I shouldn’t like Downton Abbey. If you put aside the obvious, blokey, masculine element, it’s a costume drama, and I don’t like costume dramas. I can’t stand any of the Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility or any adapted novel by a Bronte sister. I don’t even like Charles Dickens adaptations unless its Oliver Twist or A Christmas Carol.
It’s because very little actually happens. If I’m watching drama, I want to actually see some drama. I don’t want to watch people staring at each other, sharing whispers and being positively shocked by the insinuations another character is making. All that big dresses, slow dancing and emerging from lakes dripping wet just don’t appeal.
I couldn’t ignore Downton Abbey though. Everyone loved it! It wasn’t just a show people mentioned every now and again, it seemed people were going crazy over the first season, looking forward to Downton and talking about how great the series was. I ignored it when it was first shown but when I saw it was being repeated, I had to give it a go. I had to see what the fuss was about.
I thought it was brilliant. There was a simple method to its popularity, they hide the absurdity of the drama behind the “pomp, ceremony and etiquette.” You wouldn’t think this show would have scarred, long-lost relatives returning from the dead, a woman getting her revenge from beyond the grave or a dead man having to be carried through Downton, back to his room to avoid scandal. This isn’t about unrequited love over afternoon tea, this is like Eastenders but posh. Like a soap opera for The Queen!
The series has done quite a good job of keeping the pace of the drama ongoing as well. As one story ends, another quickly begins to unfold. It doesn’t feel like a slow-burning show or a series where you could watch an episode but realise that nothing has really happened.
Although it represents the upper class/lower class divide and the massive differences that exist, it never feels too heavy. There is a great amount of humour in the show. It helps that Julian Fellows, who created the show, has devised a brilliant character, played fantastically by Maggie Smith. Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham (try saying that drunk) represents the older times and more traditional, upper class Britain, so gets to deliver some great, astonished lines, reacting to the “outrageous” things her family are doing.
She is just one example of the great acting in the show, none better than Hugh Bonneville as Robert Crawley. He is one of the best patriarch’s of any family on television. The last two seasons he got to be the heroic, stoic, voice of reason when the rest of the family seemed to be falling apart. This season he gets to show weakness and Hugh Bonneville does a great job of playing the much more vulnerable side to a very defensive and reserved character.
The show isn’t just about the upper class though and the best entertainment comes from below the stairs with the servants quarters. This is the area of the series that usually delivers the best moments or the more interesting storylines. This season wasn’t any different, with scandals related to homosexuality, prostitution and murder, keeping all the servants busy.
The third season did what was needed by shaking things up slightly. It finally delivered on its promise of the Mary and Matthew “complicated” relationship and didn’t have the First World War to fall back on, so had to shake things up in other areas. The storyline involving Branson and Sybil was at the forefront of the show and it was better for it.
Downton does feel like its running out of steam slightly and I do wonder where the series has got left to go. It did manage to throw up some surprises in its third year but I’d be impressed if it could continue to maintain what is quite a high standard of entertainment into a fourth year.
Overall, Downton Abbey is my guilty pleasure. I don’t feel good about watching it, but I really do enjoy it when it’s on. The storylines have been great, the acting has been fantastic and its managed to deliver high quality entertainment for a third season running, something not many other shows could boast.
Best Episode – Episode 5; A shocking exit for one of the best characters in the show and the change the series needed.
Best performance – Hugh Bonneville as Robert Crawley.
Should there be another season? – Definitely, although how much longer the series can continue past season 4, I’m not sure.
Season Rating – 4
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)