The original cast image
|Created by||Julian Fellowes|
|Opening theme||"Did I Make the Most of Loving You?"|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||6|
|No. of episodes||52 (list of episodes)|
|Cinematography||David Katznelson (series 1)
Gavin Struthers (series 2)
|Running time||Regular episodes: 47–53 minutes
Extended episodes: 64–72 minutes
Christmas specials: 92–93 minutes
|Original network||ITV (UK)
|Picture format||1080i (HDTV)|
|Original release||26 September 2010– 25 December 2015|
Downton Abbey is a British historical period drama television series created by Julian Fellowes and co-produced by Carnival Films and Masterpiece. It first aired on ITV in the United Kingdom on 26 September 2010, and on PBS in the United States on 9 January 2011, as part of the Masterpiece Classic anthology. Six series have been made, the sixth airing in the autumn of 2015 in the UK and Ireland. The fifth began airing in the United States on 4 January 2015. On 26 March 2015, the sixth series was confirmed to be the final series, with the final episode airing in the UK on 25 December 2015 on ITV.
The series, set in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey, depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic 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; the Teapot Dome scandal in the fourth series; and the United Kingdom general election of 1923, the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, and the Beer Hall Putsch in the fifth 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). 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. By the third series, it had become one of the most widely watched television drama shows in the world.
On 26 March 2015, Carnival Films and ITV announced that the sixth series would be the last. The sixth series aired on ITV between 20 September 2015 and 8 November 2015, and a final episode, serving as the annual Christmas special, aired on 25 December 2015. Although there are no plans in place, there are strong rumours of a future film adaptation, with executive producer Gareth Neame saying that he was "very interested" and Alex Donohue of bookmakers Ladbrokes saying that "it only looks like being a matter of time before the film is released."
- 1 Series plot overview
- 2 Cast
- 3 Production
- 4 Broadcasts
- 5 Reception
- 6 DVD, Blu-ray and streaming video releases
- 7 Soundtrack
- 8 Cultural impact
- 9 Other media
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Notes
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
Series plot overview
The series is set in fictional Downton Abbey, a Yorkshire country house. Downton Abbey is home and seat of the Earl and Countess of Grantham, along with their children and distant family members. Each series follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family, their friends and servants during the reign of King George V.
|3rd Earl of Grantham
|Countess of Grantham
|younger son||wife||4th Earl of Grantham
|Countess of Grantham
|son||wife||5th Earl of Grantham
|Countess of Grantham
|son||wife||younger son||wife||6th Earl of Grantham
Dowager Countess of Grantham
|Isidore Levinson||Martha Levinson||husband||Roberta|
|Reginald Crawley||Isobel Crawley||James Crawley||wife||Marmaduke Painswick
|Lady Rosamund Painswick
7th Earl of Grantham
Countess of Grantham
|Harold Levinson||Hugh "Shrimpie" MacClare,
Marquess of Flintshire
Marchioness of Flintshire
Heir presumptive (presumed dead)
Heir presumptive (deceased)
|Lady Mary Crawley||Michael Gregson||Lady Edith Crawley||Tom Branson||Lady Sybil Branson
|The Hon Atticus Aldridge||Lady Rose Aldridge
|Marigold Crawley||Sybil Branson|
The first series, comprising seven episodes, explored the lives of the fictional Crawley family and their domestic servants beginning the day after the historic sinking of the RMS Titanic on 14/15 April 1912. The storyline centred on the fee tail or "entail" governing the titled elite, which endows both title and estate exclusively to heirs male. As part of the backstory, the main character, Robert Crawley, also known as Lord Grantham, had resolved past financial difficulties by marrying Cora Levinson, an American heiress. Her considerable dowry was contractually incorporated into the comital entail in perpetuity. With only three daughters and no sons, the Crawleys' eldest daughter, Lady Mary, was to marry her second cousin, son of the then-heir presumptive. The first episode began as news reached Downton Abbey that both Grantham heirs perished in the Titanic's sinking. A distant male cousin, Matthew Crawley, a middle-class solicitor, became the new heir. The plot centred on the relationship between Lady Mary and Matthew, who resisted embracing an aristocratic lifestyle. A subplot involved John Bates, Lord Grantham's new valet, and Thomas Barrow, who resented Bates replacing him and causing Barrow to be demoted back to footman. Bates and Thomas remained at odds in subsequent series. Barrow worked to sabotage Bates after learning he was recently released from jail for theft. In the storyline, Barrow's character, a gay man in late Edwardian England, aided by Miss O'Brien, Lady Cora's personal maid, created havoc for most of the staff. Barrow was caught stealing, but he joined the British army as a medic. Matthew eventually fell in love with Lady Mary, but she rejected his proposal. Cora became pregnant, possibly with a male heir, but fell and miscarried after O'Brien, mistakenly believing she was to be fired, retaliated by leaving a bar of soap on the slippery bathroom floor. The series ends just after the Archduke Ferdinand's assassination and the breakout of the First World War in July 1914.
