Downton Abbey

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Downton Abbey
Downton Abbey season 1.jpg
The original cast image
Genre Period drama
Created by Julian Fellowes
Written by
Directed by
Opening theme "Did I Make the Most of Loving You?"
Composer(s) John Lunn
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 6
No. of episodes 51 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)
  • Liz Trubridge (series producer)
  • Nigel Marchant
  • John Wilson
  • Steve Singleton
  • Mike Jones
Location(s) Highclere Castle
Cinematography David Katznelson (series 1)
Gavin Struthers (series 2)
Camera setup Single-camera
Running time Regular episodes: 47–53 minutes
Extended episodes: 64–72 minutes
Christmas specials: 92 minutes
(excluding advertisements)
Production company(s)
Distributor NBCUniversal Television Distribution
WGBH Boston
Original network ITV (UK)
Picture format 1080i (HDTV)
Audio format Stereophonic
Original release 26 September 2010 (2010-09-26) – present (present)
External links

Downton Abbey is a British period drama television series created by Julian Fellowes and co-produced by Carnival Films and Masterpiece.[1] 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.[2][3][4] On 26 March 2015, the sixth series was confirmed to be the final series.[5]

The series, set in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey, depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their 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).[6] 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.[7] By the third series, it had become one of the most widely watched television drama shows in the world.[8]

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, is expected to air on 25 December 2015.

Series plot overview[edit]

Crawley family[edit]

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
Violet Crawley,
Dowager Countess of Grantham
Isidore Levinson Martha Levinson husband Roberta
Reginald Crawley Isobel Crawley James Crawley wife Marmaduke Painswick
Lady Rosamund Painswick
(née Crawley)
Robert Crawley,
7th Earl of Grantham
Cora Crawley,
Countess of Grantham
(née Levinson)
Harold Levinson Hugh "Shrimpie" MacClare,
Marquess of Flintshire
Susan MacClare,
Marchioness of Flintshire
Patrick Crawley
Heir presumptive (presumed dead)
Matthew Crawley
Heir presumptive (deceased)
Lady Mary Crawley Michael Gregson Lady Edith Crawley Tom Branson Lady Sybil Branson
The Hon Atticus Aldridge Lady Rose Aldridge
(née MacClare)
George Crawley
Heir presumptive
Marigold Crawley Sybil Branson


The first series of seven episodes explores the lives of the fictional Crawley family and their servants beginning the day after the historic sinking of the RMS Titanic. The storyline centers 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, Lord Grantham had resolved past financial issues by marrying an American heiress. Her considerable dowry was contractually incorporated into the comital entail in perpetuity. With only three daughters and no sons, the Crawley's eldest daughter was to marry her cousin, son of the then-heir presumptive. The first episode begins as the morning news of the sinking reaches England and Downton Abbey. Both of the Grantham heirs have perished in the disaster. A distant male cousin, Matthew Crawley, a middleclass solicitor is now the new heir. The plot centers on the relationship between Lady Mary and Matthew, who is reluctant to embrace the aristocratic lifestyle of the Crawley family. A subplot involves John Bates, the new valet and Thomas Barrow, the former valet, frustrated by Bates' arrival that results in a drop in his position to footman. Throughout all five series, Bates and Thomas will be at odds with each other. In the first series Thomas sets Bates up after learning he was released from jail for theft. In the storyline, Thomas's character, a gay man in late Edwardian England, along with Miss O'Brien, the personal maid to the Countess of Grantham, create havoc for most of the staff. Thomas is eventually caught stealing but joins the British army as a medic. Matthew eventually does fall in love with Lady Mary, but she rejects his proposal. The Countess becomes pregnant, but miscarries when O'Brien who, believing she will soon be fired, retaliates by leaving a broken bar of soap on the slippery floor near the step to the bath. The series ends as news spreads of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the outbreak of the First World War.

