Downton Abbey

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Downton Abbey
Alt=series titles and a view of Downton Abbey
GenrePeriod drama
Created byJulian Fellowes
Written by
Directed by
Starring
Opening theme"Did I Make the Most of Loving You?"
Composer(s)John Lunn
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series4
No. of episodes34 (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)
Producer(s)
  • Liz Trubridge (series producer)
  • Nigel Marchant
Editor(s)
  • John Wilson
  • Steve Singleton
  • Mike Jones
CinematographyDavid Katznelson (series 1)
Gavin Struthers (series 2)
Camera setupSingle-camera
Running timeRegular episodes: 47–53 minutes
Extended episodes: 64–69 minutes
Christmas specials: 92 minutes
(excluding commercial breaks)
Production company(s)
Broadcast
Original channelITV, STV, UTV
Picture format1080i (HDTV)
Audio formatStereophonic
Original run26 September 2010 (2010-09-26) – present
External links
Website
 
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Downton Abbey
Alt=series titles and a view of Downton Abbey
GenrePeriod drama
Created byJulian Fellowes
Written by
Directed by
Starring
Opening theme"Did I Make the Most of Loving You?"
Composer(s)John Lunn
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series4
No. of episodes34 (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)
Producer(s)
  • Liz Trubridge (series producer)
  • Nigel Marchant
Editor(s)
  • John Wilson
  • Steve Singleton
  • Mike Jones
CinematographyDavid Katznelson (series 1)
Gavin Struthers (series 2)
Camera setupSingle-camera
Running timeRegular episodes: 47–53 minutes
Extended episodes: 64–69 minutes
Christmas specials: 92 minutes
(excluding commercial breaks)
Production company(s)
Broadcast
Original channelITV, STV, UTV
Picture format1080i (HDTV)
Audio formatStereophonic
Original run26 September 2010 (2010-09-26) – present
External links
Website

Downton Abbey is a British period drama television series created by Julian Fellowes and co-produced by Carnival Films and Masterpiece.[1] It first aired on ITV in the United Kingdom and Ireland on 26 September 2010 and on PBS in the United States on 9 January 2011 as part of the Masterpiece Classic anthology. Four series have been made so far; a fifth is planned for 2014.

The series, set in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey, depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in the post-Edwardian era—with the great events in history having an effect on their lives and on the British social hierarchy. Such events depicted throughout the series include news of the sinking of the RMS Titanic in the first series; the outbreak of the First World War, the Spanish influenza pandemic, and the Marconi scandal in the second series; the Interwar period and the formation of the Irish Free State in the third series; and the Teapot Dome scandal in the fourth series.

Downton Abbey has received critical acclaim from television critics and won numerous accolades, including a Golden Globe Award for Best Miniseries or Television Film and a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries or Movie. It was recognised by Guinness World Records as the most critically acclaimed English-language television series of 2011. It earned the most nominations of any international television series in the history of the Primetime Emmy Awards, with twenty-seven in total (after two series).[2] It was the most watched television series on both ITV and PBS, and subsequently became the most successful British costume drama series since the 1981 television serial of Brideshead Revisited.[3] By the third series, it had become one of the most widely watched television drama shows in the world.[4]

Overview[edit]

The series is set in the fictional Downton Abbey, a Yorkshire country house, the seat of the Earl and Countess of Grantham, and follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants during the reign of King George V. Influenced by Edith Wharton's The Custom of the Country,[5] the first series opens at the end of the Edwardian era in 1912 with news of the family heir's death aboard the Titanic, spanning the two years before the Great War. The second series covered the years 1916 to 1919, and the 2011 Christmas Special covered the 1919 Christmas period, ending in early 1920. The third series picks up soon thereafter, covering 1920 through the autumn of 1921. The fourth series covers a six-month period between February and August 1922, while the 2013 Christmas special was set in summer 1923.

Production[edit]

Gareth Neame of Carnival Films conceived the idea of an Edwardian-era TV drama set in a country house and approached Fellowes, who had won an Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) for Gosford Park. Although Fellowes was reluctant to work on another project resembling Gosford, within a few weeks he returned to Neame with an outline of the first series. Fellowes writes the scripts, and his wife Emma is an informal story editor.[6]

Locations[edit]

Highclere Castle in Hampshire is used for exterior shots of Downton Abbey and most of the interior filming.[7][8][9][10] The kitchen, servants' quarters and working areas, and some of the "upstairs" bedrooms were constructed and filmed at Ealing Studios.[11]

Highclere Castle, used for interior and exterior filming of Downton Abbey

The village of Bampton in Oxfordshire is used to film outdoor scenes. Notable locations include St Mary's Church and the library, which served as the entrance to the cottage hospital.[12] The old rectory in Bampton is used for the exterior shots of Isobel Crawley's house, with the interior scenes being filmed at Hall Place near Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire.[13]