The second series comprises eight episodes and runs from the Battle of the Somme in 1916 to the 1918 flu pandemic. During the war, Downton Abbey was temporarily converted into an officers' hospital. Matthew became engaged to Lavinia Swire, a wealthy solicitor's daughter, and joined the British Army as an officer. Mary, who later developed feelings for Matthew, went on to became engaged to Sir Richard Carlisle, a powerful and ruthless newspaper mogul. Their relationship proved difficult, but Mary was bound to Carlisle after he squashed a story regarding her past scandalous indiscretion. Downton's footman, William Mason, had also enlisted in the army. Bates was forced to leave Downton over difficulties with his estranged wife, Vera Bates, who threatened to expose a Crawley secret. When Mrs Bates mysteriously died, Bates was arrested on suspicion of her murder. Lady Sybil, the youngest Crawley daughter who hated her stifling aristocratic life, fell in love with Tom Branson, the new chauffeur with strong socialist beliefs. They eloped to Ireland after receiving Lord Grantham's reluctant blessing. William died from his war wounds after a deathbed marriage to Daisy, the kitchen maid. Daisy never loved William, but Mrs Patmore, Downton's cook, had pressured her to make William's last days happy by marrying him. Mathew and Mary realized they were in love, but Matthew, was honorably committed to marrying Lavinia. Unknown to him, a devastated Lavinia overheard Matthew and Mary declare their love. The Spanish influenza epidemic hit Downton Abbey at the end of the war. Cora, taken seriously ill, survived, but Lavinia, also infected, died. Barrow was rehired at Downton after helping the staff during the outbreak. Mary and Matthew reunited, while Bates was found guilty of murder and sentenced to be executed.
In the third series, Mary had ended her engagement to Richard Carlisle, despite his vindictive threats to expose her past, though it was never heard that he followed through. Mary and Matthew were married in the series premiere. Tom Branson and Lady Sybil, now pregnant, returned to Downton after Tom was implicated in burning an Irish aristocrat's house. Robert (Lord Grantham) learned that the bulk of the family's fortune (including Cora's dowry) was lost due to his well-intention but poor investments. After Matthew's reluctance to accept an inheritance from Lavinia's recently deceased father, and then Robert's reluctance in turn to accept that inheritance as a gift, Matthew and Robert reached a compromise in which Matthew accepted and used the inheritance to buy a half share in Downton. Tragedy struck when Sybil died in childbirth. Tom, devastated, decided to name his daughter Sybil, after his late wife. Bates was released from prison after Anna uncovered evidence clearing him of his wife's murder. Tom became the new estate agent at the suggestion of Robert's mother, Dowager Countess Violet Crawley. Barrow and Miss O'Brien had a falling out, after which O'Brien led Barrow to believe that Jimmy, the new footman, was sexually attracted to him. Barrow entered Jimmy's room and kissed him. Jimmy woke up shocked and confused. In the end, Lord Grantham defused the situation. The family visited Lady Violet's niece and her husband, the Marquess of Flintshire, in Scotland while awaiting the birth of Matthew and Lady Mary's baby. The Marquess confided to Robert that the estate was bankrupt and would be sold, whereupon Robert recognised that Downton had been saved through Matthew and Tom's efforts to modernise. Mary gave birth to the new heir, but Matthew died in a car crash while driving home from the hospital.
