Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Series 1: Episode 2

The tides have changed at Downton Abbey with the arrival of Matthew Crawley (played by Dan Stevens) and his unconventional mother, Isobel Crawley (played by Penelope Wilton). Last episode, Lord and Lady Grantham invited the Crawley’s to stay at Downton Abbey with the hope that Matthew Crawley would become the new heir to the Grantham title by marrying their eldest daughter, Lady Mary (played by Michelle Dockery). Though Lady Mary isn’t thrilled with the arrival of her distant cousin, Matthew, and her parents manipulative ways, it will be interesting to watch how the unlikely relationship progresses. 

Another interesting development in this episode is the introduction of yet another technological innovation. In the beginning of the episode, creator Julian Fellowes introduces the automobile as an available mode of transportation. In the previous episode, the telegram was also introduced as a mode of communication that successfully delivered the news of the ‘Titanic’. Perhaps these references to technological developments will prove to be instrumental as the series continues. In many ways, these subtle references to technological developments allowed me to properly situate the program in both space and time.

But the introduction of the automobile is not the sole reason for excitement at Downton Abbey. Matthew Crawley and his mother Isobel, both have trouble fitting in at the Downton estate due to their lack of propriety. This obvious lack of decorum becomes central to the theme of the episode as it clearly divides the inhabitants of Downton from their new guests. Though Matthew’s mother Isobel is determined to fit in with the Downton family, Matthew struggles with the new change in circumstances. Even though Matthew Crawley is trained as a lawyer, the Downton household quickly makes it clear that Mr. Crawley is by no means a “gentleman” by society’s definition.

Status, then, becomes a central theme to the history of Downton Abbey.  For example, while at dinner, the cold and arrogant Lady Mary, compares the middle-class Matthew Crawley to an ugly sea monster by way of Greek legend.  She further articulates that because he does not hunt, or use his knife properly, that he is completely unsuitable for marriage. Lord Grantham, on the other hand, tries to make Matthew more comfortable at Downton by taking him on a walk around the grounds. It is on this walk that Lord Grantham expresses one of my favorite metaphors for Downton:

Lord Grantham: “ You do not love the place yet. You see a million bricks that may crumble, a thousand gutters and pipes that may block and leak, and stone that will crack in the frost”

Matthew Crawley: “And, you don’t?”

Lord Grantham: “No, I see my life’s work”

This exchange of dialogue further embeds the importance of status to the Crawley family.This idea of aristocratic status also plays into the relationship between Isobel Crawley and Countess Violet (played by Maggie Smith). Though Countess Violent has the luxury of status, it is Isobel who sees the importance of women in the workplace. The very idea of a proper woman holding  an occupation, is clearly foreign to the Downton household. However, Isobel proves her worth as a nurse when she saves the life of a Downton farmer by suggesting a modern treatment. This act of decency not only makes Isobel a hero of Downton, but it persuades Lord Grantham to name her Chairman of the Board. This development upsets Countess Violet, as Isobel’s promotion places her on an equal playing field with Countess Violet.

The upper-crust drama continues as the servants of Downton also struggle to define their household responsibilities. Thomas (played by Rob James-Collier) and Mrs. O’Brien (played by Siobhan Finneran ) continue to complain about their position in the hierarchy of servants, while Daisy (played by Sophie McShera) begins to form a crush on Thomas. Furthermore, Mr. Carson’s past as an entertainer is revealed when an old friend exposes his participation in “The Cheerful Charlie’s” to the Crawley family. Though Carson is humiliated, and offers to resign from his position at Downton, Lord Grantham decides to keep Carson as his Butler at the Downton estate. 

If this exciting chain of events didn’t make you dizzy during the second episode, what about the renewed friendship between Mr. Carson and Mr. Bates at the end ? I never thought that those two would ever see eye to eye, but maybe there are more relationships to be rekindled in the Downton household. 

So far, Downton Abbey has really captured my attention as a first-time viewer. Not only do I enjoy the beautiful costumes, but  I am very excited to watch the character development of Lady Mary and Mr. Bates. Maybe in the next few episodes Bates will finally reveal an attraction towards Anna, the head housemaid. I’m not sure if there is an attraction yet between the two characters, but I am eager to watch the development of their relationship!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Downton Abbey- Series 1: Episode 1

After watching the first episode of Downton Abbey, I was instantly hooked to the PBS Masterpiece classic. However, I have to admit that I was very skeptical at first about the captivating period piece.

Though the British television series seems much like Pride and Prejudice in the beginning, the exciting historical reference to the sinking of the Titanic brilliantly sets the tone for the remainder of the series. 

In the first few moments of the series premiere, viewers are invited into the home of the aristocratic Crawley family. The Crawley family resides at Downtown Abbey, and they are constantly surrounded by several of their loyal servants. In the beginning of the episode, Lord Grantham (played by Hugh Bonneville) is alerted by telegram that his cousin and his son have died as a result of the sinking of the Titanic. His cousins’ son Patrick, was engaged to the Grantham’s eldest daughter, Lady Mary (played by Michelle Dockery). As a result, Lady Mary is left without a fiancĂ©, and the Crawley family no longer has an heir to the Downton estate. This terrible tragedy becomes significant to the plot of the show, as it begins to change the lives of the Downton family forever.

But the sinking of the Titanic is not the only exciting development that occurs during the first episode. In the first half of the episode, viewers are introduced to the interesting and delightful characters that inhabit Downton Abbey. Mr. Carson (played by Jim Carter), who plays the Butler of Downton Abbey always seems to be the deliverer of bad news throughout the entirety of the episode. What is more, he also has seems to have a watchful eye over the rest of the Downton servants.

Later on, Mr. Carson introduces the crippled Mr. Bates (played by Brendan Coyle) to the rest of the servants at Downton. Mr. Bates is the new valet that has been personally selected by Lord Grantham to work at Downton Abbey. The other servants of Downton are not so keen on Mr. Bates when they realize he is a fellow comrade of Lord Grantham. Thomas, the first footman, and Miss O’Brien, the lady’s maid, make it their duty to force Mr. Bates out of Downton Abbey before he even has a chance to prove himself to the aristocratic Crawley family.

Another interesting quality I found about the servants at Downton Abbey, is the evident hierarchy between maids, servants, cooks, footmen, and valet’s. Throughout the episode, there are several references to the responsibilities and relationships that are allowed by each position. None of these references are more significant in my opinion than the exchange of dialogue between Daisy and Mrs. Patmore in the Downton kitchen. 

Finally, one of the most intriguing events of the episode is the arrival of The Duke of Crowborough (played by Charlie Cox). Lord and Lady Grantham hope that The Duke will make an offer of marriage to Lady Mary, but The Duke willingly tells Lord Grantham that he has no intention of courting Lady Mary or becoming an heir to the Downton estate. But The Duke has a much bigger secret he is hiding. Towards the end of the episode, the show reveals that The Duke is gay, and he is having an affair with the footman, Thomas. Though I thought that this scandalous revelation would conclude the first episode, there was still one more twisted surprise. 

At the very end of the episode, Lord Grantham sends a telegram to Matthew Crawley (played by Dan Stevens), who is a distant cousin of the Crawley family. Lord and Lady Grantham have decided that Matthew is the next best heir to the Downton estate. This exciting turn of events sets the tone for future episodes to come.

After observing the exciting and complicated relationships of the Crawley family during the first episode, I can’t wait to see what writer Julian Fellowes has in store for the remainder of the first season. Though Downton Abbey is not a series I have followed in the past, the historical references, elegant costumes, and charming characters of Downton have completely captured my critical attention.