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I have to say I loved Downton Abbey, and thought it was one of the
better programmes airing this year along with Luther, Sherlock and the
stunning Channel 4 drama Mo. Downton Abbey was beautifully produced,
well cast and interesting, when it was first advertised it looked as
though ITV had a hit and from the first episode I think Downton Abbey
lived up to that expectation.
I for one loved how elegant Downton Abbey was. The photography was beautiful and skillful, while the scenery was breathtaking and the costumes were exquisite. The scoring was also very good, often very hypnotic and beautiful. The direction was controlled, the episodes were well paced and for me the characters were believable my favourites being Violet and Robert.
The writing in general was another strength. It was witty in a subtle way, is often funny and could be heart warming and poignant too, the best coming from Violet and Mrs Hughes I felt. The only bit of dialogue that rang false, and this is such a minor criticism, is Robert's "Downton is my third parent and my fourth child" which came across as somewhat cheesy. And the stories were well written and as believable as the characters, not to mention pretty original.
And of course the acting was excellent. Maggie Smith was perfect as Violet. She plays this sort of character well, and she had such good timing and dialogue. Plus I love her in costume. Hugh Bonneville was dashing, and I cannot get over how beautiful Michelle Dockery was here. Jessica Brown-Findlay was also fine as another of my favourite characters Lady Sybil, and Phyllis Logan was always good value though I would love to see more of her if and when the series returns.
In conclusion, Downton Abbey was a wonderful series thanks to the great cast and production values especially and I cannot wait to see more. 10/10 Bethany Cox
I was hooked after the first five minutes and come heaven, hell or high water, I was going to see Downton Abbey twice, the second time to pick up the points which I knew would be too fast, and possibly convoluted, to follow the first time round. I have watched Masterpiece since the inaugural with Alistair Cooke, and I can't remember anything as engaging and entertaining as this. As a cousin of an English family with deep affection for the monarchy and respect for the aristocracy, my perspective is an odd mix of Democratic ideals, old-time Republican values and curiosity about and appreciation of the social structure which prevailed so long in England. Downton Abbey appears to present a very balanced depiction of the social, political, economic and historical forces which drove the lives and fortunes of the classes and produced strange and almost incomprehensible behavior to comply with an unwritten, all-pervasive code. I am completely fascinated by the events and reactions and what would appear to be almost puppet-like behavior on occasion. I pray for a sequel.
OK so I'll admit, Downton isn't a academic study of social change, nor
is it entirely original ( let's be honest) - but it doesn't pretend to
Does that make it any less of a excellent drama? No! Does That decrease the clever, witty and delicious writing? No! Does it cloud the ( at many moments) wonderful acting? No!
Admittedly it isn't hard core drama - but it was lovely, it made me feel warm, it let me get all cross and annoyed (in a nice way), it got me exited - and soothed.
Honestly what more can you ask for??
Maggie Smith is excellent as the snooty Dowageress, Brendan Cole does Mr Bates very well - and Joanne Froggat (who I only manage to catch on tele occasionally sadly) who was equally lovely.
It was all just lovely!
For me at least Downton Abbey was elegant, controlled and subtly witty. The scenery, of course, is very good. (anyone interested can find short interviews with actor Hugh Bonneville and writer Julian Fellowes via youtube and be infected with their enthusiasm as well as getting an explanation, if you need one, of the setting) The house is suitably dramatic and the fabrics, the costumes, the camera shots of ringing bells and curious meal courses in the form of fences of asparagus, the morning light, or lit windows across the lawn, and the smooth work of all the actors make it something to watch and be both interested and relaxed. There is just enough drama and just enough calm, nothing seems overdone, and (after two episodes) the characters, as it switches between moments of their various days, are none of them an unwelcome change from the view of the last. It is a costume drama but 1912 after all was just as real as 2010 and it is, quite separate from costumes, about people, several different people, house workers and owners, their motives, their histories, pain, relationships, scheming allegiances, awkwardness or ease, old ways and the coming of those things we now call modern electric lights, the middle class Enjoyable so far. However, if you find these things dull, if you need constant shocks, use the word inoffensive as an insult or dislike all period dramas, scenery or rich people stay away. It's not hard to do.
I'll agree that the British know how to do period drama better than anyone (certainly better than us Americans) and this is no exception. You'll be captivated immediately and hours will go by before you realize you've spent an entire afternoon in front of your television set. The relationships built between all characters of this show are what tie it up in a nice, fluffy (although not always pretty) bow. Brilliantly written and set in lush, vibrant surroundings with detailed costuming, this drama series should set the bar for others. No busy dialog or wasted scenes, just good, solid craftsmanship in every episode of this poignant family story. You'll do well to invest in seasons 1 and 2. Looking forward to the arrival of season 3!
I remember the '70s and another Series which was cut more or less in
the same parameters as this one, and that was "Usptairs, Downstairs".
