Costume dramas – preferably British, preferably pre-1930s timeframe – are catnip to me. Pride & Prejudice mini-series? Check. Remains of the Day? Check. Gosford Park? Check.
Give me a montage of a carriage (or motorcar) traveling through a misty countryside to a stately home. Give me multiple ‘costume’ changes for one day’s activities – breakfast in bed, riding, tea, formal dinner, the hunt ball. Give me grand rooms layered with the patina and decorating contributions of 10 generations. And if you can, please give me a sprinkling of droll zingers delivered by Dame Maggie Smith.
In short, give me: Downton Abbey.
So many stories have been written about American viewers’ enthusiasm for this trans-Atlantic hit. But none of the theories about class curiosity, ‘highbrow’ melodrama, or romance novels come-to-life ring true for me. So, why do I love Downton?
The mental breadcrumbs lead me back to my favorite childhood books: The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, A Little Princess; followed by Emma, Jane Eyre, A Room With A View, The House of Mirth, and all most recently things Mitford. (Side note: why are almost all the heroines orphans?) Each book fully absorbed my imagination and, perhaps not surprisingly, every one of these literary classics has at least one film adaptation to its credit, most of which I’ve seen. Like I said, catnip.
Watching Downton offers that same experience – intertwined character story arcs, unforeseen personal challenges, period-specific boundaries of propriety – with the added element of cliffhangers. No reading until the early hours of the morning to find out how Lady Mary copes with Cousin Matthew’s car accident, or whether Lady Edith will ever find love, or what scheme Thomas and O’Brien will cook up next.
Luckily the wait is over another season has begun and Sunday nights will bring continuing adventures with the Granthams and lessons in witty repartee from the Dowager Countess. (!!!) Ahem, pardon me as I try to “ration my excitement.”