Saturday, January 7, 2012

Downton Abbey Primer: Upstairs

Have you missed the first season of Downton Abbey, the late-Edwardian upstairs/downstairs drama from Julian Fellowes, the genius screenwriter behind Gosford Park? If so, I suggest you spend the rest of your weekend between now and tomorrow's premiere of season 2 on PBS watching all seven episodes in their entirety. Go on. It streams. Just need a quick refresher course before heading back to Yorkshire? We've got you covered at OMw/G. Spoilers aplenty follow.

The series opens with news of the sinking of the Titanic reaching the aristocratic Crawley family at their country estate (yeah, they are the 1%). The ship took down the Earl's first cousin and his son--a bummer on any count, but additionally because young Mr. Patrick was engaged to the Earl's eldest daughter, Mary. And welcome to a world in which we all agree not to be wigged out by impending marriage to a relative. That will be important later. Because of entailment laws which will be familiar to fans of Pride and Prejudice, Mary cannot inherit, so Downton, along with her American mother's substantial new-money fortune and her father's title, must be passed to the Earl's third cousin once removed. Let the games begin. The first season tracks Mary's prospects, the interfamily politics when Matthew Crawley, erstwhile middle-class solicitor from Manchester and new heir presumptive, arrives along with his mother, and the machinations of the staff downstairs. More on them tomorrow. Today, all you need to know about the once and future Lords and Ladies of Grantham.

At Downton Abbey:

The Right Honorable Robert Crowley, Earl of Grantham, aka "his Lordship," aka the pater familias. A kind man and Boer War vet who is deeply concerned about the entailment, but feels powerless to fight it. Married Cora for her money, but loves her now. Also has a touch of the old patriarchal strain about him, i.e., doesn't cotton to his daughters disobeying.

The Right Honorable Cora, Countess of Grantham, aka, "her Ladyship," aka the American. Despite a loyalty to her odious ladies maid O'Brien, a good egg. She's the kind of mom who will help you drag the dead body of the man you were in bed with the length of the house back to his room so your reputation won't be ruined. You know, just hypothetically. At the end of the first season a pregnancy that could have kept the estate in the (immediate) family was lost when odious O'Brien soaped her bathroom floor in retribution for (wrongly) thinking she was about to be sacked.

Lady Mary. Beautiful (obviously) and stubborn enough not to want to marry someone she's in love with just because that's what she's supposed to do. A bit brittle, but good at heart. Has a fondness for breaking the rules, which includes taking a lover (sort of): the late Mr. Pamuk. Yeah, she's the one who needed some help with body dragging. The end of the first season sees her losing Matthew due to a serious case of wishy-washiness, and sabotaging the engagement of her sister Edith because of the latter's role in exposing the whole Turkish Delight incident to London society.

Lady Edith. Harbors a serious case of jealously of her prettier sisters. After overhearing her mother confirm to Mary that she doesn't have the "advantages" of her older sister (that's British manners for "looks"), intentionally exposes her scandal with the unfortunate Mr. Pamuk to the British embassy. Was in love with Mr. Patrick before he got engaged to Mary, had a thing for Matthew before he fell for Mary, and is probably going to wreak Sauron-like vengeance in the second season for the failed relationship with Sir Anthony. Would be a sympathetic character if she weren't so damn mean.

Lady Sybil. The radical in the family. She wears pants, she goes to political rallies, she gets the house maid a job as a secretary. She had a good debutante season in London, but methinks she might be hatching a little romance with the socialist chauffeur, aka, my Downton Abbey crush.

The awesome dog whose wagging tail inaugurates the opening credits of the show.

At Crawley House (a "small" manor on the estate): 

Mr. Matthew Crawley. After resisting the trappings of aristocracy with every bone in his middle-class solicitor's body, Matthew was getting into the whole lord of the manor bit . . . until he realized that his ascension to the title (and Mary's affections) were about as stable as the political climate in Europe in 1914. The end of season 2 sees him un-proposing to Mary and taking his piercing blue eyes away from Downton, hoping to gain control of his life again.

Mrs. Isobel Crawley. Matthew's mother, a former nurse, happy village busybody, and best frenemy of the Dowager Countess.

 At Dower House:

Dower House is only big enough for one member of the Crawley family, and that's the Right Honorable Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham. Matriarch and all-around force of nature, the Dowager Countess simultaneously resists the parts of modern life she finds garish and repellent--such as electric lighting, "weekends," and swivel chairs--and is a tireless advocate for Mary's right to inherit Downton.

The conclusion of season 1 finds Robert receiving another telegram laden with bad news: World War I has broken out. As Thomas the Snake (more on him tomorrow) rightly points out "War is coming. War means change."

Stay tuned for tomorrow's introduction of the Downstairs Crew at Downton Abbey primer!


  1. I watched the first ep of season 1 the other day and meant to ask you if you'd seen it! I'll have to DVR the new season until I catch up :)

  2. Yay! Can't wait to hear what you think of season 1. I found it quite addictive.

  3. "You know me, I say what I think. Why? Nobody else does." Biding my time until 9pm EST!

  4. It IS addictive. I put off watching it for a year, then caught one episode by chance and am seriously hooked.