The Downton Abbey of the title and setting, though fictional, is described as lying in the historical County of Yorkshire. The towns of Easingwold, Kirkby Malzeard, Kirkbymoorside, Malton, Middlesbrough, Ripon, Richmond, and Thirsk, each mentioned by characters in the series, lie in present-day North Yorkshire, as does the city of York, while Leeds—similarly mentioned—lies in West Yorkshire; local Yorkshire media speculated the general location of the fictional Downton Abbey to be somewhere in the triangulated area between the towns of Easingwold, Ripon and Thirsk.[14]

First World War trench warfare scenes in France were filmed in a replica battlefield, specially constructed for period war scenes in a field near the village of Akenham in rural Suffolk.[15][16]

Many historical locations and aristocratic mansions have been used to film various scenes:

The fictional Haxby Park, the estate Sir Richard Carlisle intends to buy in Series 2, is part of Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire.[17] Byfleet Manor in Surrey is the location for the Dower House, home to Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham,[18] while West Wycombe Park in Buckinghamshire is used for the interior scenes of Lady Rosamund (Samantha Bond)'s London residence in Eaton Square.[19] A house in Belgrave Square, London, is used for the exterior shots.[20]

Inveraray Castle in Argyll, Scotland, doubled as "Duneagle Castle" in the 2012 Christmas special.[21]

Greys Court in Oxfordshire was used as the family's secondary property, into which they proposed moving and calling 'Downton Place' due to financial difficulties in the third series. Also in the third series, Bates' prison scenes were filmed at Lincoln Castle in Lincolnshire.

Horsted Keynes railway station in West Sussex is used as Downton station.[22] The station is part of the heritage Bluebell Railway. St Pancras station in London doubled for King's Cross station in episode one of series 4, in the scene where Lady Edith Crawley meets her lover Michael Gregson.[23]

Parts of series 4 were filmed at The Historic Dockyard Chatham – The Tarred Yarn Store was used in episode one as a workhouse where Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) visits Mr Grigg (Nicky Henson) and in episode two, streets at The Historic Dockyard Chatham were used for the scenes where Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James) is at the market with James Kent (Ed Speleers) watching her.[24]

Other filming locations for series 4 include the Criterion Restaurant, and the ballroom of The Savile Club in Mayfair, London.[25]

Scenes for the 2013 Christmas special have been filmed at Royal Holloway, University of London, Goldsmith's College London, West Wittering beach in West Sussex and Berkshire's Basildon Park. Lancaster House in London stood in for Buckingham Palace.[26][27]

Opening theme[edit]

The opening theme to Downton Abbey entitled "Did I Make the Most of Loving You?"[28] was composed by John Lunn,[29] and is performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The piece runs for four minutes and twenty-one seconds (4:21).[30] The theme was released commercially in both the UK on 28 September 2012[31] and in US on 9 October 2012[32] by Silva Screen Records.[30] An extended suite version was released on the soundtrack for the show in 19 September 2011 in the UK[33] and later in the US on 13 December 2011.[34] The soundtrack also included the song performed by singer Mary-Jess Leaverland,[35] with lyrics written by Don Black.[36] According to Lunn, the inspiration for the theme to Downton Abbey came from James Brown.[29]

Cast[edit]

Main cast[edit]

Crawley family[edit]

ActorCharacterPositionAppearances
Hugh BonnevilleRobert Crawley, Earl of GranthamLord Grantham, head of the Crawley familySeries 1–
Elizabeth McGovernCora Crawley (née Levinson), Countess of GranthamLady Grantham, Lord Grantham's American heiress wifeSeries 1–
Michelle DockeryLady Mary Josephine CrawleyEldest daughter of Lord and Lady Grantham; widow of Matthew CrawleySeries 1–
Laura CarmichaelLady Edith CrawleyMiddle daughter of Lord and Lady GranthamSeries 1–
Jessica Brown FindlayLady Sybil Branson (née Crawley)Youngest daughter of Lord and Lady Grantham; late wife of Tom BransonSeries 1–3
Maggie SmithViolet Crawley, Dowager Countess of GranthamLord Grantham's motherSeries 1–
Allen LeechTom BransonChauffeur of the family (series 1–2), agent of the estate (series 3); widower of Sybil BransonSeries 1–
Dan StevensMatthew Reginald CrawleyHeir presumptive (third cousin once removed) of Lord Grantham; former lawyer, latterly co-owner of the estate; late husband of Mary CrawleySeries 1–Christmas Special 2012
Penelope WiltonIsobel CrawleyMatthew's mother; widow and former nurseSeries 1–
Lily JamesLady Rose MacClareCousin and ward of the Granthams; daughter of The Marquess and Marchioness of FlintshireSeries 3–
Samantha BondLady Rosamund Painswick (née Crawley)Lord Grantham's sisterSeries 1–
Ava Mann (Series 4)Sybil "Sybbie" BransonDaughter of Lady Sybil and Tom BransonSeries 3-
Cole & Logan Weston (Series 4)George CrawleySon of Matthew and Lady Mary Crawley, heir to Downton and Earl of GranthamChristmas Special 2012-

