The original cast image
|Created by||Julian, Lord Fellowes|
|Opening theme||"Did I Make the Most of Loving You?"|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||5|
|No. of episodes||43 (list of episodes)|
|Cinematography||David Katznelson (series 1)
Gavin Struthers (series 2)
|Running time||Regular episodes: 47–53 minutes
Extended episodes: 64–69 minutes
Christmas specials: 92 minutes
|Distributor||NBCUniversal Television Distribution
|Original channel||ITV (UK)
|Picture format||1080i (HDTV)|
|Original release||26 September 2010– present|
Downton Abbey is a British period drama television series created by Julian, Lord Fellowes and co-produced by Carnival Films and Masterpiece. It first aired on ITV in the United Kingdom and Ireland on 26 September 2010 and on PBS in the United States on 9 January 2011 as part of the Masterpiece Classic anthology. Five series have been made so far; the fifth airing in the autumn of 2014 in the UK and Ireland, and began airing in the United States on 4 January 2015. A sixth series was commissioned, which, on 26 March 2015, was confirmed to be the final series.
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). 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 Series 6 would be the last and is expected to air in late 2015 with a final episode, serving as the annual Christmas special, expected to air on 25 December 2015.
- 1 Series overview
- 2 Production
- 3 Cast
- 4 Episodes
- 4.1 Series one
- 4.2 Series two
- 4.3 Christmas special 2011: Christmas at Downton Abbey
- 4.4 Series three
- 4.5 Christmas special 2012: A Journey to the Highlands
- 4.6 Series four
- 4.7 Christmas special 2013: The London Season
- 4.8 Series five
- 4.9 Christmas special 2014: A Moorland Holiday
- 4.10 Series six
- 4.11 Christmas special 2015
- 4.12 Prequel
- 5 Themes
- 6 Reception
- 7 Influence
- 8 Broadcast
- 9 Releases
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
The series is set in fictional Downton Abbey, a Yorkshire country house in England. Downton Abbey is home and seat of the Earl and Countess of Grantham. Each series follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family, their friends and servants during the reign of King George V.
The first series opens at the end of the Edwardian era in 1912, when the family receives news of the heir's death aboard the RMS Titanic. It spans the two years before the Great War. The second series covers 1916 to 1919, and the 2011 Christmas Special covered the 1919 Christmas period, ending in early 1920. The third series picks up soon afterwards in 1920 through autumn of 1921. The fourth series covers a six-month period between February and August 1922, while the 2013 Christmas special was set in summer 1923. The fifth series covers the year 1924. The upcoming sixth series covers the year 1925.
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.
The opening theme to 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 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, with lyrics written by Don Black.
|Table of cast members|
|Hugh Bonneville||Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham||Main|
|Jessica Brown Findlay||Lady Sybil Branson (née Crawley)||Main|
|Laura Carmichael||Lady Edith Crawley||Main|
|Jim Carter||Charles "Charlie" Carson||Main|
|Raquel Cassidy||Phyllis Baxter||Recurring||Main|
|Brendan Coyle||John Bates||Main|
|Tom Cullen||Anthony Foyle, Lord Gillingham||Recurring||Main|
|Michelle Dockery||Lady Mary Crawley||Main|
|Kevin Doyle||Joseph Molesley||Recurring||Main|
|Siobhan Finneran||Sarah O'Brien||Main||Stand-in|
|Joanne Froggatt||Anna Bates (née Smith)||Main|
|Thomas Howes||William Mason||Main|
|Lily James||Lady Rose Aldridge (née MacClare)||Recurring||Main|
|Rob James-Collier||Thomas Barrow||Main|
|Allen Leech||Tom Branson||Recurring||Main|
|Rose Leslie||Gwen Dawson||Main|
|Phyllis Logan||Elsie Hughes||Main|
|Elizabeth McGovern||Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham||Main|
|Sophie McShera||Daisy Mason (née Robinson)||Main|
|Matt Milne||Alfred Nugent||Main|
|Lesley Nicol||Beryl Patmore||Main|
|Amy Nuttall||Ethel Parks||Main|
|Julian Ovenden||Charles Blake||Recurring||Main|
|David Robb||Dr Richard Clarkson||Recurring||Main|
|Maggie Smith||Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham||Main|
|Ed Speleers||James "Jimmy" Kent||Main|
|Dan Stevens||Matthew Crawley||Main|
