I missed this when it first aired; to be honest, I just wasn’t anticipating that there could possibly be anything worth watching at 9pm on Sunday nights on ITV after X-Factor – least of all a period drama!
But then everyone told me it was wonderful, I caught a random episode and the dvd box set promptly went on my Christmas list. I polished off the seven episodes in just a couple of evenings and I am absolutely delighted to report that my prejudice against ITV was sadly misplaced.
Downton Abbey was one of those really lovely television experiences, one that leaves you not just entertained, but really happy to have seen it. There’s a lot of stuff I watch that’s disposable, I enjoy it while I watch it, but wouldn’t rave about it, or send others out to watch it. Downton stands out from the disposable crowd and I’m a complete (if late) champion. It’s the kind of show that makes me willing to try other things that ITV does and that’s saying something – I think the last thing I watched on the channel was Primeval five years ago.
Julian Fellowes is a good name to have attached to this kind of drama – it’s not exactly a stretch to see a television series about the lords, ladies, butlers and maids in a stately home. Both have an abundance of characters, in Downton’s case eight above stairs and a dozen or so below, with some colourful histories and personality. Dame Maggie Smith is the most obvious link, playing a gloriously horrid character in both.
Where Downton Abbey differs most from Gosford park however is in the focus. Gosford Park was an extremely tightly focussed murder mystery, cramming dozens of little stories and relationships into just a couple of days at a weekend house party, all in just a couple of hours of film. Downton Abbey is more sprawling, spanning several years and accelerating through not only world events, but the development of relationships. I’m very glad I watched all the episodes together, while episodes do have individual plots, they all blur happily together into a completely immersive experience.
Unlike everyone who watched this as it aired, I saw this AFTER I’d seen the BBC’s Christmas showing of the new Upstairs Downstairs which didn’t invoke anywhere near the same response. Upstairs Downstairs felt more of a drama, with intensity and angst. While Downton did have its fair share of drama, it was handled a lot more lightly, with a lot more humour and grace about the whole thing. It had me laughing out loud, rewinding the DVD to replay beautiful little moments more than once. It’s a show that I want to share, want to discuss the character motivations and repeat funny lines. I cannot wait for season two later this year and will happily lend the dvd to anyone that wants it so they can join my obsession.
Downton Abbey – Series 1 [DVD]  – 16 quid at time of writing.