In series four, Lady Mary deeply mourned Matthew's death. Matthew's will was discovered, giving Mary management over his share of the estate until their son, George, came of age. With Tom's encouragement, Mary assumed a more active role in running Downton. Two new suitors—Lord Gillingham and Charles Blake—arrived at Downton, though Mary, still mourning Matthew, was uninterested. Middle daughter, Lady Edith Crawley, who began writing a weekly newspaper column, and Michael Gregson, her editor, fell in love. Due to British law, he was unable to divorce his incurably insane wife. Gregson traveled to Germany to seek citizenship there, enabling him to divorce, but was killed by Hitler's brownshirts during riots. Edith was left pregnant, and with help from her aunt, Lady Rosamund, secretly gave birth. She intended to give the baby up for adoption but instead returned to Downton where she arranged for the infant to be cared for by Mr and Mrs Drewe, the estate's tenant farmers, on the pretext that Marigold was the daughter of Mr Drew's friend. In a controversial episode, Anna was raped by Lord Gillingham's valet, Mr Green. Bates discovered this shortly after when Mr Green was killed in a London street accident. A local schoolteacher, Sarah Bunting, became close to Tom, though Robert (Lord Grantham) despised her due to her openly vocal anti-aristocracy views. Lady Cora had an admirer in Simon Bricker, an art historian, making Robert jealous. Daisy, who wanted to better herself, enlisted Miss Bunting's aid to study mathematics. The past conviction of Miss Baxter, Cora's new lady's maid, for a previous theft, was revealed, though she was not dismissed. Mary spent a weekend in Liverpool with Lord Gillingham, only to realise she did not love him.
In series five, a Russian exile, Prince Kuragin, wished to renew his past affections for Dowager Countess Violet Crawley. Lady Violet instead reunited Prince Kuragin with his estranged wife. Scotland Yard and the local police investigated Green's death. Lady Violet discovered the truth about Edith's secret child. Meanwhile, Mrs Drewe, not knowing Marigold's true parentage, increasingly resented Edith's constant visits to see the girl. Charles Blake, one of Mary's suitors, plotted to reunite Gillingham with Gillingham's ex-fiancée, Mabel to increase his own chances with Mary. Edith inherited Michael Gregson's publishing company; she removed Marigold from the Drewes and relocated to London. Bricker showed his real intentions toward Cora and was thrown out by Robert, causing a temporary rift between them. Mrs Patmore's decision to invest her inheritance money in real estate inspired Carson, Downton's butler, to do likewise. He suggested that head housekeeper, Mrs Hughes, invest with him; she confessed she had no money saved due to supporting an incapacitated sister. The Crawley's cousin, Lady Rose, daughter of Lord and Lady Flintshire, became engaged Atticus Aldridge, son of Lord and Lady Sinderby. Lord Sinderby strongly objected to Atticus marrying outside the Jewish faith. Lord Merton proposed to Isobel Crawley (Matthew's mother). She accepts, but later ended the engagement due to Lord Merton's sons' disparaging comments over her commoner background. Despite Lady Flintshire's underhanded schemes to derail Rose and Atticus' engagement, they were married. Anna was arrested on suspicion of Green's murder. To save Anna, Bates wrote a false confession to the killing, then fled to Ireland. Miss Baxter and Molesley, a footman, were able to prove that Bates was in another town at the time of murder. Anna was released when the original witness became uncertain. Cora eventually learned that Marigold is Edith's child and wanted her raised at Downton. Marigold was presented as Edith's ward, but Robert and Tom eventually learned the truth. Only Mary was unaware. When a war memorial was unveiled in the town, Robert arranged for a separate plaque to honour Mrs Patmore's nephew, unjustly executed for cowardice, who was excluded from his own village's memorial. Lord and Lady Sinderby invited the Crawleys to their country estate. While there, Lady Rose and the Crawleys defused a near-personal disaster for Lord Sinderby, earning his gratitude and securing his approval of Rose. A second footman, Andy, was hired at Barrow's suggestion. The Crawley family and the staff attended the Downton Abbey Christmas party. Tom Branson announced he was moving to America to work for his cousin, taking daughter Sybil with him. Mr Carson proposed marriage to Mrs Hughes and she accepted.