This too was a masterpiece of a social study, of the times at the turn between the 19th and early 20th Century.
The only difference was that it was set in a City based household, while "Downton Abbey" is set in the very elegant English countryside.
Both series display the best of British Theatre and Cinema, in terms of production teams, actors, technicians and general staff.
It is absolutely to be considered high quality movie-making, even though meant for the home screen.
Everyone, but everyone, in this series, knows his business and does portray his own character with honesty and truth.
There is no dull moment, due to a skillful editing of scenes that are almost put together like in an elegant dance sequence.
It is a very intelligent show that explores every facet of Society as it was structured (so far, in season 1 and 2), before, during and right after World War I, and as people behaved and felt back on the Homefront, being so detached, yet totally involved with the destinies of those men sent abroad to fight.
It is no melodrama in the classic sense of the word. It is an honest depiction of what people "downstairs and upstairs" went through during those years. The conventions, the rigid rules, the traditions, all changing just in a ten year period and being uprooted and twisted by the new winds of war.
There is something for everybody here. You want a thrilling story? Check! You've got it. You want love and romance? Check! You've got it. You want a social drama? Check! You've got it. You want a war drama? Check! You've got it too.
It's a very human story of all characters on board of this static ship that is "Downton Abbey". As firm as the Rock of Gibraltar one might say. And yet, not so static after all... Lots is happening here, and this, day by day.
Just think of the nightmare to have a sudden dinner invitation. The kitchen is in uproar, serving hands are missing, the masters are nervous, and everything seems to be doomed from the beginning, but then, somehow, everything comes together beautifully, like by magic... Magic? Let's say blood and a lot of sweat...
I started this saying that it was addictive, and indeed it is. AFter an episode is over you immediately want to jump back in and watch the next to see how it goes on.
I only have Seasons 1 and 2 on DVD and I am already asking for the 3rd Season to appear, just to know what happens next.
I simply can't wait... I hope it pops up soon.
At 19 minutes in I was hooked.
I remember when Lady Marjorie Bellamy of Upstairs, Downstairs died on the Titanic and the impact it had on my family. We felt this because of the investment we had made in the series.
This is a series where one can become just as addicted.
The lives and loves of the Grantham and the Crawly family are well-written and performed beautifully. The castle and the grounds a pleasure to look at, as are the costumes of the time.
As Elizabeth McGovern and I are equal in age, and I have grown up watching her on the silver screen, hers was a warming and dignified touchstone for me personally.
The cast couldn't be better suited for their roles, not one can be called a weak link.
Maggie Smith has a presences all her own, making each of her projects shine.
I am on episode four and can't wait for the remainder.
Once again our cousins across the pond show us "how good drama" can be.
DOWNTON ABBEY is the kind of "Masterpiece Theatre" material that the
British do with such finesse that one can only sit back and marvel at
the sets, costumes, music, and above all, the performances that are all
on an extraordinarily high level.
The moment the first series ended, I wanted to see more--so no doubt I'll be ordering my copy of Season 2. Central among the gifted performers are Maggie Smith (as the Dowager Countess Violet), Hugh Bonneville as the Earl of Grantham, and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, his American wife. But all of the lesser roles are played to perfection with special mention for Brendan Coyle as John Bates, Joanne Froggatt as Ana, Michelle Dockery and Laura Carmichael.
Complicit in schemes involving wicked behavior are two of the downstairs help played brilliantly by Siobhan Finneran and Rob-James Collier as Thomas, both of whom cast a shadow over the household.
The plot has dialog that is always witty and good for a quick chuckle or a gasp of disapproval and the character motivations are all played out in a convincing manner true to each person involved.
Very compelling to view the fluid story unfold with its many sub-plots and shadings of the class warfare that existed in the U.K. then and now.
Absolutely one of the most rewarding and richly satisfying shows from Great Britain that have come along in recent years. The color photography amid location settings create the proper atmosphere for the entire story which takes place just before WWI among a wealthy titled household undergoing some major changes inside the castle walls.
Julian Fellowes' intelligent (and sophisticated) take on pre-World War
I society of aristocrats and worker-bees is smart-writing on the
changes we will see over the next 25 years, encompassing two major wars
and a great depression. The writing and the casting make this many
steps above "soap opera" as the themes of social mobility and
aristocratic incompetence are sharply etched.
All of it pleased me, from the smallest character to the dozen or so leads, lead off by the always-brilliant Maggie Smith. This is to be enjoyed for both its eye-candy (Downton Abbey) and its themes of rich- and-poor dilemmas. Gorgeously shot with accurate art-direction. Wonderful all the way around.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"At the risk of sounding sentimental, I believe the monarchy stands for
a fairness that we like to think represents us. I hope 'Downton Abbey'
has a similar decency about it." - Julian Fellowes
"Downton Abbey's" written by Julian Fellowes, a Tory peer, Baron, monarchist and husband-to-royalty, so right away you know it has a clear agenda. Restorative nostalgia to the max, and released to coincide with a fresh round of British austerity measures, the television series sees a family of early 20th century aristocrats living in a palatial estate and tended to by a sprightly band of servants. Sounds interesting?