Staff[edit]

ActorCharacterPositionAppearances
Jim CarterCharles CarsonButlerSeries 1–
Phyllis LoganElsie HughesHousekeeperSeries 1–
Brendan CoyleJohn BatesLord Grantham's valet; husband of Anna, widower of VeraSeries 1–
Siobhan FinneranSarah O'BrienLady Grantham's lady's maidSeries 1–Christmas Special 2012
Rob James-CollierThomas BarrowFirst Footman, later Lord Grantham's valet, then underbutlerSeries 1–
Joanne FroggattAnna May Bates (née Smith)Head housemaid, later Lady Mary's lady's maid; wife to John BatesSeries 1–
Lesley NicolBeryl PatmoreCookSeries 1–
Sophie McSheraDaisy Mason (née Robinson)Kitchen maid, later assistant cook; widow of William MasonSeries 1–
Thomas HowesWilliam MasonSecond Footman; briefly married to DaisySeries 1–2
Rose LeslieGwen DawsonHousemaidSeries 1
Amy NuttallEthel ParksHousemaid, later Mrs Crawley's Housekeeper and CookSeries 2–3
Kevin DoyleJoseph MolesleyMatthew's butler and valet, later a footman at Downton AbbeySeries 1–
Matt MilneAlfred NugentSecond Footman, O'Brien's nephewSeries 3–4
Ed SpeleersJames "Jimmy" KentFirst FootmanSeries 3–
Cara TheoboldIvy StuartKitchen maidSeries 3–
MyAnna BuringEdna BraithwaiteFormer maid, then briefly Lady Grantham's lady's maidChristmas Special 2012–Series 4
Raquel CassidyPhyllis BaxterLady Grantham's lady's maidSeries 4–

Crawley family friends and acquaintances[edit]

ActorCharacterPositionAppearances
David RobbDr Richard ClarksonMedical doctorSeries 1–
Charles EdwardsMichael GregsonMagazine editor, love interest of Lady Edith and father of her daughterSeries 3–

Recurring and guest cast[edit]

ActorCharacterPositionAppearances
Jonathan CoyGeorge MurrayLord Grantham's lawyerSeries 1, Christmas Special 2011–Series 3
Bernard GallagherWilliam "Bill" MolesleyJoseph Molesley's fatherSeries 1, Series 3–
Fergus O'DonnellJohn DrakeFarmer on the Grantham estateSeries 1–2
Christine LohrMay BirdMrs Crawley's cookSeries 1–3
Lionel GuyettMr TaylorChauffeurSeries 1
Andrew WestfieldMr LynchGroomSeries 1
Cathy SaraMrs DrakeWife of John DrakeSeries 1–2
Brendan PatricksThe Hon Evelyn NapierSuitor of Lady MarySeries 1, Series 4–
Theo JamesKemal PamukOttoman (Turkish) Embassy attachéSeries 1
Charlie CoxPhilip,[37] The Duke of CrowboroughSuitor of Lady Mary; lover of Mr BarrowSeries 1
Nicky HensonCharles GriggFormer colleague of CarsonSeries 1, Series 4
Bill FellowsJoe BurnsMrs Hughes's former suitorSeries 1
Robert BathurstSir Anthony StrallanFamily friend and suitor of Lady EdithSeries 1, Christmas Special 2011–Series 3
Cal MacAninchHenry LangLord Grantham's valetSeries 2
Clare CalbraithJane MoorsumHousemaidSeries 2
Zoe BoyleLavinia Catherine SwireFiancée of MatthewSeries 2
Iain GlenSir Richard CarlisleNewspaper proprietor and suitor of Lady MarySeries 2–Christmas Special 2011
Maria Doyle KennedyVera BatesEstranged wife of Mr BatesSeries 2
Lachlan NieboerLt Edward CourtenayWounded officerSeries 2
Michael CochraneReverend Albert TravisVicar of Downton villageSeries 2–3
Daniel PirrieMaj Charles BryantWounded officer; father of Ethel's childSeries 2
Trevor WhiteMaj Patrick GordonWounded officer who claims to be Patrick Crawley, who was believed dead and would be heir presumptive if notSeries 2
Paul CopleyMr MasonWilliam Mason's fatherSeries 2–
Kevin McNallyHorace BryantMaj Bryant's fatherSeries 2–3
Christine MackieDaphne BryantMaj Bryant's motherSeries 2–3
Nigel HaversLord HepworthSuitor of Lady RosamundChristmas Special 2011
Sharon SmallMarigold ShoreLady Rosamund's maidChristmas Special 2011
Shirley MacLaineMartha LevinsonMother of Lady Grantham, AmericanSeries 3, Christmas Special 2013
Tim Pigott-SmithSir Philip TapsellLondon obstetrician and gynaecologistSeries 3
Ruairi ConaghanKieran BransonTom's brotherSeries 3
Lucille SharpMs ReedMrs Levinson's maidSeries 3
Michael CulkinCosmo Gordon LangArchbishop of YorkSeries 3
Peter EganHugh "Shrimpie" MacClareLord Flintshire, Rose's fatherChristmas Special 2012
Phoebe NichollsSusan MacClareLady Flintshire, Rose's mother and the dowager countess' nieceChristmas Special 2012
John HenshawJos TuftonGrocer and Mrs Patmore's suitorChristmas Special 2012
Tom CullenAnthony Foyle, Lord GillinghamCrawley family friend and Mary's suitorSeries 4–
Gary CarrJack RossAfrican American jazz singer and musicianSeries 4
Kiri Te KanawaNellie MelbaOpera singerSeries 4
Christina CartyVirginia WoolfWriterSeries 4
Nigel HarmanMr GreenLord Gillingham's valetSeries 4
Paul GiamattiHarold LevinsonLady Grantham's brotherChristmas Special 2013[38]
Andrew AlexanderSir John BullockCrawley family acquaintanceSeries 4
Julian OvendenCharles BlakeEvelyn Napier's boss, suitor of MarySeries 4-
Andrew ScarboroughTim DreweTenant farmer on the Grantham estateSeries 4
Daisy LewisSarah BuntingSchoolteacherSeries 4–
Guy WilliamsGeorge VKing of the United Kingdom, Emperor of India2013 Christmas Special
Oliver DimsdalePrince of WalesHeir to the British throne2013 Christmas Special
Janet MontgomeryFreda Dudley WardMistress of the Prince of Wales2013 Christmas Special

