Downton Abbey is the story of an entailed estate currently belonging to Lord Grantham. However, he has no sons to inheirit, which means the property and money will pass to the nearest male relative upon his death and leave his daughters penniless. Eldest daughter, Lady Mary, has been engaged to the current heir, but when that heir is a casualty of the Titanic wreck, everything changes.
Now the estate is due to go to a distant cousin. Who works. As a lawyer. And doesn't use a valet. Horror of horrors! Mary certainly won't think of marrying him, and he isn't interested in middle daughter Edith. And matters just become more difficult from there.
Meanwhile there is another world beneath stairs. The lives of the servants are given just as much screen time and sympathy as those of their employers and Downton Abbey paints a compelling and empathetic picture of the lives of the working class. Never before have I so clearly felt that I understood what it was like to work as a servant in the Edwardian/Victorian age.
Technically this show is probably the finest piece of work I've ever seen from the BBC. Costumes, writing, acting, cinematography -- it is all fantastic and a definite cut above past dramas.
But what really sells the story to me is the heart behind it. The characters are not stereotypes and one dimensional. They are living breathing people who genuinely care about each other and the future of Downton Abbey. They have their flaws, but they also have their virtues, something which I feel is often lacking in television and period drama these days. I don't just want to see scandal and rivalry... I want to see love, trust and sacrifice as well.
The show (at least the first season) is fairly appropriate. There is one footman who is a homosexual and there are two brief subplots that deal with that, the most obvious being in the first episode but nothing graphic. Then later on one of the women has a love affair, but again nothing is seen and there are clear and disastrous consequences.
Over all I would say this is a top notch show that I would highly recommend. I will be eagerly looking forwards to watching subsequent seasons when they're released on DVD.
Oh, and did I mention that it's quite funny? Maggie Smith plays the hilarious matriarch. I've borrowed some quotes to share with you all and whet your appetite for more:
• Cora: "I hope I don't hear sounds of a disagreement."
Lady Grantham: "Is that what they call discussion in New York?"
• "What is a weekend?"
• "Last night! He looked so well. Of course it would happen to a foreigner. No Englishman would dream of dying in someone else's house."
• "One can't go to pieces at the death of every foreigner. We'd all be in a constant state of collapse whenever we opened a newspaper."
• Cora: "I hate to go behind Robert's back."
Lady Grantham: "That is a scruple no successful wife can afford."
• Lady Grantham: "Why would you want to go to a real school? You're not a doctor's daughter."
Sybil: "Nobody learns anything from a governess, apart from French and how to curtsy."
Lady Grantham: "What else do you need? Are you thinking of a career in banking?"
Cora: "Things are different in America."
Lady Grantham: "I know. They live in wigwams."
• Lady Grantham: "You are quite wonderful the way you see room for improvement wherever you look. I never knew such reforming zeal."
Mrs. Crawley: "I take that as a compliment."
Lady Grantham: "I must've said it wrong."