In series six, changes were once again afoot at Downton Abbey. As the middle-class was rising, many aristocrats, now bankrupt, were forced to sell off their estates. Downton needed to do more to ensure its future survival and adapt to a new social order. Reductions in staff were considered, leading Barrow to search for a new position. Lady Mary became the estate's permanent agent, while Edith took a more hands-on role in running her magazine and later hired a woman editor. Lady Violet and Isobel once again drew battle lines as a government take-over of the local hospital was considered. Isobel and Lord Merton favored modernization to better save lives, while Lady Violet and Dr. Clarkson feared a streamlined progress would overshadow patients' personal well being. Meanwhile, Anna was officially absolved of Mr Green's murder. When she suffered repeated miscarriages, a specialist diagnosed a treatable condition. After a few disagreements, the happy wedding reception of Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes was held at the schoolhouse, during which, Tom Branson and daughter Sybil arrived, returning to Downton for good. Barrow was the acting butler while Carson and Mrs Hughes were on their honeymoon. Carson's return confirmed that Barrow must find another position. Baxter was persuaded to testify against her former accomplice in a jewelry theft, resulting in his conviction. Daisy wanted her father-in-law, Mr Mason, to be given the vacated farm tenancy. To economize, the Crawleys had already considered farming it themselves, but Lady Cora convinced Robert to give it to Mr Mason. Andy offered to help Mr Mason and to learn about farming. When it was discovered that Andy was illiterate, Barrow offered to teach him to read. Robert suffered a serious health crisis, forcing Mary and Tom to completely take over Downton's operations. Mary overheard Lady Violet and Lady Cora speaking about Marigold that made her suspicious.
The main cast of the Crawley family is portrayed by Hugh Bonneville as Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham and his wife, played by Elizabeth McGovern as Cora Crawley, the Countess of Grantham. Their three daughters are depicted by Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley, Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith Crawley and Jessica Brown Findlay as Lady Sybil Crawley (Branson). Maggie Smith is Robert Crawley's mother Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. Samantha Bond portrays Lady Rosamund Painswick, Robert's sister who resides in Belgrave Square, London. Dan Stevens portrays Matthew Crawley, the new heir, along with Penelope Wilton as his mother Isobel Crawley, who are brought to Downton. Allen Leech begins the series as Tom Branson the chauffeur but falls in love with Lady Sybil, marries her and becomes the agent for the estate. Joining the cast in series three is Lily James as the Lady Rose MacClare (Aldridge), a second cousin through Violet's family, who is sent to live with the Crawleys because of family problems. David Robb portrays Dr Richard Clarkson, the local town doctor. Other suitors for Lady Mary's affections during the series include Tom Cullen as Lord Gillingham, Julian Ovenden as Charles Blake, and Matthew Goode as Henry Talbot.
