Sunday, February 2, 2014

Downton Abbey (Season 1)

Downton Abbey is a television series broadcasted on the BBC (in the UK) and PBS (in America). Created by Julian Follows, the series is centered around the Crawley Family and their servants on their estate of Downton Abbey, a fictional Yorkshire Country Estate. The first season of Downton Abbey broadcasted from September 26, 2010 - November 7, 2010, garnering an audience of roughly 9 million people. It is set between 1912-1914.

The Crawley Family
Hugh Bonneville as Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham
Elizabeth McGovern as Countess Cora Crawley (nee Levinson), Countess of Grantham
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley
Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith Crawley
Jessica Brown Findlay as Lady Sibyl Crawley
Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham
Dan Stevens as Matthew Crawley
Penelope Wilton as Isobel Crawley

The Crawley Staff
Jim Carson as Charles Carson
Phyilis Logan as Elsie Hughes
Brendan Coyle as John Bates
Siobhan  Finneran as Sarah O'Brien
Rob James-Collier as Thomas Barrow
Joanne Frogatt as Anna May Smith
Lesley Nicol as Beryl Patmore
Sophie McShera as Daisy Robinson
Thomas Howes as William Mason
Rose Leslie as Gwen Dawson
Allen Leech as Tomas Branson

According to the Guinness World Record, the series is the most critically acclaimed show of 2011 with Emmy, BAFTA and Golden Globe wins under its belt.

Lord Robert, Earl of Grantham, his American born wife, Cora Levinson, their three daughters, Mary, Edith and Sybil, along with their numerous servants live on the great estate of Downton Abbey. Because of an entail, Robert's daughters are unable to inherit the estate or Cora's money. On April 12, 1912, the RMS Titanic sinks, taking with it Robert's two heirs. This presents several problems for Robert's eldest daughter, Mary. She was to be married to Patrick to keep the land and money in the family. Her prospect in the marriage market fall, the Duke of Crowborough having dropped his suite after learning that she is not an heiress.

It turns out that the Duke had a relationship with Thomas Barrow, an ambitious footman. Thomas attempted to blackmail the Duke via letters exchanged during their relationship but the Duke finds them and burns them. Thomas and fellow schemer, Sarah O'Brien, have taken a keen hatred against John Bates, the new new valet, and try to get him fired but Robert has a change of heart and ultimately decides to let the handicapped man to stay in his service.

The new heir to Downton Abbey is a 27 year old solicitor by the name of Matthew Crawley. He arrives at Downton Abbey with his widowed mother, Isobel. There is an instant clash of worlds between Mary and Matthew and Isobel and Mary's grandmother, Violet, the Dowager Countess. Matthew is quite smitten with Mary but she is quick to turn him down. The hostilities between Isobel and Violet escalate when Isobel pressures Dr. Clarkson into performing pericardiocentesis on a patient suffering from dropsy. Although Violet is attempts to stop the procedure, it ultimately proves to be successful and Robert decides to put Violet on the hospital board.

Mr. Carson, the head of the staff, receives a distressing letter and begins to act suspiciously. It turns out that Carson used to be part of a circus troop and now one of his ex-partners is blackmailing him into giving him food and shelter lest he reveal Carson's past to the Earl. Lord Grantham's attachment to Mr. Cason shows when he pays the partner off and warns him never to bother Carson again.

 Evelyn Napier, a wealthy son of a peer, is paying Downton a visit and accompanying him is a dashing Turkish diplomat by the name of Kemal Pamuk. Mary is instantly smitten; and she's not the only one. Thomas attempts to seduce the Turk but he clearly is not interested and offers to spare Thomas from the wrath of the Earl by getting Thomas to give him access to Mary's room later that night. Pamuk seduces Mary but suddenly dies in her bed. With the help of Cora and Anna, she is able to get him back to his room. The incident clearly disturbs Cora but she is willing to remain silent because it would break Robert's heart to learn otherwise. Unbeknowst to them, a scullery maid, sees the entire thing. Napier discontinues his pursuit of Mary because he understands that in the aftermath of what happened that she does not love him.

Edith tries to insight some interest in Matthew by inviting him out to see some local churches but is disappointed when he shows more interest in the churches than her. Bates tries to correct his limp with a painful metal contraption but Mrs. Hughes makes him get rid of it and gets him to promise her that he will never do such a thing again. It is revealed that Gwen, a housemaid, has bought herself a typewriter and has dreams of being a secretary. The rest of the staff laughs at her but she continues to pursue her dream with the support of Lady Sibyl and Anna.

A travelling fair comes into town and the staff are off making merry. Mrs. Hughes is reunited with an old suitor of hers who proposes to her once again but she turns him down, reflecting on her life at the Abbey. Mr. Carson becomes concerned that there is a thief in the Abbey when he discovers that some bottles of win have gone missing. Mosley suffers from a suspicious rash that Isobel diagnoses erysipelas but Violet points out that it is only an allergic reaction. It is indeed only an allergic reaction much to the latter's delight. Lady Sibyl continues experimenting in feminism with the aid of an equally revolutionary mind of the Irish chauffeur, Tomas Branson. After visiting her dressmaker, Sibyl surprises her family by showing off her new pair of bloomers.

