Downton Abbey…what’s all the fuss about?

PrintAdmittedly, when I first heard the ‘buzz’ about Downton Abbey, I wasn’t exactly rushing about to get a look at this series.  I have been a fan of a number of British TV series: Ballykiss Angel, Waiting for God, Keeping Up Appearances and Rosemary & Thyme, to name a few, but had serious reservations about following a series about a bunch of stuffy aristocrats with money coming out their ears while they sit around and drink tea and worry about the latest fashions.

Well, to be fair, there is a certain amount of that in this series, because honestly the aristocracy in England at that time (especially the women) didn’t have much else to worry about or accomplish in their strictly-controlled lives.

However, Julian Fellowes, the creator of the series, cleverly draws viewers in during the very first episode.  The opening storyline is thus: The RMS Titanic has just sunk, taking along with it the life of the male heir to the Downton estate.  Everybody loves a little bit of Titanic history, and the intrigue of “who will inherit the estate” is even interesting.

While I know little of social etiquette and British law in the post-Edwardian era, even someone as not-rich as me can appreciate the fact here: this family is going to lose everything!  Whether you sympathize with them or secretly hope to see them all living in abject poverty isn’t the issue.  The fact is, in the economic times of the past decade, ‘losing it all’ has become a reality for many more, world-wide, than in any other decade in recent memory.  And that is something most of us can relate to.

The characters in this show are remarkably human, too. Even the rich have their problems, I guess.  The daughters aren’t allowed to inherit but aristocratic women aren’t encouraged to obtain an education and work, either.  The daughters of the Crawley family are hopelessly caught in antiquated traditions and modern-day viewers can’t help but feel their frustration and root for them as they struggle to grow into the modern women with a voice and a purpose.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the indomitable Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham and matriarch who rules with a subtle but heavy hand.  Here is a woman straddling two centuries and two cultures, struggling to uphold the past and embrace the future while guiding her (sometimes clueless and stubborn) son to do what’s right for the family’s fortunes.  To call her a scene-stealer wouldn’t be fair, but her sharp wit certainly liven up her character considerably.

And it’s not just the Crawley family that you get to know, either, in this series. Much of the airtime is devoted to the lives and struggles of the Crawley’s employees (read: servants) and their desires to improve their lives, the scheming they resort to at times to get ahead and even the drastic measures they must take to obtain employment and keep themselves out of the workhouse.

It’s an era that has gone by, but still the human element is the same story told by every great writer, from Dickens to Khaled Hosseini.

Downton Abbey is currently airing its 4th season on PBS.  If you’ve never explored this show, or have just seen bits and pieces, DPL now has the complete Seasons 1-3 for you to catch up and catch your own case of Downton Fever!

Hope to see you soon at the library!

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