Monday, April 9, 2012

downton abbey

Sybil, Mary, and Edith Crawley.

I've always been a sucker for good period movies. Marie AntoinettePride and PrejudiceSense & SensibilityChicago, A Very Long Engagement, etc. The British do it especially well, what with all their mini-series adaptions of classic novels. A few years back, their channel iTV made new versions of a bunch of Jane Austen novels-- Northanger Abbey, Sense & Sensibility, Persuasion, Mansfield Park-- and I may have been guilty of watching all of them on YouTube in 10-minute increments. That's how much I like period movies.

My newest favorite is Downton Abbey (another hit for the British), an iTV miniseries that has also aired on PBS. I first started watching last year, but when the new season came out this fall in Britain, I couldn't wait and ended up watching the whole season online.

The servants.

Downton Abbey revolves around, well, Downton Abbey. It is an estate in Northern England owned by the Earl of Grantham, Robert Crawley, and his wife Cora. They have three daughters-- bold and determined Mary, forgotten Edith, and forward-thinking Sybil-- and a full staff of servants. 

Cora, Countess of Grantham.

Season 1 begins with the sinking of the Titanic, a national tragedy but also a personal one for the Crawleys. The heir to their estate, cousin Patrick, who was expected to marry Mary, was on board and died. The family is devastated but also very nervous. The estate, by law, cannot be given to any of the daughters (only men can inherit). So because of Patrick's death, it must now go to a distant third cousin, Mr. Matthew Crawley. 

Matthew Crawley.

The show follows the lives of both the Crawleys (upstairs) and their servants (downstairs). Their is romance, drama, scandal, death, and more. Almost like a historical soap opera. Cora is desperate to get her girls married, especially Mary. Sybil rocks the boat with her interests in politics, women's rights, and "racy" fashions. Matthew and Mary struggle between attraction and bickering. Downstairs, maid Anna finds romance with the new valet Bates, and O'Brien and Thomas, a maid and a footman, always have some new scheme in mind.

Season 1 (1912-1914) ends with the announcement of WWI and thus, Season 2 (1914-1919) focuses greatly on the war. Some characters become soldiers and others nurses while the house itself is transformed into a convalescent home. 

Lady Sybil Crawley.

There are so many reasons to love this show. The plot is ever-changing with romances, secrets, and surprises. And there are so many characters, you're bound to find someone who interests you. My favorites are probably sisters Mary, Edith, and Sybil, as well as their grandmother, Dowager Countess Violet, played by the always wonderful Maggie Smith.

Of course though, the main reason I watch the show is the history. I wouldn't watch it if not for that and if you don't like the setting much, I really wouldn't recommend the show. Personally though, I love it. The historical events-- the Titanic's sinking, WWI, the Spanish influenza-- keep things moving, but what I find most interesting are all the little details.

Lavinia Swire, a season 2 character.

For example, did you know the wealthy used to have their newspapers ironed? That way, the ink wouldn't bleed. Simple things like electricity and cars amaze the characters, especially the older ones like Violet. And there are so many other little things that differ from the way we live now. Did you know women then didn't wear make-up? Not unless they were a whore, that is. Or that after leaving school, girls would wear their hair always up, as if to symbolize they were a woman then? I could go on and on. I love learning about the little things that made their lives so different from ours.

But I have to say, the fashions always interest me most. Their lovely beaded evening gowns, headbands, and jewels. New-fangled harem pants. Riding coats. Army and nurses' uniforms. The maids' black dresses and pinafores. All of it. It's eye candy and watching, I can't help but dream I had the occasion to wear such an elaborate gown. 

Recently I picked up a book at the library about the show, The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes. On pages filled with high-quality images and watercolor graphics, Fellowes (niece of the show's writer and creator, Julian Fellowes) delves into the history behind the show. There are sections on Family Life, Change, Life in Service, Style, the House & Estate, Romance, War, and a special Behind the Scenes section to look into the show's production. If you like the show for its history, I would definitely recommend this book. 

And if you haven't yet seen the show, here's a little video to give you a glimpse of what it's like (though I don't know why it's paired with modern music):

Or if you want a laugh, here's a parody:


  1. Colour me crazy, but I'm obsessed with Downton Abbey. I so wish I lived back then! Truth be told, I'm a girly-girl, no matter how I try to hide that.

    I adore this post, and I'm your newest follower :)

    1. Me too. I would have loved to live in that era! Well, maybe if I could still have the internet :)

  2. I had never seen that parody before. It's hilarious!

    1. I know, right? There's a part 2 too, if you're interested. I love the introduction of the daughters and Mary cracks me up. :D


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