Mr. Bates discovers that it is Barrow who has been stealing the wine. Thomas attempts from Bates for stealing a snuffbox from Lord Grantham but the plan backfires. Anna, who has been sweet on Mr. Bates for some time, confesses her love for him but, although he reciprocates her feelings, he tells her that they cannot be together. Rumors begin to circulate about Mary and the 'handsome Turk'. Daisy cannot keep the story to herself anymore and so blabs on Mary to Lady Edith. Edith sends a letter to the Turkish embassy in order to bring her sister down a peg. At the annual flower show, Violet gives up her title as the person with the best bloom to someone more deserving as she comes to learn because of Isobel that she is always given the prize simply because she is the Dowager Countess.

Because of Edith's letter, the rumors about Mary have become far more persistent that even the Dowager Countess is alarmed. She confronts Cora who reluctantly admits the truth. Lady Edith finds herself an admirer in the form of Sir Anthony Strellan. Lady Sibyl's political side acts up in light of an upcoming by-election and strings Branson along for the ride. She is injured in a brawl but if saved from anything further harm by Matthew. Sibyl bravely stands up to her father insisting that it was she who is at fault and not Branson. Matthew and Mary confess their love for one another but she rejects his proposal because she feels that she cannot accept his proposal without him first knowing her scandalous secret.

Miss O'Brien and Thomas continue to plot against Mr. Bates. They accuse Bates of stealing the very wine that Thomas was caught stealing. Thomas persuades Daisy to testify against Mr. Bates but she later recants when her consciences get to her. However, Bates accepts the charges laid against him stating that previously, he had been a drunkard and so he decides to leave Downton Abbey.

To everyone's surprise, Cora discovers that she is pregnant for the first time in eighteen years. In light of this development, Mary's aunt, Lady Rosamund Painswick, advises her to reconsider marrying Matthew because, should the child be a boy, it would change his fortunes completely. Mary learns from Evelyn Napier that it was Edith who wrote to the embassy about Mary and Mr. Pamuk to which she swears revenge. Matthew is upset that Mary is still hesitating about his proposal believing that her reasoning should be based purely on her feelings for him.

Carson discovers details about Mr. Bate's past. He was a soldier who stole the regimental silver, but there is more to the story than just that. Anna discovers that in actuality, Bates took the wrap for his wife believing that he had ruined his wife's life. After Mrs. Patmore, the abbey's chief cook, eyesight worsens further still, Lord Grantham sends her to London to get the correct surgery for her cataracts. During her absence, she is to be replaced with Mrs. Bird. Not wanting to be permanently replaced, Mrs. Patmore bids Daisy to mess with the food. She is discovered but is later won over by Mrs. Bird, who admires her for her loyalty to Mrs. Patmore. Thomas hands in his resignation after joining the Army Medical Corps, anticipating the start of a war. Gwen is finally able to get that job as a secretary that she's always wanted! 

Believing that she is soon to be replaced, O'Brien decides to punish the Countess by leaving some soap below her bath. She regrets it immediately but is too late to stop Cora from tripping. Sadly, Cora miscarriages what would have been the heir that would have solved all their problems. Mary gets her revenge on Edith when she convinces Anthony Strellan, who was set on proposing, that Edith thinks he is old and boring. He runs off, leaving Edith alone and confused. Mary is prepared to accept Matthew's proposal but he decides that they can't be together because he doesn't know her motives.

In the final scene of the season is Lord Grantham announcing to the people at the Garden Party that Britain is at war. The First World War has begun.

I give this first season a solid 4/5. Downton Abbey is a very good period drama; a solid cast and very good story. Just this right amount of intrigue to keep us going! Maggie Smith, oh my dear heart, is simply amazing in her role as the Dowager Countess. That wit, that snark, that caring! She far eclipsed Penelope Wilton in the role of a matriarch. While watching the two women battle it out was rather fun, I was sometimes annoyed with Isobel's character. It's was like watching Pride and Prejudice...but with none of the romance. Speaking of romance, let's talk about Mary and Matthew; they are my one true pairing! It's like Pride and Prejudice...with all of the romance! Mary is extremely beautiful but she can have a mean side that I don't like. I feel nothing but sympathy for Edith. She is my favorite Crawley sister simply because I feel so bad for her which explains why I felt so mad when Mary ruins Edith's chances for true happiness with Anthony Strellan! She is quite pretty in my opinion. She's got that Orleans nose; if we ever make a drama on the Orleans family, hire her immediately! Sibyl is a beauty to rival Mary although I find her character to be a bit bland. She is the stereotypical 'modern woman in the past' character. One thing the show gets down just right is its ability to develop amazing characters. None of the staff members were lacking in that, they are all their own distinct characters. Thomas and O'Brien, the characters that you absolutely love to hate. The scene where Cora loses her child was absolutely heart wrenching and O'Brien's reaction made it absolutely perfect. By far the best scene of the season.

On of the best period dramas out there right now and I highly recommend that you go out and see it immediately! This season ended on a great cliff hanger and leaves you so excited for the second season.

PS. My friend, Gertrude, wanted me to put in that "Elizabeth McGovern has the creepiest smile ever and that Michelle Dockery has fun eyebrows."

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