I do not recall many TV shows that have blown me away with their brilliance as Downton Abbey has. The series, produced by ITV, is such a profound achievement in the world of television that I am sure its effect and influence will be felt for a very long time to come.
The TV show follows the lives and tribulations of the Crawley family, owners of the country house Downton Abbey, as well as their servants during the early 20th century. The first season starts around the news concerning the sinking of the Titanic (1912) until 1914, two years before the start of the First World War. The second season occurs during the First World War, between the years of 1916 to 1919.
Downton Abbey’s latest third season ended in November 2012 with an air date for the show’s fourth season yet to be confirmed.
One of the main elements of Downton Abbey that makes it such a joy to watch is the brilliant writing. The show is blessed with a very talented writing team, headed by creator Julian Fellowes. The team clearly demonstrates their full knowledge of how England was during the beginning of the 20th century. The dialogue is intelligent, full of wit, and just plain fun. The fact that the writing team has managed to create such great entertainment from a period show is worthy of much praise.
The writing team gives each of the characters in this gigantic cast unique characteristics that makes us all relate to each one on a different level. The writing team also does a superb job in developing each of those characters in a natural way, but in a way that is filled with unexpected turns and twists.
Suffice to say, the writing witnessed in Downton Abbey is of such high quality that not many shows have achieved. A remarkable achievement.
Downton Abbey is also blessed with an astonishingly talented ensemble cast. There are many great acting performances on the show but five in particular rise a bit over the rest of the cast: Hugh Bonneville (as Robert Crawley), Elizabeth McGovern (as Cora Crawley), Michelle Dockery (as Mary Crawley), Dan Stevens (as Matthew Crawley), and Maggie Smith (as Violet Crawley).
Playing the crucial role of Robert Crawley, the head of Downton Abbey, is Hugh Bonneville. This is the first I have seen Hugh act and am already very impressed with his abilities. He gives his character, Robert, the confidence, directness and leadership needed to run the large country house. I am impressed with how Hugh is totally at home with his role and fully assumes it from the start. He is certainly a formidable actor.
Robert Crawley’s wife, Cora, is played by the equally superb Elizabeth McGovern. Elizabeth gives Cora a lot of warmth, making her one of the series’s most loved characters. Cora is the affectionate mother who cares dearly for her husband, daughters and all those around her. McGovern adds to the excellence of Downton Abbey by constantly giving an outstanding performance.
Then there is their daughter, Mary, who is portrayed by Michelle Dockery. Mary is the eldest of her siblings and the wisest. However, that only makes her more prone to the pressure from her parents to get married. Mary is independent, self-reliant, and able to resist this pressure. Dockery is quite simply exquisite in this role and is one of the strongest performers on the show.
Dan Stevens is another superlative actor in this fantastic ensemble cast. He plays Matthew Crawley, the distant cousin of the family living at Downton Abbey. Matthew, through events out of his hands, gets deeply invovled in the affairs of the family. He not only becomes one of the most essential characters on the show but also one of its most beloved. Stevens gives his character gentleness and eloquence rarely seen from male characters on television shows. He does so with much class which is very admirable.
Last, but certainly not least, is the phenomenal performance given by Maggie Smith. Smith is Violet Crawley, Robert’s mother and the matriarch of the family. Violet is wise yet nosy. She is unable to keep herself out of the affairs of those around her and always manages to interfere, often giving advice when none is needed. Regardless, Smith’s acting in Downton Abbey is one of the best things about the show. She is such a major source of entertainment in Downton Abbey to the point that the show would be drastically different had she not been a part of it.
After three seasons, Downton Abbey has not decreased in quality at all. In fact, it keeps getting stronger as everyone involved in this TV show grows more confident in telling this unique story. TV shows like Downton Abbey come only once in a lifetime. It just packs so many great elements within it that watching it all unfold is pure entertainment. I look forward to its upcoming seasons with much eagerness and delight. Even though there are reportedly three or four seasons more left in this show, Downton Abbey has already established itself as a classic in my eyes.
MATM Season 1 Rating: **** out of ****
MATM Season 2 Rating: **** out of ****
MATM Season 3 Rating: **** out of ****
- Hugh Bonneville (as Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham)
- Elizabeth McGovern (as Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham)
- Michelle Dockery (as Lady Mary Crawley)
- Dan Stevens (as Mr Matthew Crawley)
- Maggie Smith (as Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham)
- Laura Carmichael (as Lady Edith Crawley)
- Jessica Brown Findlay (as Lady Sybil Crawley)
- Penelope Wilton (as Mrs Isobel Crawley)
- Allen Leech (as Mr Tom Branson)