The second series comprised eight episodes and ran from the Battle of the Somme in 1916 to the 1918 flu pandemic. The storyline details how many of the town's men go off to fight in the war, as Downton Abbey is converted into an officers hospital. Matthew becomes engaged to another, leaving Lady Mary and Downton as an officer in the British Army along with Downton's footman William Mason. Bates is forced to leave Downton over his wife. Mrs. Bates threatens the family with a dark secret. Bates' wife dies; it appears that he has killed her and he is arrested. Lady Sybil falls for Tom, the family's chauffeur. William dies from his war wounds after a deathbed marriage to Daisy. The Spanish influenza epidemic hits Downton at the end of the war and Matthew's fiancée dies. Thomas is rehired at Downton after helping the staff during the outbreak. Mary and Matthew reunite as Bates is found guilty at his murder trial and is sentenced to death.

In the third series of Downton Abbey, Mary and Matthew are married in the series premiere. Branson and Lady Sybil return to live at Downton after Tom is implicated in the burning of an aristocrat's house in Ireland. Robert learns that most of the family's fortune (including Cora's) is gone due to his poor investments. After Matthew's reluctance to accept an inheritance from his fiancée's father and Robert's reluctance in turn to accept that inheritance as a gift, Matthew and Robert reach a compromise in which Matthew accepts the inheritance and uses it to buy a half share of Robert's interest in Downton. Tragedy strikes when Sybil dies during childbirth. Bates is released from prison after Anna uncovers evidence clearing him of the murder of his former wife. Tom becomes the new estate agent at Violet's suggestion. In this series, Mr. Barrow and Miss O'Brien have a falling out. O'Brien leads Thomas to believe the actions of a new footman are sexual advances. He enters Jimmy's room as he sleeps and kisses him just as Alfred comes in and Jimmy wakes up shocked and confused. In the end Lord Grantham takes control and defuses the situation. The family visits Violet's niece and her husband, the Marquess of Flintshire, in Scotland while they await the birth of Mary's baby. The Marquess confides to Robert that he has run out of money and the estate will soon be sold, whereupon Robert recognises that Downton has been saved through Matthew and Tom's efforts to modernise. Mary gives birth to the new heir and Matthew dies in a car accident shortly afterwards.

In series four Lady Mary mourns Matthew's death. Matthew's will is discovered and gives Mary management over his share of the estate until their son comes of age. Mary assumes this more active role with Tom's help and comes out of her mourning. Two new suitors—Lord Gillingham and Charles Blake—arrive at Downton. Edith becomes smitten with Michael Gregson, her new editor, who is unable to divorce his wife due to British law pertaining to the insane. Edith becomes pregnant with his child just before he leaves for Germany and later discovers that Michael has been killed by Hitler's brownshirts during riots. Edith gives birth in secret to adopt the child out but returns to take the baby back. She gives the infant, Marigold, to a tenant farmer on the Grantham estate to raise near her. In a controversial episode, Anna is raped by Lord Gillingham's valet, Mr. Green. Bates eventually finds out when Mr. Green is killed in an street accident soon afterwards. A local schoolteacher, Sarah Bunting become close to Tom. Robert dislikes Miss Bunting immensely. Cora has an admirer in Simon Bricker, an art historian and Robert becomes jealous. Daisy enlists Miss Bunting's aid to learn about mathematics at the urging of Mrs. Patmore. Cora's new maid, Miss Baxter's previous criminal past is revealed. Mary has an affair in a Liverpool with Gillingham, only to realise she does not love him.

