Downton Abbey: 10 reasons why we fell in love
Review by Jack Foley
IT has kept us enthralled for seven Sunday evenings and is arguably the nation’s new favourite programme. So, as the first season draws to a close and becomes available on DVD (from November 8, 2010), we deliver 10 reasons why Downton Abbey has emerged as one of 2010’s TV highlights.
Julian Fellowes – With a track record for impeccable writing (whether as a screenwriter or author), Downton Abbey was always in safe hands from a creative point of view. Fellowes has, of course, won an Oscar for his screenplay for Gosford Park and won widespread acclaim for The Young Victoria. He’s also a popular novelist, with works including Past Imperfect. Read our review
Dame Maggie Smith: – Can anyone deliver an acerbic line, a smart put-down or an astonished look better than Dame Maggie? She is, and continues to be, one of Britain’s richest acting talents and her performances as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, were a frequent delight. As cast member Joanne Froggatt pointed out in an interview, the mix of Fellowes’ words and Smith’s delivery was a match made in heaven.
The unlikely romantic hero: Every classic screenplay has one (from North and South to Jane Eyre, and so too does Downton in the form of lame valet Bates. As played by 47-year-old actor Brendan Coyle, Bates has become the nation’s new (and most unlikely) heart-throb… a wounded Boer War veteran with an impeccable sense of integrity, a secret burning passion for head maid Anna, and a shady past.
Coyle may not be good looking in the classic sense but he brings a decent everyman quality to Bates that makes every scene he occupies fascinating. He has a great voice, a reassuring presence and a tragic quality about him that’s easy for men and women to relate to (in different ways). Ironically, it was Coyle’s real-life wife [Emma Kitchener] who suggested the character should be lame. A Facebook appreciation page has declared him to be “a younger Russell Crowe, and a far better actor”.
Unrequited love: Everyone loves a good will they/won’t they scenario and Downton Abbey has two. Primarily, there’s the simmering passion between Bates and Anna, which is beautifully played and, as yet, unrequited. And then there’s the playful bickering that exists between Michelle Dockery’s feisty free spirit Lady Mary and Dan Stevens’ earnest but polite Matthew Crawley – a relationship that’s playing out rather like The Taming of The Shrew. There’s even a third, romance in waiting, between Thomas Howes’ smitten William and Sophie McShera’s oblivious Daisy.
Great villains: Every great drama comes with a great villain and Downton has two hissable greats in the form of former Coronation Street star Rob James-Collier’s Thomas and Siobhan Funneran’s bitter Miss O’Brien. The pair’s constant attempts to discredit Bates, and their continued stirring of situations for mutual gain, are guaranteed to make the blood boil.
Hugh Bonneville: Some have criticised the inherent decency of Bonneville’s Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, suggesting that – if historically accurate – his Earl wouldn’t give many of his servants the time of day. But Bonneville combines stern authority with empathy and compassion, meaning that his central character can be relied upon for intelligent thinking, lively debate and a sympathetic ear for Bates. It’s a role that plays to the actor’s strengths… and he duly excels.
Jim Carter: Another of Britain’s great unsung acting heroes, Carter is a veteran of countless plays, TV shows and movies, who positively revels in the role of Mr Carson, the implacable head of the servant contingent. Rather like Bonneville’s Robert Crawley, Carter combines firm authority with a sense of compassion, as well as the odd moment of fallibility that makes him all the more endearing (such as the revelation of a comic past!). His interplay with Phyllis Logan’s equally brilliant Mrs Hughes is often beautifully played… hinting at a potential for romance [and happiness] that both know can never really exist.
A sense of history: Everyone loves a good costume drama and Downton fits that bill and is tailor-made to fill the type of Sunday night slot the BBC has more usually excelled in (with the likes of Lark Rise to Candleford, Cranford and Tess of The D’Urbervilles). Setting it in 1914, in the aftermath of The Titanic disaster (which continues to capture the public curiosity), during the fight for women’s rights, and in the run-up to the First World War, also places it bang smack in the middle of a rich and turbulent period in British history. It’s fascinating to see how attitudes have changed in such a relatively short period of time… the seeds of which were most definitely sewn then.
Great location: Every historical drama, or costume drama, boasts a stunning location, which is almost certain to become a tourist hot-spot. British cinema and television has a great history of finding great venues (usually classic National Trust or English Heritage owned homes) and thrusting them back into the national spotlight. Previous examples have included Pride & Prejudice, The Young Victoria and The Duchess. Downton Abbey is actually filmed at Highclere Castle, in Hampshire, and benefits from the splendid cinematography of David Katznelson and David Marsh.
Envy factor: The gauge of how popular a series or film is can often be found in the number of people willing to find fault. Downton has its fair share of detractors… but this only makes those who adore it feel more passionate about it. Of those critics, there would appear to be a sport in finding the inaccuracies in each episode… such as those concerning uniforms or the inclusion of a blue Renault that wouldn’t have been available for another nine years. But how typically British to want to build something up, only to knock it down! Fortunately, there are plenty among us who take Downton for what it is: first-rate entertainment of the highest quality.
Now, roll on Season 2! Or read our review of the final episode
Running time: 6hrs, 4mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: November 8, 2010
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Downton Abbey: 10 Reasons Why We Fell in Love
- Downton Abbey: The final episode reviewed
- Downton Abbey finale attracts 11m viewers
- Joanne Froggatt: Downton Abbey role was tailor-maid for change
- Downton Abbey to return for second series
- Downton Abbey Photo Gallery
- Downton Abbey: First episode reviewed