|Cara Theobold||Ivy Stuart||Recurring||Main|
|Penelope Wilton||Isobel Crawley||Main|
|Series||Episodes||Originally aired||Ave. UK viewers
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||7||26 September 2010||7 November 2010||9.70|
|2||8||18 September 2011||6 November 2011||11.68|
|Special||25 December 2011||12.11|
|3||8||16 September 2012||4 November 2012||11.91|
|Special||25 December 2012||10.28|
|4||8||22 September 2013||10 November 2013||11.84|
|Special||25 December 2013||9.41|
|5||8||21 September 2014||9 November 2014||10.40|
|Special||25 December 2014||7.99|
The first series of seven episodes was broadcast in the UK on 26 September 2010. It explored the lives of the Crawley family and their servants from the day after the sinking of the RMS Titanic in April 1912 to the outbreak of the First World War on 4 August 1914. The plot device is the fee tail or "entail" governing the (fictional) Earldom of Grantham, which endows both title and estate exclusively to heirs male. This is a technical term, different in meaning to "male heirs", and complicated by the dire financial state of the estate. Lord Grantham resolved financial issues when he married an American heiress. Her considerable dowry was contractually incorporated into the comital entail in perpetuity. The earl and countess had three daughters but no sons. An arrangement was made for their eldest daughter to marry her cousin, son of the then-heir presumptive. The demise of both heirs in the sinking of the Titanic destroys these plans and brings a distant male cousin, Matthew Crawley, into play as heir presumptive to Downton and the countess's fortune.
Much of the series focuses on the relationship between Lady Mary and Matthew. Matthew is reluctant to embrace the aristocratic lifestyle of the Crawley family. Lady Mary doesn't want to be forced to marry to preserve her family's status. Another major plotline involves the arrival of new staff member Mr. Bates, who had fought under Lord Grantham's command in the Second Boer War. Mr. Bates falls into a rivalry with Thomas, an ambitious closeted gay footman who frames him after learning he was released from jail for theft. An investigation by Lady Mary's personal maid, Anna, reveals that Mr. Bates went to jail to protect his wife. Anna, who has fallen in love with Bates, found that Bates' estranged wife stole money from a former employer. Thomas resigns from Downton before he can be exposed and joins the British army as a medic. Matthew falls in love with Lady Mary, but she rejects his proposal. The Countess becomes pregnant but miscarries due to the actions of her personal maid, who incorrectly believes she is about to be fired. News spreads of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the impending start of the First World War.
The series comprised eight episodes and ran from the Battle of the Somme in 1916 to the 1918 flu pandemic. Matthew Crawley, Thomas Barrow, and William Mason go off to fight in the war. Lady Sybil Crawley defies her aristocratic position and joins the Voluntary Aid Detachment. Matthew has fallen in love with someone else and is engaged, leaving Lady Mary to deal with her feelings for him. Bates is forced to leave Downton after his ex-wife blackmails him into returning to her. Mrs. Bates threatens to sell the story of Lady Mary's sexual encounter with the Turkish diplomat from series one to the press. Anna and Lady Mary manage to convince a newspaper editor to purchase exclusive rights to the story. The editor is engaged to Lady Mary and forces Mrs. Bates to sign an exclusive contract so that nobody else can buy the story, effectively quashing it. Bates' ex-wife commits suicide and stages it to appear that Bates killed her, and he is arrested. Lady Sybil falls for Tom, the family's liberal-minded Irish chauffeur, to the shock of her family. The Spanish influenza epidemic hits Downton at the end of the war. William dies from his war wounds after a deathbed marriage to Daisy. Matthew's fiancee dies from the flu after urging him to be happy and marry Lady Mary. Thomas is rehired at Downton after helping the staff tend to the sick Crawley family. Mary and Matthew reunite. Matthew, serving as Bates' lawyer after he is framed for his estranged wife's murder, fails to have him found innocent at his murder trial, and Bates is sentenced to life in prison.