In series five a Russian exile, Prince Kuragin visits as a refugee and reveals his affections for the Dowager Countess. Violet takes great effort to reunite Prince Kuragin with his estranged wife. Scotland Yard and the local police investigate Green's death. Edith's secret childbirth is discovered by the Dowager Countess. Mrs. Drewe balks at Edith's seeming infatuation with Marigold and becomes difficult. Charles Blake plans to reunite Tony Gillingham with his ex-fiancée. Edith receives final confirmation that Michael is dead and inherits his publishing company, removes her daughter, Marigold, from the Drewes, and leaves Downton. Bricker shows his real intentions toward Cora and is thrown out by Robert, causing a rift. Mrs Patmore's decision to invest her inheritance money inspires Carson to do the same with his savings, and asks Mrs. Hughes to join him; she later tells him she has no money. Rose and Atticus Aldridge, son of Lord and Lady Sinderby, become engaged. Lord Merton asks Isobel's hand in marriage, but she is discouraged by his sons. Despite Lady Flintshire's underhand schemes, Rose and Atticus get married in London. Inspector Vyner arrests Anna on suspicion of Green's murder. Bates writes a false confession to the killing and goes on the run in order to persuade authorities to release Anna. Baxter and Molesley find a pub owner who remembers Bates being in his pub when the murder was taking place. Anna is released when the original witness becomes uncertain of what they saw. Cora eventually learns that Marigold is the child of Edith and decides she should be brought to live at Downton. A cover story is decided upon that would allow the perception that Edith was raising the Drewes' youngest daughter. Robert and Tom eventually realise the truth, and only Mary remains in the dark. A war memorial is unveiled with a separate stone made to honour Mrs Patmore's nephew. Lord and Lady Sinderby invite the Granthams to the country estate for grouse shooting. Rose and the Granthams defuse an incident that would have been a disaster for Lord Sinderby and thereby earn his gratitude. A second footman, Andy, is appointed at Thomas's suggestion. Everyone attends Downton Abbey's Christmas party. Tom Branson decides to move to the United States to work for his cousin, and will take Sybbie with him. Mr Carson becomes engaged to Mrs Hughes

Series six sees change once again affecting Downton. Old estates are being sold off, and Downton will soon have to make more changes to ensure it is not amongst them. Cuts to the staff are being considered, so Barrow begins to search for new positions. Lady Mary decides to become the estate's new agent, while Edith takes a more hands-on role in the running of her magazine. The Dowager Countess and Isobel once again draw battlelines as a take-over of the local hospital is put forward. Meanwhile, the matter of Mr Green's murder is resolved when another victim confesses to the crime. Anna however, is deeply saddened after suffering repeated miscarriages, until Mary forces her to see the fertility specialist she used. Anna is diagnosed with a condition that, when treated, could give her the chance of having a child. After a few disagreements, the happy wedding reception of Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes is held at the schoolhouse, where they are surprised by the arrival of Tom, who has decided to bring Sybbie back to Downton to live there permanently. Thomas becomes butler in the absence of Carson. Carson's return confirms that Barrow will leave the house one day. Baxter decides to testify against her accomplice in the theft.


Main cast[edit]

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 2nd cousin through Violet's family, who is sent to live with the Crawleys due to 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 and Julian Ovenden as Charles Blake.

Downton Abbey's senior staff is portrayed by Jim Carter as "Mr Carson" the butler with 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" the 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 kitchen maid beginning in series two and three with Cara Theobold portraying Ivy Stuart who replaces Ethel after she is fired, joining the cast for series three and four. Ed Speleers plays the dashing James Kent the second footman from series three through five.


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,[9] Fellowes writes the scripts and his wife Emma is an informal story editor.[10]


Highclere Castle, used for interior and exterior filming of Downton Abbey

Highclere Castle in north Hampshire is used for exterior shots of Downton Abbey and most of the interior filming.[11][12][13][14] The kitchen, servants' quarters and working areas, and some of the "upstairs" bedrooms were constructed and filmed at Ealing Studios.[15]

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.[16] 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.[17]

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.[18]

First World War trench warfare scenes in France were filmed in a specially constructed replica battlefield for period war scenes near the village of Akenham in rural Suffolk.[19][20]

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.[21] Byfleet Manor in Surrey is the location for the Dower house, home to Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham,[22] while West Wycombe Park in Buckinghamshire is used for the interior scenes of Lady Rosamund (Samantha Bond)'s London residence in Eaton Square.[23] A house in Belgrave Square, London, is used for exterior shots.[24]