Episodes[edit]

Series one[edit]

The first series was broadcast in the UK on 26 September 2010, and explored the lives of the Crawley family and their servants from the day after the sinking of the RMS Titanic in April 1912 to the outbreak of the First World War on 4 August 1914. Much of the focus is on the need for a male heir to the Grantham estate, and the troubled love life of Lady Mary as she attempts to find a suitable husband. The device that sets the drama in motion is the entail accompanying the (fictional) Earldom of Grantham (which endows both title and estate exclusively to heirs male) complicated by the dire financial state of the estate only saved when the earl—then the heir apparent—married an American heiress. On the marriage, her considerable fortune was contractually incorporated into the comital entail in perpetuity. The earl and countess, who have three daughters and no son, arranged for their eldest daughter to marry her cousin, son of the then-heir presumptive. The demise of both heirs in the sinking of the Titanic destroys the plans and brings into play a distant male cousin, Matthew Crawley, a solicitor from Manchester as heir presumptive to Downton and the countess's fortune.

Series two[edit]

The second series premiered in the UK on 18 September 2011, and in the US on 8 January 2012.[39] A Christmas special[40][41] was broadcast on Christmas Day 2011 in the UK.

The series comprised eight episodes, running from the Battle of the Somme in 1916 to the 1918 flu pandemic. Matthew Crawley, Thomas Barrow, and William Mason go off to fight in the war; Tom Branson, an Irishman, refuses to fight for the British. Lady Sybil Crawley defies her aristocratic position and joins the Voluntary Aid Detachment.[42][43] At the end of the series she leaves Downton Abbey for Dublin to marry Tom Branson, who is now a journalist and on the road to becoming a political activist.

Michelle Dockery, Dame Maggie Smith, Brendan Coyle, Rob James-Collier, Dan Stevens,[3] Elizabeth McGovern, Hugh Bonneville,[44] Jessica Brown Findlay, Laura Carmichael, Joanne Froggatt, Phyllis Logan[45] and Allen Leech[46] all returned and Cal MacAninch, Iain Glen, Amy Nuttall, Zoe Boyle and Maria Doyle Kennedy joined the cast[47] as the new valet Lang, Sir Richard Carlisle, the new housemaid Ethel, Miss Lavinia Swire and John Bates' wife Vera respectively.[48] Filming began in March 2011.[49]

Christmas Special 2011[edit]

Most of the regular cast, with Nigel Havers as Lord Hepworth and Sharon Small as Lady Rosamund's new maid, Marigold Shore, appear in a Christmas special.[50] This single episode visited Downton between Christmas 1919 and early 1920.

Series three[edit]

The third series of Downton Abbey premiered on 16 September 2012 in the UK, and in the US on 6 January 2013. Mary and Matthew are married early on. Branson and a pregnant Lady Sybil return to Downton to live after the burning of an aristocrat's house in Ireland, in which Tom was criminally implicated. Downton's estate and business functionality are in jeopardy because Robert has lost most of Cora's fortune on poor investments. In exchange for becoming co-owner of the estate, Matthew gives Robert a large sum of money inherited from the father of his former fiancée Lavinia Swire. Tragedy hits when Sybil dies of complications following childbirth; Tom names their child Sybil and christens her a Catholic. Mr Bates is finally released from prison following a confession from a witness confirming his innocence. Matthew and Tom, who on Violet's suggestion has become the new estate agent, begin to turn Downton Abbey into a profitably managed estate.