Downton Abbey's senior staff are portrayed by Jim Carter as Mr Carson, the butler and Phyllis Logan as Mrs Hughes, the housekeeper. Tensions rise when Rob James-Collier portraying Mr Barrow, a valet and footman, along with Siobhan Finneran as Miss O'Brien, the personal maid to the Countess of Grantham (up to series three), plot against Brendan Coyle as Mr Bates, the valet to the Earl of Grantham and his love interest and eventual wife Joanne Froggatt as Anna, the personal maid to Lady Mary. Kevin Doyle plays the unlucky Mr Molesley, valet to Matthew Crawley and Thomas Howes as William Mason the second footman, round off the main, original upstairs staff. Matt Milne joins the cast as O'Brien's nephew, Alfred Nugent, the awkward new footman for series three and four, and Raquel Cassidy plays Baxter, Cora's personal maid, who was hired to replace O'Brien. The lower staff includes Lesley Nicol as Mrs Patmore the cook, Sophie McShera as Daisy, the scullery maid who works her way up to assistant cook and marries William Mason, and Rose Leslie as Gwen Dawson, a kitchen maid studying to be a secretary in series one. Amy Nuttall plays Ethel Parks, a maid, beginning in series two and three. Cara Theobold portrays Ivy Stuart, a kitchen maid, joining the cast for series three and four. Ed Speleers plays the dashing James Kent, the second footman from series three through five. In series five, Michael Fox plays Andy Parker, a replacement footman for James.
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. Influenced by Edith Wharton's The Custom of the Country, Fellowes writes the scripts and his wife Emma is an informal story editor.
Highclere Castle in north Hampshire is used for exterior shots of Downton Abbey and most of the interior filming. The kitchen, servants' quarters and working areas, and some of the "upstairs" bedrooms were constructed and filmed at Ealing Studios.
Outdoor scenes are filmed in the village of Bampton in Oxfordshire. Notable locations include St Mary's Church and the library, which served as the entrance to the cottage hospital. The old rectory in Bampton is used for exterior shots of Isobel Crawley's house, with interior scenes filmed at Hall Place near Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire.
The Downton Abbey of the title and setting is described as lying in the County of York. The towns of Easingwold, Kirkby Malzeard, Kirkbymoorside, Malton, Middlesbrough, Ripon, Richmond, and Thirsk, each mentioned by characters in the series, lie in North Yorkshire, as does the city of York, while Leeds—similarly mentioned—lies in West Yorkshire. 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.
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. Byfleet Manor in Surrey is the location for the Dower house, home to Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, while West Wycombe Park in Buckinghamshire is used for the interior scenes of Lady Rosamund (Samantha Bond)'s London residence in Eaton Square. A house in Belgrave Square, London, is used for exterior shots.
Greys Court near Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire was used as the family's secondary property, which they proposed moving into and calling "Downton Place" due to financial difficulties in Series Three. Also in the third series, Bates's prison scenes were filmed at Lincoln Castle in Lincolnshire.
Horsted Keynes railway station in Sussex is used as Downton station. 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. The restaurant scene where Lady Edith meets Michael Gregson and where they share their kiss is filmed at the Criterion Restaurant in Piccadilly Circus which was originally opened in 1874.
Hall Barn in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, featured as Loxley House, the home of Sir Anthony Strallan.
Parts of series 4 were filmed at The Historic Dockyard Chatham, Kent – 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.
Scenes for the 2013 Christmas special were filmed at Royal Holloway, University of London near Egham, Surrey, West Wittering beach in West Sussex and Berkshire's Basildon Park near Streatley. Lancaster House in London stood in for Buckingham Palace.
Alnwick Castle, in Northumberland, was the filming location used for Brancaster Castle in the 2015 Christmas special, which included filming in Alnwick Castle's State Rooms, as well as on the castle's grounds, and at the nearby semi-ruined Hulne Abbey on the Duke of Northumberland's parklands in Alnwick.
In Series 5 and 6, Kingston Bagpuize House in Oxfordshire was used as the location for Cavenham Park, the home of Lord Merton.
In 2015, Wayfair.co.uk published a map of 70+ Downton Abbey filming locations.
The opening music of Downton Abbey, titled "Did I Make the Most of Loving You!?", was composed by John Lunn. A suite version was released on the soundtrack for the show on 19 September 2011 in the UK and later in the US on 13 December 2011. The soundtrack also included the song performed by singer Mary-Jess Leaverland, with lyrics written by Don Black.
The rights to broadcast Downton Abbey have been acquired in over 220 countries and territories, and the series is viewed by a global audience of an estimated 120 million people.
