Downton Abbey was not a show I was expecting to like as much as I do. It’s not that I was going into it expecting to hate the series; I just didn’t think the premise of it sounded particularly interesting. I love British television, and generally tend to like period dramas, but something about watching multiple episodes about the different on-goings at an English estate didn’t sound that exciting. Now that I have watched it I don’t know exactly what I was thinking. I love movies set in that era, so of course I would love a TV show. Now I have watched both existing series, and look forward to it returning later this year.
In a show that is set at a mansion like Downton Abbey, this could easily have become a story concerned only with the aristocratic matters of who will inherit the family fortune and the estate. That in and of itself can be an interesting story, and Downton Abbey manages to make me care for the family’s outcome by making the stakes clear and by making me understand the character’s intentions. However, the show excels because it makes equal time to tell the story of the servants in the house, and frankly that’s where my interest lies. As much as I like seeing Lady Mary look for a man she can marry and love, and Lady Sybil trying to fight for women’s rights, I always prefer to see the progression of Anna and Bates’ relationship and the plotting of Thomas and O’Brien that goes on downstairs. Julian Fellowes manages to really balance the way the servants care for their employers while still letting them voice their feelings about their social status. This way you seldom get the feeling that the servants hate doing what they do (with a few exceptions), and when it happens, we as viewers are able to sympathize because we see the big gap between rich and poor.
I also find the way the writer manages to show that the Crowleys have respect for their help to be a neat addition to the story. It is nice to see a family that, while still very much ingrained with the ideals of class differences, cares for the people they surround themselves with to the extent that they are willing to let them work when they might not be fully competent, such as with Bates. Additionally I appreciate that as the story moves along, the family adapts to new times instead of grasping on to old traditions completely. The fact that we see the family express forgiveness and stand by Mary after she takes a lover before marriage, that we see the Lord give the chauffeur his blessing, though reluctantly, to marry his daughter and move to Dublin, and that they all allow for love to be a factor when choosing the man they will marry, is a rather nice change from what could have been there in its place. Because of this I have a lot more respect for the family when they make poor decisions, because I know that they are sane people with good intentions.
My favourite characters from the very start of the series are Thomas and O’Brien. While I was not aware to what lengths their plotting would go to when the show first started, I can’t help but sympathise at times. I find Thomas to be a very interesting character that I wish got more screen time. There have been two instances where it’s been possible to see into his character and understand why he is the way he is, but they’ve both been in the start of each series, which in my opinion is too few and far between. I hope that as the show continues this will change and he will get a more central place in the narrative. For now there are so many characters that I understand that some will be more ancillary than others.
I look forward to the return of the group at Downton Abbey this fall. I wonder what will happen to the future Mr. and Mrs. Crawleys when the news of Mary’s indiscretions is revealed publicly, if they are at all. Furthermore it will be interesting to see how the Lord deals with having Sybil and her husband back. More than anything, I look forward to seeing what will become of the man who shows up claiming he was Patrick Crowley. I might be completely off with my prediction, but I seem to recollect Thomas speaking to the Duke in the pilot episode, the latter mentioning that he would need to find an heir in order to get the money from them. Like I said, this might not have been at all intended to go any further, but I always felt that they let that story line go fairly quickly, and wouldn’t mind if it ended up being brought back this way. I also really wish that Matthew and Mary will be happy together, and that there is no other legal heir when it comes down to it. Only time will tell.