Downton Abbey

8.6 / 10
50 min
Drama, History
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Written by on 30 December 2013.
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Downton Abbey - Season 1

A hundred years ago, the wealthy Crawley family lived in a large house on the English countryside. Helped out by their servants, it was their job to preserve the house and the estate. But the outer world is not helping them.

Life in the English countryside before the jeans came from America has been the subject of many films and series. But 'Downton Abbey' is not Jane Austen. The developments may be dramatised, but there is authenticity and subtlety in the stories which so far didn't get along with period dramas.

'Downton Abbey' is an addicting portrait of an abbey in which rich and poor are living and working together. Although the servants possess considerably less than their master, they still manage to preserve the high status of their household by working with elegance and pride. In the beginning, you have to get used to how much value butler Carson (Jim Carter) or housekeeper Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) attach to their work. But in the end the series shows exactly how things were back then.

'Downton Abbey' opens with a shot of train steaming through the green landscape and the household of Downton getting ready for a new day. It is an elegant style which the series maintains throughout the remaining episodes. The creators play with the bright green grass and the dark purple of the dresses. The camera focuses on blurred edges and deviantly changing perspectives, which is not common in most period dramas. 'Downton Abbey' distincts itself in every detail from average contemporary television.

The fact that the series has more characters than other series is very positive. From the stressful cook (Lesley Nicol) to the adorable maids (Joanne Froggat and Rose Leslie), and we follow them while they are the Crawley family's beck and calls. And then there's the family itself. The righteous Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) and his caring wife (Elizabeth McGovern) are at the head of the household. Their three daughters, the stubborn Mary (Michelle Dockery), the tranquil Edith (Laura Carmichael) and the spirited Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) are bound to the laws and social demands of that time but absolutely have their own vision. This leaves the unmissable grandmother Violet (marvelously played by Maggie Smith). It takes a while for each character to get the opportunity to shine, but when it happens you'll be addicted within seconds.

The series has been practically developed and is well thought-out by writer Julian Fellowes. The characters all have their own agenda and the stories are told in balanced doses without it ever becoming confusing. Fellowes deserves most praise for his constrained work area, the abbey, which he optimally uses for various stories. The dead-honest butler cooperates with the sly servants and the honourable governor has an over-sensitive daughter. Good and evil, love and hatred, luck and bad luck go hand in hand in this house.

Everything assures an amusing, accessible series about a world which, with for example the introduction of electricity, is still far away from us. And although the big dresses and fussy discussions might seem prissy to down-to-earth modernists, the series takes itself very seriously. It won't be long before the viewing public will do this as well. Then there will be no way back and 'Downton Abbey' with all her joys and sorrows will forever have a place in the hearts of the viewers.
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