STV, the ITV franchisee in central and northern Scotland (including the Orkney and Shetland islands), originally 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 networked United Kingdom-wide programming on the ITV network. 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 ITV London, with viewing figures showing this is also commonplace for other ITV programmes. STV announced in July 2011 that it would show the first and second series of Downton Abbey as part of its autumn schedule. Scottish cast members Phyllis Logan and Iain Glen were both quoted as being pleased with the decision.
In the United States, Downton Abbey was first broadcast in January 2011 on PBS, as part of the 40th season of Masterpiece. The programme was aired in four 90-minute episodes, requiring PBS to controversially alter the beginning and endpoints of each episode and make other small changes, thereby slightly altering each episode's structure to accommodate fitting the programme precisely into the running-times allotted.[a][b] PBS also added a host (Laura Linney), who introduced each episode, explaining matters such as 'the entail' and 'Buccaneers'[c] for the benefit of U.S. viewers, which was labelled by some American critics as condescending. PBS editing for broadcasts in the United States continued in the subsequent seasons.
Australia and New Zealand
In Australia, the first series was broadcast on the Seven Network beginning on 29 May 2011; the second series was broadcast beginning on 20 May 2012; and the third series beginning on 10 February 2013. In New Zealand, Prime began airing the first series on 10 May 2011, the second series on 18 October 2011 and the third series on 18 October 2012.
In Brazil, +Globosat began airing the first series on 10 January 2016.
In the Philippines, the series airs over the Velvet Channel.
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. 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." 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."
Downton Abbey has been a commercial success and received general acclaim from critics, although some criticise it as superficial, melodramatic or unrealistic. Others defend these qualities as the reason for the show's appeal. 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."
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." 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." 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."
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.
At Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the first series received an average score of 91, based on 16 reviews, which indicates "universal acclaim". 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. Season 4 of Breaking Bad surpassed Downton Abbey's record later in the year, with a score of 96, making series 1 of Downton Abbey the 2nd highest rated show of 2011.
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.
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 advertising was necessary to cover the high costs of production.
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. The second episode attracted a similar following with an average of 9.3 million viewers. 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 Series 1 premiere.
The second series of Downton Abbey gave PBS its highest ratings since 2009. The second series averaged 5.4 million viewers, excluding station replays, DVR viewings and online streaming. The 5.4 million average improved on PBS first series numbers by 25%. Additionally, episodes of series two have been viewed 4.8 million times on PBS's digital portal, which bests series 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 series 2's 8 January premiere. In 2013, Downton Abbey was ranked the 43rd most well-written TV show of all time by the Writers' Guild of America.
The third series premiered in the UK on 16 September 2012 with an average of 9 million viewers (or a 36% audience share). For the first time in the UK, episode three received an average of more than 10 million viewers (or a 38.2% audience share). Premiering in the US in January 2013, the third series had an average 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. Overall, during its seven-week run, the series had an audience of 24 million viewers making it PBS's highest-rated drama of all time.
While rumoured, due to the departure of actor Dan Stevens, the death of Matthew Crawley, in the 2012 Christmas special, drew criticism. Lord Fellowes defended the decision stating that they 'didn't really have an option' once Stevens decided to leave. 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.
The fourth series premiered in the UK on 22 September 2013 with an average audience of 9.5 million viewers—the highest ever for one of the drama's debut episodes. 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.
In the UK, the second episode attracted an average of 9.6 million viewers.
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." The episode content, which saw lady's maid Anna Bates raped, led to more than 200 complaints by viewers to UK television regulator Ofcom, while ITV received 60 complaints directly. 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 9 pm, and, that the rape took place 'off-screen'.
Awards and nominations
Charges that the series depicts the Irish characters—and Irish history—in a negative light have been made, particularly in the Irish newspaper The Herald. The Irish War of Independence, for example, is incorrectly referred to as the Irish Civil War in the ITV and IMDb blurbs and PBS preview for episodes covering 1919 and 1920.
