I went to Downton Abbey this weekend. I spent the weekend at an estate in the English countryside between 1912 and 1914 and it was “terribly engrossing”. There was never a dull moment. I placed a hold on the DVD’s for Season One (as seen on PBS) more than a month ago and they finally arrived last Friday. Seven shows for my viewing pleasure to be devoured marathon style on a rainy weekend – perfect!
I love historical fiction that takes the form of a family saga. This particular saga is about the aristocratic Crawley family which lives upstairs in Downton Abbey and the downstairs servants who work downstairs but actually live in the attics. It is the just before World War I is declared, a war which I assume will blur the lines of class, which will eventually be almost obliterated by World War II. Women are still in floor length full dresses and are still laced into breath-stealing corsets. Woman have not yet won the vote, that fight is just beginning. The history of the times marches through the drawing room at Downton Abbey causing worry and joy depending on the event.
The Crawleys are facing the loss of their estate because they have produced no sons. The Rt. Hon. Robert, Earl of Grantham and the Rt. Hon. Cora, Countess of Grantham were not a love match. Cora was an American who Robert married because she was an heiress. They have learned to love each other as their marriage has progressed and are, when we see them, a couple who truly shares their life. They have three daughters, Lady Mary, Lady Edith and Lady Sybil. Maggie Smith plays the Rt. Hon. Dowager Countess of Grantham, the Earl’s mother. Cora came to the Earl with a big dowry. Sometimes the dowry is left for the wife as her own inheritance, but Robert married an heiress because he needed money to keep Downton Abbey in good repair and because he was in danger of losing his estate. The money, it turns out, is not available for Cora to give to her daughters to help them marry well. Her daughters cannot inherit the estate; it must go to a male relative. In this case, one male relative dies on the Titanic. He was engaged to marry the oldest daughter Mary. After much discussion a new male relative is produced, Mr. Matthew Crawley, a third cousin, once removed, a lawyer from Manchester, who becomes the heir presumptive to the title and the estate.
We have all kinds of rivalry between the family members which makes this drama exciting. We have three sisters who need to marry well. Edith and Mary as the two oldest sisters have a bitter rivalry and consistently undermine each other in truly brutal fashion. The downstairs staff has two completely villainous “nose bags” in the interfering O’Brien and the ambitious and unprincipled footman, Thomas, two people I enjoyed hating. The diabolical activities of these four people really spice up the story line.
There is more but I don’t want to reveal all in case you haven’t been exposed to the delightful events that take place at Downton Abbey yet. For a complete list of the actors who play these parts see Wikipedia where there is a useful chart. It was well worth waiting for the DVD’s to come to me. Now I am on the wait list for Season Two. It could be a while. I am #118 out of 118.