Inveraray Castle in Argyll, Scotland, doubled as "Duneagle Castle" in the 2012 Christmas special.[25]

Byfleet Manor in Surrey is portrayed as the dower house

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.[26] 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.[27] 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.[28]

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.[29]

Other filming locations for series 4 include the ballroom of The Savile Club in Mayfair, London.[30]

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.[31][32]

Alnwick Castle, in Northumberland, was the filming location used for Brancaster Castle in the 2014 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.[33]

In Series 6 (2015) the scenes of motor racing at Brooklands were filmed at the Goodwood Circuit in West Sussex.


The opening music of Downton Abbey, titled "Did I Make the Most of Loving You!?",[34] was composed by John Lunn.[35] A suite version was released on the soundtrack for the show in 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,[36] with lyrics written by Don Black.[37]

International broadcasts[edit]

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.[38]

United States[edit]

In the United States, Downton Abbey was first broadcast in January 2011 on PBS, as part of the 40th season of Masterpiece.[39] 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 program precisely into the running-times allotted.[40][a][b] PBS also added a host (Laura Linney) who introduces each episode, and explains matters such as 'the entail' and 'Buccaneers'[c] for the benefit of U.S. viewers, which was labeled by some American critics as condescending.[40] PBS editing for broadcasts in the United States continued in the subsequent seasons.[41]


In Canada, VisionTV began airing the programme on 7 September 2011. Canadian audiences can also view the series on PBS.[42]

Australia and New Zealand[edit]

In Australia, the first series was broadcast on the Seven Network beginning on 29 May 2011;[43] the second series was broadcast beginning on 20 May 2012;[44] and the third series beginning on 10 February 2013.[45] 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.[46]


In Ireland, independent television channel TV3 aired the first series in January and February 2011.[47]

Scotland - STV opt out[edit]

STV, the ITV franchisee in central and northern Scotland (including the Orkney and Shetland islands), 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.[48] 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.[49] The series received its first Britain-wide broadcast when it was shown on ITV3 in February 2011.

STV announced in July 2011 that it would show the first and second series of Downton Abbey as part of its autumn schedule.[50] Scottish cast members Phyllis Logan and Iain Glen were both quoted as being pleased with the decision.[51]

South Africa[edit]

In South Africa, BBC Entertainment via DSTV began airing the first series on 19 February 2012.[citation needed]


In India, the rights to air the show have been acquired by the Star network, and is aired on the network's flagship channel for English entertainment, Star World.[citation needed]

The Philippines[edit]

In the Philippines, the series airs over the Velvet Channel.[citation needed]


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.[52] 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."[53] 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."[52]

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."[10]

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."[54] 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."[55] 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."[10]

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.[56]

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".[57] 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.[58] Season 4 of Breaking Bad surpassed Downton Abbey's record later in the year, with a score of 96, making series1 of Downton Abbey the 2nd highest rated show of 2011.[59]

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.[60]

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.[61]

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.[62] The second episode attracted a similar following with an average of 9.3 million viewers.[63] 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.[64]

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.[65] In 2013, Downton Abbey was ranked the 43rd most well-written TV show of all time by the Writers' Guild of America.[66]

The third series premiered in the UK on 16 September 2012 with an average of 9 million viewers (or a 36% audience share).[67] For the first time in the UK, episode three received an average of more than 10 million viewers (or a 38.2% audience share).[68] 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.[69] 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.[69]

While rumoured, due to the departure of actor Dan Stevens, the death of Matthew Crawley, in the 2012 Christmas special, drew criticism.[70][71] Lord Fellowes defended the decision stating that they 'didn't really have an option' once Stevens decided to leave.[71] 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.[72]

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.[73] 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.[74]

In the UK, the second episode attracted an average of 9.6 million viewers.[75]

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."[76] The episode content, which saw lady's maid Anna Bates raped, led to more than 200 complaints by viewers to UK television regulator Ofcom,[77] while ITV received 60 complaints directly.[78] 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'.[79]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Anti-Irish allegations[edit]

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.[80] The Irish War of Independence, for example, is described as the Irish Civil War.[who?]