Christmas Special 2012[edit]

ITV announced at the end of the last episode of Series Three, broadcast on 4 November 2012 in the UK, that a special episode would be broadcast on Christmas Day.[51]

Actress MyAnna Buring appeared in the 2012 Christmas special, playing the role of maid Edna Braithwaite.[52] Scottish actress Simone Lahbib played the role of Wilkins, Lady Flintshire's (Phoebe Nicholls) maid.[53]

Series four[edit]

On 23 November 2012, ITV announced that a fourth series had been commissioned and that filming would begin in February 2013.[54][55] The series began broadcast in the UK on ITV on 22 September 2013[56] while there was a 5 January 2014 premiere in the US on PBS with the series concluding in the US on 23 February 2014.[57]

On ITV, the Downton Abbey official website released some information about series four. Viewers will find Lady Mary Crawley mourning her husband Matthew Crawley, who died six months earlier in a car crash. Matthew had just visited his wife and new baby son, George, in hospital, and was returning to see his family when his car overturned, killing the heir to Downton. Viewers will find out whether Lady Mary will find happiness again.[58]

In March 2013, it was announced that new cast members have joined series four: Tom Cullen as Lord Anthony Gillingham, an old childhood friend of Mary whom she hasn't seen in years; Nigel Harman as Gillingham's valet Green; Dame Harriet Walter as Violet's friend Lady Shackleton; Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, who will play the Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba who is a house guest;[59] Joanna David, who will guest star as the Duchess of Yeovil;[60] and Julian Ovenden as the aristocrat Charles Blake. Returning to series four in the 2013 Christmas episode will be Shirley MacLaine, who will reprise her role as Cora's mother, Martha Levinson,[61] and Paul Giamatti has been cast as her son and Lady Grantham's brother, Harold. The show's first black character will be introduced: a jazz musician and singer from Chicago named Jack Ross. Ross, who will ignite some race-related controversy, will be portrayed by Gary Carr. Daisy Lewis will portray a nanny for the children, Andrew Alexander will play Sir John Bullock, and Raquel Cassidy will portray a new lady's maid named Baxter. Brendan Patricks will return to the show as Evelyn Napier. Christine Carty will play writer Virginia Woolf, the third "real life" character in the series, at a Bloomsbury Group party attended by Edith.[62]

Actress Siobhan Finneran, who played lady's maid Sarah O'Brien, did not appear in series four. A rep for the ITV series has confirmed Finneran's departure, but said that the character could return in the future.[63]

The relationship between lady's maid Anna and valet Mr Bates also faces difficulties, with actress Joanne Froggatt quoted as saying, 'There is another upset on the cards...I mean it's lovely to play being in love but it's great to play the drama as well.'[62] This has proven to be true, with the new plot line involving Anna causing uproar among some British viewers.[64]

With the fourth series, Fellowes continued his writing method, which he explained was to subject 'a couple of characters per series to a very difficult situation and you get the emotions that come out of these traumas.'[65] This was 'about taking characters to the brink', he said.[65]

Christmas Special 2013[edit]

Scenes for the 2013 Christmas special were filmed at Royal Holloway, University of London, Goldsmith's College London, West Wittering beach in West Sussex and Berkshire's Basildon Park. Lancaster House in London stood in for Buckingham Palace.[66][67]

The episode featured Paul Giamatti in the role of Lady Grantham's brother, Harold Levinson [38]

Series five[edit]

ITV announced at the end of series four that Downton Abbey will return for a fifth series in 2014.[68] On 5 January 2014, Fellowes hinted that this series could be the last.[69] This speculation was later denied by producers who state that there are 'no plans to end the show'. [70]

Prequel[edit]

In The Telegraph September 2012 issue, Julian Fellowes said he's working on a spin-off prequel of Downton Abbey which revolves around Lord Grantham and Cora's courtship. Initially planned as a book, it was then picked up by ITV.[71]

Themes[edit]

The series has been noted for its relatively sympathetic portrayal of the aristocratic family, and the class based society of early 20th century Britain. This has led to criticism from the political left and praise from the right.[72] James Fenton wrote in The New York Review of Books "it is noticeable that the aristocrats in the series, even the ones who are supposed to be the most ridiculous, never lapse into the most offensive kind of upper-class drawl one would expect of them. Great care has been taken to keep them pleasant and approachable, even when the things they say are sometimes shown to be class-bound and unfeeling."[73] Jerry Bowyer argued in Forbes that the sympathy for aristocracy is over-stated, and that the show is simply more balanced than most period dramas, which he believes have had a tendency to demonise or ridicule upper class characters. He wrote that Downton Abbey shows "there is no inherent need for good TV to be left of center. Stories sympathetic to virtue, preservation of property and admiration of nobility and of wealth can be told beautifully and to wide audiences."[72]

