“Downton Abbey” will change your views on the word “classy.” It will cause you to laugh at the thought that the English language could ever sound good in anything other than a refined British accent. And lastly, it will make you believe that you, in fact, don’t belong in America, but instead in England in the 1920s.
The British/American TV series, which premiered in Britain in 2010 and the following year in the U.S. on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater, follows the wealthy Crawley family, who never can find security for the Downton estate after the Titanic disaster takes the life of the expected heir and throws the inheritance into jeopardy. The show delivers a little bit of everything else: romance, drama, and some comedy via intelligent banter. And honestly, Matthew Crawley’s eyes are enough of a reason to watch the show in the first place.
The time period sets the show against a brilliant cultural backdrop which provides the opportunity for exquisite costume design and historical drama. Though much of the plot points center on trite, almost silly storylines– jealous fighting between sisters or a midnight affair gone awry– it all seems that much more important, pressing and groundbreaking due to the time period in which it was set.
The language is witty to say the least and speaks with such a quick and bitter attitude. The characters insult each other so well I am still shocked that any of them have not simply just fallen down from the sheer force of their tongue lashing. I feel my own face burning every single time the elder Mrs. Crawley delivers a verbal blow to one of her family members, whipping them into shape with harsh, terse words as the obstinate dowager. Even so, I would face her verbal wrath in exchange for a spot as her granddaughter on the Crawley family tree.
And that’s precisely the conflict that arises with such cunning character development. You can’t help but love the heroes as well as the villains.
Truly though, “Downton”’s faithful viewers feel as if the characters are not actors but actually people who really lived and whose deepest desires and ambitions have not already been planned out by the writers who construct their stories with the same grace as the actors who so eloquently speak the lines.
This is probably the first show that’s allowed me to feel a little less guilty about watching television instead of doing something else more productive, for I secretly feel hopeful that by watching, perhaps those characters can instill in me some of the same poise, tact and aplomb that attracted me to the show in the first place. If all else fails, I’m at least learning a little history.
“Downton Abbey” will return for its third season in January 2013 on PBS. Past episodes can be found on iTunes.