February 9, 2012

Downton Dynasty Abbey...

With all the international buzz ---- well at least from critics, awards shows, and our artsy gay friends --- we were curious about the acclaimed British series Downton Abbey.

Having missed this BBC miniseries when it was broadcast last year, and feeling left behind as everyone watches the second season, this weekend we got the seven episodes of season one on DVD from the library.

So we sat down to watch the first episode on Friday night... and we got caught up in the upscale British soap opera. We watched three episodes that evening, and then four more on Saturday. Yes, for those of you doing the math, we watched the whole damn thing in 24 hours. Is that an addiction?

Downton is a new Upstairs Downstairs, a prewar Britsh Dynasty about the wealthy Crawley family and their phalanx of servants' comings and goings, romances and backstabbing. Smart upscale witty soap. Luuuuv it!

Even with its sudsy soapiness, no one would consider Downton Abbey a guilty pleasure — it's an Emmy award winning "BBC Masterpiece," for heaven's sake, the television equivalent of a Masters Degree in English lit! That being said, the Crawleys are the Carringtons of their generation. Sure they are all Dukes and Earls, or cooks and valets, but they are doing the typical things of a drama series --- falling in and out of love, squabbling over money, having illicit affairs, breaking away from their parents expectations, becoming politically aware, wearing corsets and finding a dead foreigner in a virgin's bed...

Lord Crawley sees his family heritage, especially the grand country home Downton Abbey, as his mission in life. The death of his heir aboard the Titanic means distant cousin Matthew Crawley, a middle class Manchester lawyer, suddenly is next in line and accepts moving onto the vast estate with his even more modernist, socially engaged mother, who clashes with his lordship's domineering, conservative mother. Crawley struggles with this while trying to marry off his adult daughters. Meanwhile the butler presides over a staff which serves the family but also lead most of their entire lives in the servants quarters, intriguing amongst themselves.

Is Downton Abbey realistic? I am guessing no, as the servants are like members of the family, the language sometimes seems more modern and informal than the times would call for, everything and everyone seems freshly scrubbed, and the only two characters who smoke are the villains. Do I care that it's not realistic? Not a whiff. I am totally entertained.

With the honourable father, the fun-loving mother, the trouble-making daughter, and the array of servants with secrets, my favourite character is the family matriarch the Dowager Countess of Grantham, played with acerbic wit by Maggie Smith. The delightfully snobby Lady Grantham uses her imperious stare to great effect, especially when discussing electricity and/or Americans — but really, she just gets the best lines:

Lady Grantham: "You are quite wonderful the way you see room for improvement wherever you look. I never knew such reforming zeal."
Mrs. Crawley: "I take that as a compliment."
Lady Grantham: "I must've said it wrong."

Downton Abbey is totally addictive smart sudsy entertainment... are you watching? If not, what the hell are you waiting for? I have put a 'hold' on season 2 at the library; we are number 187 in the queue, so I am thinking any day now...


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