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.[80] Tom's brother Kieran, however, is depicted as boorish, rude, and drunken, and is described by the Dowager Countess as a 'drunken gorilla'[80]—a reminder to Irish audiences of the ape-like figures depicting the Irish that were commonly featured in British[81] and American[82] publications in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.[83][84] The Dowager Countess character who makes these comments, however, was born in the nineteenth century, and frequently expresses Tory or pro-imperial views that were prevalent in England in the late 19th and early 20th century.[83]

Anti-Catholic views[edit]

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'.[85] 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'.[86] 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'.[86]


Fellowes tries to be as authentic in his depiction of the period as he can.[10] Despite this, the show features many linguistic anachronisms.[87] 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'.[88]

In 2010, Fellowes hired Alastair Bruce, 'an expert on state and court ritual', as historical adviser.[89] 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.'[89] Actor Jim Carter, who plays butler Carson, describes Bruce as the series 'etiquette watchdog',[89] and the UK's Daily Telegraph finished its 2011 profile of Bruce's role stating 'Downton's authenticity, it seems, is in safe hands.'[90] However, historian Simon Schama criticised the show for historical inaccuracies and "pandering to cliches."[91] 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."[92]

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,[93] 'was not adequate for representing the "downstairs" life at the fictional abbey'.[94] 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'.[93] 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.[93] 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."[93]

DVD, Blu-ray and streaming video releases[edit]


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[edit]

Title Number of discs Year(s) Number of episodes Release date
(UK only)
Blu-ray DVD
Complete Series One 2 3 2010 7 8 November 2010
Complete Series Two 3 4 2011 8 7 November 2011
Complete Series One and Two 5 7 2010–11 15 7 November 2011
Christmas at Downton Abbey 1 1 2011 1 26 December 2011
Complete Series Three 3 4 2012 8 5 November 2012
Complete Series One-Three & Christmas at Downton Abbey 9 11 2010–12 24 5 November 2012
A Journey to the Highlands 1 1 2012 1 26 December 2012
Complete Series Four 3 3 2013 8 11 November 2013
Complete Series One-Four & Christmas at Downton Abbey and A Journey to the Highlands 13 15 2010–13 33 11 November 2013
The London Season 1 1 2013 1 26 December 2013
Complete Series Five 2 3 2014 8 17 November 2014
Complete Series One-Five & Christmas at Downton Abbey, A Journey to the Highlands and The London Season 16 19 2014 42 17 November 2014
A Moorland Holiday 1 1 2014 1 26 December 2014

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 that the first series of Downton Abbey had become the highest selling DVD boxset on the online retailer's website of all time, surpassing popular American programmes such as The Sopranos, Friends and The Wire.[95]

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.[96]

Track listing[edit]

Downton Abbey: Original Music from the Television Series
No. Title Artist Length
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

Cultural impact[edit]

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.[97] In 2014, China's first school for butlers opened, to meet a demand again attributed to the influence of Downton Abbey.[98]

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.[99]

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.[100][101][102] Following scrutiny of his expenses and questions about his use of public money for personal benefit, he repaid the $40,000 cost of redecoration,[103] and subsequently resigned in March 2015.[104]

Other media[edit]

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.[96][105] 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.[106]

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.[107]

In 2015, it was announced that a Spin-Off movie of the series is currently being considered and talked about, however nothing of cast or release date has yet been announced.

See also[edit]


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  1. ^ 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.[40]
  2. ^ The series aired in the U.K. with commercial breaks, which required PBS, according to a spokeswoman, "to plug those holes".[41]
  3. ^ American heiresses who married into the British aristocracy during the Gilded Age - See: The Buccaneers, a novel by Edith Wharton.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]