Downton Abbey

Okay, we got us a live one here folks. I harken back to my first foray into this particularly British examination of society and it’s multi-faceted skewering of inequity: Sense and Sensibility. My wife dragged me to that movie and I had very low expectations, but I enjoyed it. Now, I go into any Brit period-piece with raised expectations, expecting to be surprised and moved, even if only the spirit of Jane Austen is at the helm.

And deliverith did season 1 of Downton Abbey. In fact, it exceeded expectations.

The normal cast of aristocrats are there; the eldest sister destined for spinsterhood, the benevolent father, the mean sister, the hot sister, the snobby grandmother, the ugly suitor, the handsome suitor, etc… But they freshen up the whole thing with a deep dive into the underclass. In other words, you get a lot more than just the loyal butler.

Screen time is probably split 50/50 between the wealthy family lucky enough to inherit the beautiful country estate and the pack of maids, footmen, servants, and butlers who keep the place running relatively smoothly. It has a soapy feel, but it’s more like a soap opera on steroids. There is such fertile ground for intrigue and tension when social mobility is impossible, even within subclasses of subclasses.

It’s set just before WW1, so the Brits were beset with internal and external struggles; European powers were settling in for war and the political fervor to grant more rights to women and undo the British aristocracy was high. Women’s rights were the same as in Jane Austen’s time, despite that fact that there was electricity, the telephone, and the machine gun. This issue of women’s rights is especially important because the featured aristocratic family has no male heirs.

Yep, that’s some serious drama.

My wife and I watched this together on Netflix streaming over a period of about four weeks (it’s about 7 hours total). It helped us break in our Apple TV and eased us into our first month without extended cable. That’s quite a transition and I’m not sure it will last. But we are doing up Bleak House next, so we’ll see.