January 31st, 2011

Rogue's Tattoo

TV Review: Downton Abbey

No spoilers.

Downton Abbey is a period ensemble drama with series one opening just after the sinking of the Titanic and closing as World War I begins. Set in a rich estate that loses its heir with the Titanic, the illustrious Crawley family is forced to find a new heir as they have only daughters. Finding their closest relative is--horrors!--a middle class doctor named Matthew (Dan Stevens), they have no choice but to bring him to their home and try to groom him as a gentleman, throwing the Abbey into chaos.

The 1910s were a period of huge upheaval in England, and we see those changes through the characters: the rise of feminism in the Crawley's youngest daughter Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay), of socialism through family chauffer Branson (Allen Leech) and class struggles through Matthew.

But make no mistake: Downton Abbey is a soap opera. Every servant hides a shameful secret in his or her past, every royal has a dramatic romance or defining character moment where they come to some great realization. However, skillfull writing, humor, and a mix of positive and somber plotlines elevate the story to truly interesting drama rather than silly kitsch (which is good, because I'm usually not a soap opera fan). The beautiful visuals, including sumptuous costumes and gorgeous sets including Highclere Castle, will take your breath away.

The acting doesn't hurt either. To a man it's fabulous, but I have to give special note to Dame Maggie Smith who plays the Crawley matriarch, Dowager Countess Violet. A snobby, stiff, set-in-her-ways old biddy, Violet should have been terribly unlikable, and instead became my favorite character because Dame Smith gave her such personality and put a twist of humor into her lines. Thanks to her, viewers saw that Violet was intelligent and formidable, and yet we could laugh at her less desirable personality traits. Well done, Dame Smith.

And well done everyone else. I can't wait for Series Two; we have romances on the rocks, sisters trying to kill each other, and a war just broken out. I'll be waiting when it gets here.


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