Forget Renoir's "The Rules of the Game", Altman's "Gosford Park", and the past 500 years of human history and social theory. No. In "Downton Abbey", the class system exists for the benefits of those at the bottom, and proves as bothersome to those unfortunate few at the top as it does those lower down the social hierarchy.
Fellowes serves up the platonic ideal of an English aristocrat. Good, selfless and caring, our Lords and Ladys bend over backwards to serve their servants, graciously offering them jobs, assistance, compassion, awards and so forth. They are benign despots, all-powerful, their authority final, but more sage and caring than any elected politician could ever be. The rich, in other words, are socially responsible father figures. They are invested in their households, in their communities, and provide a far reaching social benefit; without the rich to mercifully protect them, the poor would be forced out into the cold to fend for themselves. Indeed, Fellowes frequently has his rich folk sacrifice their bodies, their status and their wealth for the servant class (joining war efforts, taking on limping servants etc). The message - rife with false binaries - isn't only that servants should be content with their roles, but that one, regardless of class, cannot and should not avoid servitude. Even the rich are servants to their fellowman.
Significantly, the series' villains are all either homosexuals, socialists or members of the servant class. In the second series, villains become figures of new wealth; modern capitalists who don't respect the supposedly loving, symbiotic relationships of late aristocracy. As the series focuses on an individual household rather than systems, the nobility and selflessness of Fellowes' aristocrats justify the system in which they spin. It's a very classically conservative notion of history (in actuality, servants couldn't look at, let alone speak to their masters), a proudly hierarchical world in which all social conflicts and tensions are resolved without any restructuring of class relations. Stratification is posited as being natural, optimal and only the deviant or repellent are incapable of adapting or finding accommodation within it. No talk, of course, of where our Earls and Lords acquired their wealth, land enclosures, the lives of the impoverished outside the mansions or how the system's social relations hinge on an in-build bondage ingrained within "economics" (ie money) itself. Elsewhere the series brings up occasional Big Issues (war, feminism, Ireland etc), but only to engage in the smug, back-patting afforded by hindsight. This is a benign, liberal aristocracy, for an age of "caring" capitalists.
All "Abbey's" arguments in favour for the class system were once put forth by George Fitzhugh, an American social theorist who published racial and slavery based sociological theories in the antebellum era. Fitzhugh essentially argued that Negro slaves needed "strong white daddies to look after them". That slavery "protects the Negro", "ensured that blacks would be economically secure and morally civilised" and that the evils of modern capitalism, which was gradually replacing slavery, would expose poor blacks to persecution and suffering. The new rich, Fitzhugh argued, were promoting a form of competition which would harm blacks. Afterall, the slave belongs to its owner, and owners take care of their capital, take care of what they own, provide them with food and shelter, unlike those pesky capitalists who merely rent labour. Fitzhugh even went so far as to defend slavery because "capitalists are anti Negro racists, whilst slavery is not racist".
Fellowes is doing the same. Or rather, the arguments are always the same, no matter the social reconfiguration taking place. Hence, slavery is good because slave owners take care of their slaves, aristocracy is good because the aristocracy takes care of their servants, and capitalism is good because employees take care of their labourers. What each argument does, regardless of historical time period, is posit the lower classes as dependent on power without questioning how and why this power is structured, created and propagated in the first place.
In the early 1980s, Immanuel Wallerstein, a renowned social scientist, outlined 12 characteristics which he believed were "unique" to modern world systems. His aim was to show that modern capitalism, in the affluent 80s, was a kind of "step up" from both the aristocracy of "Downton's" era and the feudalism of the distant past. By 1989, though, Wallerstein had completely reversed his position. All the presumably unique characteristics of the "modern world system" were also true of the medieval and ancient world systems. He could find no substantial distinctions that would satisfy his categorisations. The point isn't only that there were no clean transition from feudalism to aristocracy to capitalism as such, but that power proves capable of propagating itself.
But why would a series which glorifies the class system, posits class hierarchies as inherently benevolent and idealises master/servant bonds, be suddenly so very popular? Why would a series about inherited privilege, ineluctable servitude, be popular in an era of Occupy, Austerity, Bank Bailouts and massive corporate tax dodging? Perhaps because "Downton" presents a Utopian version of the past for the purposes of painting, and thereby bolstering, a contemporary system capable of weathering any upheaval or shock. Or perhaps it's simply a severe form of Stockholm Syndrome.
4/10 - See "Remains of the Day", "Eyes Wide Shut" and "Never Let Me Go". Worth no viewings.
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