Allen Leech, who plays Tom Branson in the series, when asked about this by an Irish reporter writing for The Herald, denied that the series depicted Irish characters in a stage pejorative fashion. Tom's brother Kieran, however, is depicted as boorish, rude, and drunken, and is described by the Dowager Countess as a 'drunken gorilla'—a reminder to Irish audiences of the ape-like figures depicting the Irish that were commonly featured in British and American publications in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Dowager Countess character who makes these comments, however, was born in the 19th century, and frequently expresses Tory or pro-imperial views that were prevalent in England in the late 19th and early 20th century. As Sean Collins writes in Rolling Stone : "Robert [Lord Grantham] denounces the attack on the castle as "savagery" that will impede Ireland's cause, but neither he nor the show acknowledge the savagery that necessitated that cause and provoked that response in turn". The notorious British Black and Tans campaign was in full force in Ireland at the time.
The character of the Earl of Grantham occasionally expresses anti-Catholic views and is described, by The Washington Post, as 'xenophobic' but 'at least historically accurate'. 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'. 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 British 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'. The Earl of Grantham's anti-Catholic views diminished when his daughter Sybil married an Irishman and Grantham's granddaughter was christened into the Roman Catholic Church.
Fellowes tries to be as authentic in his depiction of the period as he can. Despite this, the show features many linguistic anachronisms. 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'.
In 2010, Fellowes hired Alastair Bruce, 'an expert on state and court ritual', as historical adviser. 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.' Actor Jim Carter, who plays butler Carson, describes Bruce as the series 'etiquette watchdog', and the UK's Daily Telegraph finished its 2011 profile of Bruce's role stating 'Downton's authenticity, it seems, is in safe hands.' However, historian Simon Schama criticised the show for historical inaccuracies and "pandering to cliches." Producer Gareth Neame defended the show, saying, "Downton is a fictional drama. It is not a history programme, but a drama of social satire about a time when relationships, behaviour and hierarchy were very different from those we enjoy today."
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, 'was not adequate for representing the "downstairs" life at the fictional abbey'. 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'. 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. However, she understands the compromises that must be made for 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."
DVD, Blu-ray and streaming video releases
The complete series is available from Amazon Video. Series 1 through 5 are currently available free for Amazon Prime members. Direct streaming and downloads are both permitted.
Blu-ray and DVD
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 of all time on the online retailer's website, surpassing popular American programmes such as The Sopranos, Friends and The Wire.
On 1 October 2013, a limited edition 10-disc DVD boxset of Downton Abbey was released, which included Series 1–3 in an inner slipcase, labelled as a '9-disc set', as well as a bonus disc featuring the exclusive TV documentary, 'Secrets of Highclere Castle', which focuses on the real-life history of the castle used as the Downton Abbey estate in the series.
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.
|Downton Abbey: Original Music from the Television Series|
|1.||"Downton Abbey: The Suite"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||7:09|
|2.||"Love and the Hunter"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||3:18|
|3.||"Emancipation"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||2:15|
|4.||"Story of My Life"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||1:58|
|5.||"Fashion"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||1:19|
|6.||"Damaged"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||5:25|
|7.||"If You Were the Only Girl in the World"||Alfie Boe||3:47|
|8.||"Preparation"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||3:27|
|9.||"Such Good Luck"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||2:30|
|10.||"Us and Them"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||1:53|
|11.||"Violet"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||1:56|
|12.||"A Drive"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||1:04|
|13.||"An Ideal Marriage"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||2:43|
|14.||"Roses of Picardy"||Alfie Boe||3:55|
|15.||"Telegram"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||1:45|
|16.||"Deception"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||2:51|
|17.||"Titanic"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||2:10|
|18.||"A Song and a Dance"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||1:30|
|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 Leaverland||4:18|
Downton Abbey has been credited with spawning a massive worldwide increase in demand for professionally trained butlers, especially British butlers, notably in China, Russia and parts of the Middle East. Between 2010 and 2012, demand was thought to have doubled, leading to some butlers fetching salaries as high as £150,000. In 2014, China's first school for butlers opened, to meet a demand again attributed to the influence of Downton Abbey.
