Downton Abbey comes back for a second season this time next week, and I could not be more thrilled, ergo I feel the need to pimp it out. Another side of the blogosphere recommended it to me recently, and I've fallen in love and I can't get up. It's a well executed period drama, and well worth watching.
Downton Abbey centers around the life of an aristocratic family, the Crawley's, in early 20th century England. It follows both the conundrums of the family itself, and its numerous servants and staff. This ranges anywhere from the Crawley's eldest daughter's attempts to find a husband, to a housemaid looking for a job as a secretary.
It shares many characteristics with a Jane Austen novel, only holds the advantage of being set in a more current time period. This allows for the seamless interweaving of cultural and historical plot lines, such as the Titanic, women's rights, and the Great War, which also helps the series to be centered on more than just marital problems. It doesn't involve quite as much social commentary as an Austen work would, however, it does copy the (sometimes excessive) melodrama quite well.
The plot line does not bore or drone on, as the series moves incredibly quickly. Two years are covered in the first series, and a gap of another two is inserted before the second (for all we know series five will be set in 1973). The soundtrack, composed by Little Dorrit's John Lunn, is a perfect fit. Costume design for this series is stellar, especially for someone who adores 1910's fashion (the sheer abundance of hats is enough to make me squirm). The acting is nothing short of stunning, and the faces are just, well, let's put it this way:
The painfully romantic storylines between Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery's characters (out-of-place distant relative Matthew Crawley and eldest daughter Mary Crawley, respectively), and Joanne Froggatt and Brendan Coyle's characters (Head Housemaid Anna and Valet Mr. Bates), are a highlight, in my opinion, and somewhat reminiscent of a Jane Austen-esque story. Dame Maggie Smith's portrayal of the Countess of Grantham is another favorite; her blatantly aristocratic attitude (à la "what is a weekend?") is an endless treasure trove of hilarious sardonic remarks.
Of course, stripped of the period appeal, Dowton would most likely be treading near soap opera ground, but the hats really do save it. Overall, the series does a commendable job of taking the seemingly mundane life and culture of the beginning of the 20th century and transforming it into a cacophony of music, costume design, acting, and often heartbreaking storylines that are sure to please. Find a box of tissues if you are emotionally volatile; Julian Fellowes, the writer, is practically a sadist when it comes to creating an endless array of obstacles to prevent good things from happening. Watching this show is essentially a masochistic experience.
Season two premieres on ITV on September 18th, and on PBS in the United States on January 8th of next year, so I would suggest finding your way to the former. Happy watching.