Downton Abbey: ITV1, Sundays, 9pm

Oooh, I do love a bit of Sunday evening period drama (or, as Grace Dent so wonderfully puts it in her ace review, “brain balm”). There’s nothing better to make you forget the looming drudgery of the working week for an hour or so. Downton Abbey arrived last night on ITV1, after much fanfare, so I settled down with a glass of wine and pen and paper to record my thoughts.*

Written by Julian Fellowes (who wrote Gosford Park, which I found pretty to look at but monumentally dull), Downton Abbey stars a cavalcade of prime acting talent. Dame Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Jim Carter, Penelope Wilton to name but a few – as my parents would always say during such programmes “they’re all in it!”.

There’s a real ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ feel to this as the story takes in both the servants and the toffs living and working at Downton. We’re swept into the bustling activity of the household staff and given clues as to their allegiances and rivalries – for example, First Footman Thomas (played by Rob James Collier, last seen as Liam in Corrie – he has very pink lips) is smarting over being passed over for the position of Lord Crawley’s valet. The Crawley family themselves exhibit varying degrees of likeability – Lord Crawley is clearly an honourable man (Hugh Bonneville does quiet dignity so well), whereas his eldest daughter is at first meeting a bit of a bitch. And, of course, Dame Maggie Smith’s Dowager Duchess is a complete dragon – I loved the scene where she shaded her eyes with a fan lest she be blinded by the newfangled electric lights!

The plot starts with the news of the loss of two Downton heirs in the sinking of the Titanic, and as Lord Crawley and his wife only have daughters the possibility that Downton Abbey will be passed to very distant relatives becomes real. Unfortunately much of the opening episode was therefore taken up with explanations of the laws surrounding inheritance in 1912 – entail and primogeniture et cetera et cetera, which meant that it dragged a little. There was some sharp dialogue too though, particularly the line “one swallow doesn’t make a summer”, which was most certainly NOT a reference to birds of either the feathered or female variety. Naughty 😉

My main problem with Downton Abbey, though, was the 90 minute running time and the MANY ad breaks. I know that ITV have to pay for all that sumptuous period detail and top notch acting somehow, but there were 2 commercial breaks in the first 25 minutes!  Nothing kills period atmosphere quicker than Babs Windsor advertising internet bingo.

The remaining 6 episodes are shorter, I believe (hope!), so I’ll certainly tune in again as I’ve read that the pace picks up, and it’s certainly a feast for the eyes – the costumes are beautiful, and I’ve already fallen in love with the ‘house’ itself (actually Highclere Castle, see below). I’ll just make sure to press the ‘mute’ button during the ad breaks!

*I have a brain like a sieve – if I didn’t make notes this post would have read “Er, I liked it, a bit”…..

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10 thoughts on “Downton Abbey: ITV1, Sundays, 9pm

  1. Ooh, I’ve got this recorded for later, ad-free viewing. I didn’t know Liam Connor was in it-rowr!

    I couldn’t stand Gosford Park after 30 seconds of Ryan Phillipe’s dreadful Scottish accent.

    • Ah, recording! That’s what I will do – makes sense anyway as it’s not Mike’s cup of tea.

      The only good think I remember about Gosford Park is Clive Owen. Rowr!

  2. “Nothing kills period atmosphere quicker than Babs Windsor advertising internet bingo”
    LOL at this!
    We watched with delight – but, like Stella, will record it next week, there’s far too much getting in the way. And I think I might have a teensy bit of a Hugh Bonneville crush (blush).

    • Hee, this was my favourite bit too! And very true. 🙂

      Great review, Anne-Marie. This was advertised at the cinema and I thought “I might enjoy that,” but it had started by the time I got back, so that was a bit of a fail. I liked the bit in the ad where someone says to Maggie Smith, “I’ll take that as a compliment,” and out of the side of her mouth she goes, “Must have said it wrong.”

      • Thanks Diane! It’s probably worth trying to catch it on Sunday if you’re still interested. Maggie Smith *is* brilliant.

  3. I’ve caught up and watched it now. I think it is my new favourite programme for a Sunday night. Except I watched it on Tuesday. (I recorded and zipped through adverts thank goodness.)

    • That was very wise – I read in the Guardian the other day that there were 7 ad breaks in the first hour! Glad you enjoyed it, I’m starting to look forward to episode 2 now.

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