (the movie) opens Friday, September 20th, 2019. Visit Fandango to find showtimes and buy tickets at a theatre near you.