Reception[edit]

Downton Abbey has been a commercial success, and has received generally good reviews from critics. It has received some criticism for being superficial, melodramatic or unrealistic, although others have argued that this is precisely the reason for its success. David Kamp of Vanity Fair wrote, "Melodrama is an uncool thing to trade in these days, but then, that's precisely why Downton Abbey is so pleasurable. In its clear delineation between the goodies and the baddies, in its regulated dosages of highs and lows, the show is welcome counter-programming to the slow-burning despair and moral ambiguity of most quality drama on television right now."[6] James Parker, writing in The Atlantic said, "Preposterous as history, preposterous as drama, the show succeeds magnificently as bad television. The dialogue spins light-operatically along in the service of multiplying plotlets, not too hard on the ear, although now and again a line lands like a tray of dropped spoons. The acting is superb—it has to be."[74] Ben W. Heineman Jr. compared the series unfavourably to Brideshead Revisited, writing "Downton Abbey is entertainment. Its illustrious predecessor in television mega-success about the English upper class, Brideshead Revisited, is art."[75] He noted the lack of character development in Downton. Writing in The Sunday Times, A. A. Gill said that the show is "everything I despise and despair of on British television: National Trust sentimentality, costumed comfort drama that flogs an embarrassing, demeaning, and bogus vision of the place I live in."[6]

Series one[edit]

The first episode of Downton Abbey had a consolidated British audience of 9.2 million viewers, a 32% audience share—making it the most successful new drama on any channel since Whitechapel was launched on ITV in February 2009. The total audience for the first episode, including repeats and ITV Player viewings, exceeded 11.6 million viewers. This was beaten by the next episode, with a total audience of 11.8 million viewers—including repeats and ITV Player views.

Downton Abbey broke the record for a single episode viewing on ITV Player, the ITV online catch-up service.[42]

At Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the first series received an average score of 92, based on 14 reviews, which indicates "universal acclaim".[76] This result earned the show a Guinness World Record in 2011 for "Highest critical review ratings for a TV show", making Downton Abbey the most critically well received TV show in the world.[77] Season 4 of Breaking Bad surpassed Downton Abbey's record later in the year, with a score of 96, making series1 of Downton Abbey the 2nd highest rated show of 2011.[78]

Sam Wollaston of The Guardian said,

It's beautifully made—handsome, artfully crafted and acted. Smith, who plays the formidable and disdainful Dowager Countess, has a lovely way of delivering words, always spaced to perfection. This is going to be a treat if you like a lavish period drama of a Sunday evening.[79]

Viewers were critical of the number of advertisement breaks during the first episode (five in a 90-minute episode, as well as one before and one after), claiming it ruined the continuity. ITV responded by saying that the number of breaks complied with Ofcom regulations and that the advertising was necessary to cover the high costs of production.[80]

Series two[edit]

The second series premiered in Britain on 18 September 2011 in the same 9 pm slot as the first series, with the first episode attracting an average audience of 9 million viewers on ITV1, a 34.6% share.[81] The second episode attracted a similar following with an average of 9.3 million viewers.[82] In January 2012, the PBS premiere attracted 4.2 million viewers, over double the network's average primetime audience of 2 million. The premiere audience was 18% higher than the Season 1 premiere.[83]

The second season of Downton Abbey gave PBS its highest ratings since 2009. The second season averaged 5.4 million viewers, excluding station replays, DVR viewings and online streaming. The 5.4 million average improved on PBS first season numbers by 25%. Additionally, episodes of season two have been viewed 4.8 million times on PBS' digital portal, which bests season one's online viewing numbers by more than 400 percent. Overall, Downton Abbey-related content has racked up more than 9 million streams across all platforms, with 1.5 million unique visitors, since season 2's 8 January premiere.[84] In 2013, Downton Abbey was ranked the 43rd most well-written TV show of all time by the Writers' Guild of America.[85]

Series three[edit]

The third series premiered in the UK on 16 September 2012 with an average of 9 million viewers (or a 36% audience share).[86] For the first time in the UK, episode three received an average of more than 10 million viewers (or a 38.2% audience share).[87] Premiering in the US in January 2013, the third series had an average season audience of 11.5 million viewers and the finale on 17 February 2013, drew 12.3 million viewers making it the night's highest rating show.[88] Overall, during its seven-week run, the series had an audience of 24 million viewers making it PBS' highest-rated drama of all time.[88]

While rumoured, due to the departure of actor Dan Stevens, the death of Matthew Crawley, in the 2012 Christmas special, drew criticism.[89][90] Julian Fellowes defended the decision stating that they 'didn't really have an option' once Stevens decided to leave.[90] Stevens later said that he had no say in the manner of his character's departure but that he was 'sorry' his character had died on Christmas Day.[91]

