Downton Abbey started its second season 3 weeks ago and its already confirmed to me that this is by far one of the best shows on television today.
The show is centered around an aristocratic estate, the family that lives in it and their servants. It is the spiritual successor of another excellent class drama Upstairs Downstairs. (speaking of which that show has received an excellent American remake/continuation by the BBC that aired last December)
The show’s production values are top notch, especially for a British show. An ensemble cast featuring veterans like Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter and Maggie Smith work perfectly with fresh faces like Jessica Brown Findlay who plays Lady Sybil Crawley. Findlay strikes me as a British Scarlett Johansson, except that she can actually act, with a pleasant screen presence and a strangely deep voice.
The events of Downton Abbey started around the tragedy of the Titanic sinking killing off the heir to the abbey throwing everyone’s idyllic life into chaos. The passive aggression runs high from the drawing rooms to the bedrooms but none of the drama seems contrived at all. Most of the problems are internal to the abbey. The dichotomy of life in the kitchens and the servants quarters against the huge studies and halls is fascinating and offers moments of true poignancy in every day actions.
By the second season World War One is declared and the series starts to take a much more serious note. The depiction of the home front as well as high society losing their relevancy is all the more dramatic after having spent a full season bonding with all these characters. Social mobility is earthy and its motivations feel realistic whether its a dainty lady becoming a feminist or a servant hoping to move to London and living for herself; all the while keeping an eye on the utter ridiculousness of class itself. Bottom line is that it never ceases to entertain watching people live through made up rules and then break them.