Delightful drama aside, these qualities are sure to please doubters and devotees alike.
For three seasons, I have been o-so-cleverly exchanging Downton for “downtown” in conversation and yawning at the thought of watching stuck up English folk mill about a grand estate debating what clothes to wear and casting aside those below them. It was not until my girlfriend took episode 1 of Downton Abbey for a spin that I found myself horribly mistaken.
Introduced at the credits of each episode is the theme of Downton Abbey by John Lunn, so cleverly composed it can simultaneously cast an aura of charm or caution of foreboding. Dancing on the upbeat, the hook filled “The Suite” bleeds into each episode, changing on a dime to match the episode’s theme. Throughout each episode, cascades of string arrangements become a integral character in the show. Hearing such incredible and memorable pieces fill television composers such as Michael Giacchino (LOST) with pride.
Gorgeous landscapes, massive libraries, and aged kitchens bring Downton to life. The brilliant art direction moves the audience seemlessly from the grand halls of the estate to the lived-in passages of the service. While a majority of the show is set within the castle-like Downton, its sprawling size, stark contrasts, ever-changing eventful decorations can easily trick the audience into feeling at home, never once becoming stale.
The costume design opens ones eyes to the care of the early 1900’s. Detailed textures run about mens coats, vests, and caps while lightweight gowns dance effortlessly around a powerful female cast. While not as laboriously ever-changing, the servants work and day clothes exude much more brilliance and smarts than those of today’s upper class. And while the upper-class cast are always so elegantly dressed, they are not afraid to recycle costumes, helping create the lived-in and familiar experience of Downton Abbey.
The rich grandeur of Downton’s writing is without a doubt stunning and unparalleled. It is the language of a slower and more patient time, and likely the biggest reason many are hesitant to watch the show. Plunging oneself into the richness of Downton’s linguistics is comforting, soothing, and careful; something we may need to be reminded of in such a fast age. Much of the language conceals hidden meaning and cryptic messages, moving the players about like a chess board, slowly but surely plotting for the execution of a thought out master plan.
Set against a backdrop between England’s upper and lower classes, the early 1900’s are a time of sinking ships, war, and women’s rights. With doctors and lawyers looked down upon, Downton Abbey is a glimpse into an era of change highlighting the prosperity and importance of the middle class. While Downton is run by servants and managed by upper-class, they share a uniquely strong bond between one another: the daughters of His Lordship willingly assisting in the kitchen or pushing for rights while the servants are occasionally called upon for advice and guidance. They act as a family even across such a polarity.
Once devoted, the characters become the primary reason for returning to Downton Abbey episode after episode after episode. Whether it’s the passion between Anna and Bates, the misgivings of Thomas and O’Brien, or the warmth of Carson and Mrs. Hughes, Downton’s cast of characters features nearly every personality type, surely pleasing those passionate about MBTI. Since LOST, there has not been an ensemble cast with so much gravitas. The Office fans will be reminded of fortunate love affairs a la Jim and Pam while Game of Thrones fans will find Joffrey-like villains and brooding political schemes aplenty. After watching a handful of episodes, you may have to remind yourself that you, in fact, do not live in Downton.