The new year welcomes in the second season of the delicious and addictive television series, "Downton Abbey," one of the most critically acclaimed shows on television. The first episode airs on Sunday, January 8. Did you know that it is the most popular period drama in Great Britain since "Brideshead Revisited" (which coincidentally is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month)? Here in the U.S. "Downton Abbey" is equally beloved and won six primetime Emmy awards, including best mini-series. The first episode of season two takes place in the year 1916, two years into World War I and will have seven episodes. And yes, there will be a third season! It starts filming in February.
The last episode left us with Lord Grantham announcing that World War I has been declared. Who can forget the very first episode when the kind and benevolent Lord Grantham retained Mr. Bates as his valet, even though Bates' disability prevented him from doing the best job. Tears were flowing on my end! Lady Mary tried to have it both ways and protect her interests regarding cousin Matthew's proposal of marriage and apparently has lost him. Lady Edith continues to be disappointed in love and Lady Sybil is embracing the women's rights movement. The Countess of Grantham, played by American actress Elizabeth McGovern, has lost her baby due to the machinations of the malevolent maid O'Brien. The servants' world is equally fraught with drama. Gwen wants to leave service and become a secretary. Anna is in love with Mr. Bates who cannot return her affections due to his mysterious past. The cook has had eye surgery to correct her blindness and save her job. Head housekeeper Mrs. Hughes has been tempted to accept a marriage proposal but decides to stay at Downton Abbey, much to the relief of head butler Mr. Carlson. The characters have grown, none more touchingly than Maggie Smith's character, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, who softened under the influence of Matthew's egalitarian mother and in one of my favorite scenes gave the flower award to one of the gardeners, despite the fact that she had actually won it.
Many people have discussed the reasons for the great appeal of this series. One of the reasons most often cited is that Julian Fellowes has made the stories of the characters upstairs and downstairs equally compelling. I agree with that. When you add to this the additional elements of gorgeous sets and costumes, the magnificent Highclere Castle where the series is based, incredible writing from Julian Fellowes, and great acting from talents such as Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Penelope Wilton, as well as younger relatively unknown actors such as the women who play the three sisters -- you have the formula for a spectacular television hit. The leisurely episodic format of the show makes us feel as if we are immersed in a sprawling Edwardian novel, and that is also part of its appeal.
And of course for the Anglophiles amongst us the show is an adoration of "England's green and pleasant land." The beauty of the English countryside is ever present and the story of a family and their servants whose personal dramas unfold within a magnificent English country house is fascinating. There is also the satisfying storyline that is right out of a Jane Austen novel -- sisters that need to be married, entailment, possible loss of a great home, and love and romance. In addition, it looks like the next season will be very much about the affects of World War I on these characters which is not a theme Austen ever went into. We wonder what will happen to all of the men, members of the family as well as the servants, since every able-bodied young man was required to serve.
Since January is "Downton Abbey month" I thought I might devote the entire month to all things British. So let's put on the kettle, bring out the good china and have tea in front of the fireplace. Let's talk about the show and other topics that are quintessentially British. In the meantime, enjoy the first episode of the second season of "Downton Abbey"!
First four photos via here