Series four[edit]

The fourth series premiered in the UK on 22 September 2013 with an average audience of 9.5 million viewers which was the highest ever for one of the drama's debut episodes.[92] It premiered in the US on 5 January 2014, to an audience of at least 10.2 million viewers, outperforming every other drama on that night; it was the largest audience for PBS since the 1990 premiere of the Ken Burns documentary The Civil War.[93]

In the UK, the second episode attracted an average of 9.6 million viewers.[94]

The third episode, which aired on 6 October 2013, included a warning at the beginning: "This episode contains violent scenes that some viewers may find upsetting."[95] The episode content, which saw lady's maid Anna Bates raped, led to more than 200 complaints by viewers to UK television regulator Ofcom,[96] while ITV received 60 complaints directly.[65] On 4 November 2013, Ofcom announced it would not be taking action over the controversy citing the warning given, that the episode was screened after 9pm, and, that the rape took place 'off-screen'.[97]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Anti-Irish charges[edit]

Charges that the series depicts the Irish characters—and Irish history—in a negative light have been made in some Irish newspapers especially The Herald. The Irish War of Independence, for example, is incorrectly described in the blurb as the Irish Civil War. Allen Leech, who plays Tom Branson in the series, was asked about this by an Irish reporter writing for the Irish newspaper The Herald, and denied the notion that the series depicted the Irish characters in a stage Irish pejorative fashion.[98] Nevertheless, Tom's brother Kieran is depicted as boorish, rude, and drunken, and is described by the Dowager Countess as a 'drunken gorilla'—an unwelcome reminder to an Irish audience of the ape-like figures depicting the Irish that featured in British[99] and American[100] publications in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.[101][102] The character of Robert Crawley expresses anti-catholic views and is described, by The Washington Post, as 'xenophobic' but 'at least historically accurate'.[103] The series writer, Julian Fellowes, explains that he chose to address this in terms of 'that casual, almost unconscious anti-Catholicism that was found among the upper classes, which lasted well into my growing up years'.[104] Fellowes, himself a Catholic, said that he 'thought it might be interesting' to explore this in the series and described his own experiences where the English upper classes 'were happy for you to come to their dances or shoot their pheasants, but there were plenty who did not want you to marry their daughters and risk Catholic grandchildren'.[104]

Authenticity[edit]

Fellowes tries to be as authentic in his depiction of the period as he can.[6] Despite this, the show features many linguistic anachronisms.[105] The accents of characters have also been questioned with the Received Pronunciation of 'the actors who play the wealthy characters' described as 'slightly more contemporary' than would be expected 'among early-20th-century aristocrats', however, this 'elicited more natural and unaffected performances from the cast'.[106]

In 2010, Fellowes hired Alastair Bruce, a 'an expert on state and court ritual' as historical adviser.[107] Bruce explains his role as being 'here to guide the production and particularly the director as they bring Julian's words to life. That also involves getting the social conduct right, and giving actors a sense of surety in the way they deliver a performance.'[107] Actor Jim Carter, who plays butler Carson, describes Bruce as the series' 'etiquette watchdog'[107] and the UK's Daily Telegraph finished its 2011 profile of Bruce's role stating 'Downton's authenticity, it seems, is in safe hands.'[108] However, historian Simon Schama criticised the show for historical inaccuracies and "pandering to cliches."[109] Producer Gareth Neame defended the show, saying "it was not intended to be an historical documentary."[110]

A 'tremendous amount of research' went into recreating the servants quarters at Ealing Studios because Highclere Castle, where many of the 'upstairs' scenes are filmed,[111] 'was not adequate for representing the "downstairs" life at the fictional abbey'.[112] Researchers visited 'nearly 40 English country houses' to help 'inform what the kitchen should look like' and production designer Donal Woods said of the kitchen equipment that 'Probably about 60 to 70 percent of the stuff in there is from that period'.[111] Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management is an 'important guide' to the food served in the series' but Highclere owner, and author of Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle, Lady Carnarvon, states that dinner parties in the era 'would have been even more over the top' than those shown.[111] However, she 'understands the compromises that need to be made for the purposes of television', and adds 'It’s a fun costume drama. It’s not a social documentary. Because it’s so popular, I think some people take it as historical fact.'[111]

Relationships between servants and the Grantham family, as well as with other upper class characters, are portrayed in a manner excessively familiar and more informal than the norm for the era. For example servants below the level of butler and housekeeper regularly ignore protocol and address senior members of the family with personal requests or observations. In one episode, John and Anna Bates are seen dining in the same restaurant as their employers, in an era when their combined wages would scarcely have permitted any savings at all.[citation needed]

Broadcast[edit]

The rights to broadcast Downton Abbey have been acquired in over 100 countries.[113]

