What I Watch: Downton Abbey

What rock have I been hiding under? I feel like I am the last person to have watched this ITV period drama. After watching one period drama at the start of October, I ended up digging straight into another after I came back from New York. With Downton Abbey having 6 series of roughly 10 episodes each with some lengthier ones that were Christmas specials, it was nothing something you binge in a weekend. This is my Downton Abbey review.

Downton Abbey Review

Let’s start with discussing the premise of the series. And I can tell you that that is the main reason why I held off from watching this for a long time. Set in the town of Downton, at the mansion ran by the Crawley family, it follows the lives of the people living both ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’. In short, it follows the lives of the rich, aristocrats and their servants. When I first heard, my first response was: boring. It sounded like soap opera material. But after my mom kept raving about it, I had to watch it and it didn’t disappoint.

First of all, the series setting is incredibly well executed. The mansion is grant, the village is quaint and the period detail is exquisite. From the etiquette at the dining room table till the fashion of the time period, it is all executed to a very high standard. The series is set during the first few decades of the 20th century which was a time of big changes both in society, history as well as many other aspects of life. And the series builds its story line around these changes in a really great way. At times it doesn’t even feel like watching a staged drama, but almost like a documentary of sorts.

And that is one of the main reasons why I enjoyed this series so much. It touches upon WWI and the repercussions of that war across the continent. It touches upon women’s rights, the changing roles of the working classes and the lessening importance of class. Other themes it explores is ‘new money’, social mobility and the differences in treatment for the rich and the poor. All in all, that makes this series a lot more than just the goings on of a rich family and its servants.

Therefore, the story lines are rich and the characters are flawed which makes it a joy to watch. Especially Mary, the eldest sister, is a complex character who you just hate to love. But the same can be said of many of the characters in the series. My favorites would have to be Anna and Mr. Bates. I love their relationship and how they are just made for each other. But I also love Tom, the Irish driver who ends up marrying the youngest Crawley sister. A socialist in a royalist household is just asking for clashes on all levels and to see the relationship develop is one of the strong points of the series.

A highlight of the show is Maggie Smith’s role as the grandmother of the series. She is a clever gossip who tries to set people up while at the same time always trying to look out for her own interests. She is stuck in her ways but often surprises everyone with her more rebellious streak. At times she also serves a more comedic note and there are plenty of moments where her remarks made me laugh out loud.

The acting in this series is stellar on all accounts. From Mary’s aloofness to Cousin Matthew’s arduous journey to regain the use of his legs and from the relationship between Lord and Lady Grantham till the cunningness of footmen Thomas: each one of the roles is cast splendidly and it often doesn’t feel like you are watching a series at all. It is drama that you get invested in, you feel for all the characters and that is what keeps you watching.

Overall, Downton Abbey was exactly what I needed: it is a great series that keeps you watching while rooting for all the characters, even the ones you do not really like. It is definitely slow going at times, but that is what I loved about it so much. If you need a break from modern times in all sense of the word, then this is a great series that you have to watch.

What have you been watching?

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