I prefer movies to tv shows. But occasionally I strike gold with a tv series. “Lonesome Dove,” “The Sopranos,” “NYPD Blue,” “Deadwood,” HBO’s “Rome.” And now “Downton Abbey.” And when I watched these, it was like reading a great novel.
For six seasons, PBS gave us an updated version of “Upstairs Downstairs.” Only this one was in a great house in the country. While “Upstairs Downstairs” covered the twenty-seven years from 1903 to 1930, the “Downton Abbey” years are 1912 to 1926. But both series have one thing in common, the tremendous changes in British society and how its people, including the aristocracy, had to adapt. Throughout the series, the devastation of World War One, the changing role for women, and the new job opportunities for the working class will play an important part in the story of Downtown Abbey.
“Downton Abbey” is a family story with all the challenges, conflicts and triumphs that families have. Though there is an upstairs and a downstairs, we come to see that downstairs is as much a part of the family as upstairs.
Downton Abbey is the home of Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), and his wife, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern). They live at Downton with their three daughters, Mary (Michelle Dockery), Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Sybil (Sybil). Downstairs are the butler, Carson (Jim Carter), the housekeeper Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), the cook Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol). Daisy the cook’s maid (Sophie McShera) and the footman Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier). And watching over this household is the Dowager Violet Crawley, Lord Robert’s mother (Maggie Smith), just down the way.
In the opening season, Lord Robert learns that his heir lost his life on the Titanic. Since a woman cannot inherit the estate, Robert must find a distant relative for an heir. And it is preferable that Lady Mary marry this heir. Otherwise she will be out on her own with only small inheritance.
A crippled man, John Bates (Brendan Coyle), joins the household staff as his lordship’s valet. Thomas believes the job should be rightfully his. And he will do everything he can to bring Bates down.
Meanwhile the youngest daughter takes up with the new chauffeur (Allen Leech). Lady Edith, the middle daughter, seems to have trouble bursting out of her wallflower role. And Lady Mary resists all efforts to put her together with Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens).
Then comes World War One and Downton must do its part for King and Country.
As the seasons roll along, we come to care about these people and their problems as much as we would our own families. Then we’re finished with the six seasons and the movie and we’re finding ourselves longing for the good old days of Downton Abbey.