In the United States, Downton Abbey was broadcast in January 2011 on PBS, as part of the 40th season of Masterpiece.[114] The programme was broadcast in four 90-minute episodes, requiring PBS to alter the beginning and endpoints of each episode with minimal editing.[115] In Canada, VisionTV begin airing the programme on 7 September 2011. Canadians can also view it on PBS.[116] A French-language version of the series debuted 12 January 2013 on Radio-Canada.[117] In Ireland, independent television channel TV3 aired the first series in January and February 2011.[118] In Australia, the first series was broadcast on the Seven Network from 29 May 2011.[119] The second series was broadcast on the Seven Network from 20 May 2012.[120] The third series was broadcast on the Seven Network from 10 February 2013.[121] In New Zealand, Prime began airing the first series on 10 May 2011.[122] the second series on 18 October 2011 and the third series on 18 October 2012. In South Africa, BBC Entertainment via DSTV began airing the first series on 19 February 2012. In the Philippines, the series airs over the Velvet Channel.

STV opt out[edit]

STV, which broadcasts ITV productions in Scotland, opted out of showing Downton Abbey, choosing instead to screen a brand-new six-part series of Taggart, following a long practice of opting out of Britain-wide ITV programmes.[123] This led to backlash from Scottish viewers, who were frustrated at not being able to watch the programme. Many viewers with satellite or cable television tuned into other regional stations of the ITV network, for example ITV1 London, with viewing figures showing this is also commonplace for other ITV programmes.[124] The series received its first Britain-wide broadcast when it was shown on ITV3 in February 2011.

STV announced in July 2011 that it will show the first and second series of Downton Abbey, as part of its autumn schedule.[125]

Phyllis Logan, who plays Mrs Hughes, said: "I'm delighted that STV is showing Downton Abbey in Scotland—it means my family and friends in Scotland will be able to watch it at the same time as the rest of the UK. This might push our viewing figures up even higher which can only be good". Iain Glen, who plays Sir Richard Carlisle, added: "I am not party to the original decision as to why STV didn't acquire the original series from ITV, but I am delighted the decision has been reversed and the people of Scotland will be able to see what all the fuss has been about".[126]

Releases[edit]

Blu-ray and DVD[edit]

TitleNumber of discsYear(s)Number of episodesRelease date (UK only)
Blu-rayDVD
Complete Series One23201078 November 2010
Complete Series Two[127]34201187 November 2011
Complete Series One and Two[128]572010–11157 November 2011
Christmas at Downton Abbey[129]112011126 December 2011
Complete Series Three34201285 November 2012[130]

Internationally, the US DVD release date was 11 January 2011, in New Zealand it was released on 22 June 2011 and in Australia on 4 August 2011. The release in Australia and New Zealand has an exclusive bonus disc in both the DVD and Blu-ray versions. It contains extras such as cast interviews, geography of Downton: upstairs and downstairs, a day in service and others.

On 16 September 2011, two days before the UK premiere of the second series, it was reported by Amazon.com that the first series of Downton Abbey had become the highest selling DVD Boxset on the online retailer's website of all time, surpassing popular American programmes such as The Sopranos, Friends and The Wire.[131]

Soundtrack[edit]

A soundtrack, featuring music from the series and also new songs, was released by Decca in September 2011. Music by John Lunn and Don Black features, with vocals from Mary-Jess Leaverland and Alfie Boe.[132]

Track listing[edit]

Downton Abbey: Original Music from the Television Series
No.TitleArtistLength
1."Downton Abbey: The Suite"  John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London7:09
2."Love and the Hunter"  John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London3:18
3."Emancipation"  John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London2:15
4."Story of My Life"  John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London1:58
5."Fashion"  John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London1:19
6."Damaged"  John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London5:25
7."If You Were the Only Girl in the World"  Alfie Boe3:47
8."Preparation"  John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London3:27
9."Such Good Luck"  John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London2:30
10."Us and Them"  John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London1:53
11."Violet"  John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London1:56
12."A Drive"  John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London1:04
13."An Ideal Marriage"  John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London2:43
14."Roses of Picardy"  Alfie Boe3:55
15."Telegram"  John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London1:45
16."Deception"  John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London2:51
17."Titanic"  John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London2:10
18."A Song and a Dance"  John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London1:30
19."Did I Make the Most of Loving You?" (a shortened version of "Downton Abbey: The Suite" with lyrics)John Lunn, Chamber Orchestra of London & Mary-Jess Leaverland4:18

Books[edit]

The World of Downton Abbey, a book featuring a behind-the-scenes look at Downton Abbey and era in which it is set, was released on 15 September 2011. It was written by Jessica Fellowes (the niece of Julian Fellowes) and was published by HarperCollins.[132][133] A second book also written by Jessica Fellowes and published by HarperCollins, The Chronicles of Downton Abbey, was released on 13 September 2012. It is a guide to the show's characters through the early part of the third series.[134][135]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]