Downton Abbey

Eimear O’Connor takes a step back in time review period drama, Downton Abbey.

How to describe modern television; drugs, sex and explosions seems to be an apt enough description. How many of your favourite programmes revolve around one or more of these concepts? The vast majority no doubt. Even the soaps are turning to ridiculous crashes and explosions to get ratings, see the tram crash on Weatherfield’s infamous cobbles for an appropriate example.

Programmes appear to require illicit affairs and a certain amount of blood and gore to draw an audience. So, I for one was thrilled at the appearance of an honest period drama on our screens in the form of Downton Abbey.

The first season of the charming Downton Abbey recently ended on TV3, after just seven episodes. In the UK alone it managed to gather a following of about 11 million and that was before it hopped over the pond and won the hearts and the minds of the romantic Irish! This programme follows the lives of not only the occupants of Downton but also the servants who work there too.

The first episode opens in April 1912 with the information that the heir of Downton has died aboard the Titanic. This leads to the dilemma that we follow throughout the series. Who will inherit Downton? The Earl of Grantham only has three daughters and no sons. This means that the heir will have to be a distant cousin – from the working class. Just imagine the horror!

Henceforth a whole can of worms is opened. It turns out that the marriage politics are very important in 1912. Love was a phenomenon that happened after the actual marriage and therefore it was finding a good match that was the important aspect in the marriage. This inevitably leads to a lot of backstabbing and bitchiness from the two older sisters, which really is quite amusing to watch.

The servants’ quarters are under the rule of the butler Mr. Carson and the housekeeper Mrs. Hughes. They run a tight ship and yet drama is never too far away. The footman Thomas (formerly Coronation Street’s Liam Connor) and Mrs O’ Brien are cruel and frequently attempt to cause trouble downstairs. However, they don’t get very far under Carson’s watchful eye.

Downton Abbey is filmed in a beautiful big house. If you, like me, have been feeding off the likes of Jane Austin and Georgette Heyer for years, you will be accustomed to such settings. It is undeniably perfect for the drama which is a feature to be acknowledged.

There is a highly exceptional cast of actors. In spite of this, every episode is stolen by the wonderful Dame Maggie Smith. We have seen her as the formidable Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter series and in many other roles in which she has shone. Her role in Downton Abbey is no exception. She plays the role of the sharp tongued Dowager Countess to a tee and with flawless timing.

The season closes with the announcement that Britain are at war with Germany (1914). Even though the historical setting is taken into account and the audience are reminded of what is happening in this period, it is not predominantly about history. Instead it is a charming drama which captures the imagination and involves the audience in the day-to-day life at Downton.

On seeing the final episode, I rushed to the computer to find out if a second season would be gracing our scenes… Indeed it will. It is expected to return to the UK before Christmas 2011. So if you haven’t already been introduced to the world of Downton hurry off and catch up! I’m sure then that you will join me in waiting with baited breath for its return.

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