Some of the fashion items worn by characters on the show, including starched collars, midi skirts, beaded gowns and hunting plaids, have seen a strong revival of interest during the show's run, in the UK and elsewhere.
The Equality (Titles) Bill, an unsuccessful piece of legislation introduced in the UK Parliament in 2013 that would have allowed for equal succession of female heirs to hereditary titles and peerages, was nicknamed the "Downton Abbey law" because it addressed the same issue that affects Lady Mary Crawley, who cannot inherit the estate because it must pass to a male heir.
The decor used on Downton Abbey inspired US Congressman Aaron Schock to redecorate his congressional offices in a more luxurious style. Following scrutiny of his expenses and questions about his use of public money for personal benefit, he repaid the $40,000 cost of redecoration, and subsequently resigned in March 2015.
The World of Downton Abbey, a book featuring a behind-the-scenes look at Downton Abbey and the 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. 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.
In September 2012, The Daily Telegraph reported Julian Fellowes as saying that he was working on a spin-off prequel of Downton Abbey that revolves around Lord Grantham and Cora's romance and eventual marriage as the earl and countess of Downton Abbey. Initially planned as a book, it was then picked up by ITV.
In 2015, it was announced that a Spin-Off film of the series is currently being considered and talked about, however nothing of cast or release date has yet been announced.
- List of awards and nominations received by Downton Abbey
- Gosford Park
- The Cherry Orchard
- The Duchess of Duke Street
- The Shooting Party
- The Remains of the Day
- Upstairs, Downstairs
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- For example, these structure changes resulted in the character of entail heir Matthew Crawley (played by Dan Stevens) coming into the storyline in the first episode in the United States broadcast, rather than in the second as he had in the UK broadcast.
- The series aired in the U.K. with commercial breaks, which required PBS, according to a spokeswoman, "to plug those holes".
- American heiresses who married into the British aristocracy during the Gilded Age - See: The Buccaneers, a novel by Edith Wharton.
- Fellowes, Jessica; Sturgis, Matthew (2012). The Chronicles of Downton Abbey. Foreword by Julian Fellowes, photography by Joss Barratt, Nick Briggs, and Giles Keyte. London: Collins. ISBN 978-0-00-745325-2. OCLC 811576487. The companion book covering the characters, through the early part of the third series.
- Fellowes, Jessica (2011). The World of Downton Abbey. Foreword by Julian Fellowes, photography by Nick Briggs. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-1-250-00634-9. OCLC 727704121. Retrieved 25 October 2015. The companion book to the first and second series. Includes an extensive further reading section.
- Fellowes, Julian (2013). Downton Abbey: The Complete Scripts: Season One. New York: William Morrow. ISBN 9780062238313. OCLC 795761131.
- Fellowes, Julian (2013). Downton Abbey: The Complete Scripts: Season Two. New York: William Morrow. ISBN 9780062241351. OCLC 828844711.
- Fellowes, Julian (2014). Downton Abbey: The Complete Scripts: Season Three. New York: William Morrow. ISBN 9780062241375. OCLC 870982733.
- MacColl, Gail; Wallace, Carol McD. (1989). To Marry an English Lord or, How Anglomania Really Got Started. New York: Workman Publishing. ISBN 978-0-89480-939-2. OCLC 243431665. Gives a background on the preceding period, especially for Cora, Countess of Grantham, who is one of the "Buccaneers". Reprinted as:
- To Marry an English Lord: Tales of Wealth and Marriage, Sex and Snobbery. New York: Workman Publishing Company. 2012. ISBN 978-0-7611-7195-9. OCLC 779399305. Retrieved 25 October 2015.
- Rowley, Emma (2013). Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey. Foreword by Gareth Neame; photography by Nick Briggs. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 9781250047908. OCLC 862880131. The official companion book to series 1–4.
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- Downton Abbey at the Internet Movie Database
- Downton Abbey at itv.com
- Downton Abbey at stv.tv
- Downton Abbey on PBS Masterpiece
- Downton Abbey at Emmys.com
- DA CS ITV Official Press Pack