Directed by: Julian Fellowes
Starring: Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery
This highly touted new television series is a deliciously addictive English period drama, set in 1912, but with a distinctively contemporary flavour and verve. We are swept into the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family, and the cares and concerns of their extensive team of servants, all of whom find home in the glorious Downton Abbey, a magisterial Edwardian mansion with as many rooms as its family has secrets.
A new modern age is dawning, and the Crawleys must grapple with the challenges to the traditions and values that they hold dear (and which buttress their sense of self), as well as finding their own place in a new world. This struggle between the old ways and a swiftly transforming society and age is beautifully summed up when Maggie Smith\’s matriarchal Violet asks with equal part sincerity, concern and intrigue: â€˜What on earth is a weekend?\’ It becomes piercingly apparent that the world is changing, whether the Crawleys are ready or not.
In the absence of a son, the family are set to lose their fortune if Robert (Bonneville), the Earl of Grantham, dies. That is, unless his wife Cora (McGovern) can find a suitable suitor to marry their eldest daughter, Lady Mary (Dockery). Central to the byzantine plotting and scheming is the ever-brilliant Maggie Smith (as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham)â€”the two aim to connive and manipulate the desires of Britain\’s most eligible bachelors until the family\’s fortune is once again secure.
Adding to this richly textured upper middle class melodrama, are the heart-warming struggles of the underclasses, represented here by the team of servants, cooks, butlers and chauffers that staff the capacious halls of Downton Abbey. They too are threatened by a modern world, which seems determined to provide lords and ladies that have the gall to wish to dress and care for themselvesâ€”they provide the heart and emotional core to Downton Abbey as they toil proudly in its name.
For those seeking a beautifully produced and meticulously scripted Austen-esque drama, with all the plotting, pomposity and pride that only the British upper classes can provide, Downton Abbey will be a welcome and timely arrival. As much an aesthetic indulgence as it is an addictive narrative, Downton Abbey contains all the key ingredients that point unerringly toward long-term television series success.
A sublime dramatic mix of speculation and spectacle, Downton Abbey is a period piece worth getting hooked on.
Downton Abbey premieres in Australia tonight (May 29th), 8:30pm, on Channel 7.