Michelle Dockery, Dame Maggie Smith, Brendan Coyle, Rob James-Collier, Dan Stevens, Elizabeth McGovern, Hugh Bonneville, Jessica Brown Findlay, Laura Carmichael, Joanne Froggatt, Phyllis Logan and Allen Leech all returned and Cal MacAninch, Iain Glen, Amy Nuttall, Zoe Boyle and Maria Doyle Kennedy joined the cast as the new valet Lang, Sir Richard Carlisle, the new housemaid Ethel, Miss Lavinia Swire and John Bates's wife Vera respectively. Filming began in March 2011.
Christmas special 2011: Christmas at Downton Abbey
Most of the regular cast, with Nigel Havers as Lord Hepworth and Sharon Small as Lady Rosamund's new maid, Marigold Shore, appear in a Christmas special. This single episode visited Downton between Christmas 1919 and early 1920.
The third series of Downton Abbey premiered on 16 September 2012 in the UK and in the US on 6 January 2013. Mary and Matthew are married in the series premiere. Branson and a pregnant Lady Sybil return to live at Downton after Tom is implicated in the burning of an aristocrat's house in Ireland. Tom (due to Lord Grantham's string pulling) is cleared of criminal charges for the arson, but cannot return home to Ireland. Downton's estate and business functionality are in jeopardy because Robert lost most of the family's (including Cora's) fortune on poor investments. Matthew gives Robert a large sum of money inherited from the father of his former fiancée, Lavinia Swire, in exchange for becoming the estate's co-owner. Tragedy hits and strain arises between Lord and Lady Grantham when Sybil dies of childbirth complications. Tom names their child Sybil and christens her as a Catholic. Mr Bates is finally released from prison after Anna uncovers evidence clearing his name. Matthew and Tom, who has become the new estate agent at Violet's suggestion, begin to turn Downton Abbey into a profitable estate. Thomas's homosexuality is revealed after he mistakes the actions of a new footman and makes advances. The Granthams agree to cover up his sexual preference, since homosexuality is a criminal offence in the United Kingdom.
Christmas special 2012: A Journey to the Highlands
ITV announced that a special hour-and-a-half episode would be broadcast on Christmas Day at the end of Series Three
Actress MyAnna Buring appeared in the 2012 Christmas special as maid Edna Braithwaite, when the family visits Violet's niece and her husband, the Marquess and Marchioness of Flintshire, at their estate in Scotland, Duneagle. They await the birth of Mary's baby. Matthew dies in a car accident shortly after the birth of their son and leaves Mary widowed. Scottish actress Simone Lahbib played the role of Wilkins, Lady Flintshire's (Phoebe Nicholls) maid.
On 23 November 2012, ITV announced the commission of a fourth series and stated that filming would begin in February 2013. The series began broadcasting in the UK on ITV on 22 September 2013 and premiered in the USA on 5 January 2014 on PBS. The series concluded in the US on 23 February 2014.
In series four Lady Mary mourns Matthew's death and is increasingly emotionally repressed and venomous to those around her. She finally snaps at longtime family servant Carson, and breaks down in cathartic tears. 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. She acquires two new suitors — Lord Gillingham and Charles Blake, but is torn between them. Edith becomes smitten with Michael Gregson, who is unable to divorce his wife because she is legally insane. In order to divorce his wife and marry Edith, he moves to Germany, where the law allows a divorce in his circumstances. Edith becomes pregnant with his child just before he leaves and later discovers that he has been killed by blackshirts. Edith goes to Switzerland with Rosamund to carry the baby and give birth in secret. She gives up her child, Marigold, to a tenant farmer on the Grantham estate. Matthew's valet, Molesley, takes a demotion to footman after the Granthams experience budget issues. Anna is raped by a visitor's valet and is found beaten and bloody by Mrs. Hughes, whom she begs not to tell Bates out of fear that he will kill her assailant and be hanged for murder. Bates eventually finds out after she withdraws from him. Anna's rapist turns up dead afterwards, with the identity of his killer (or if his death was accidental) left open. Tom is targeted for sexual extortion by the Countess's new personal maid, who is outmaneuvered and fired by Mrs Hughes.
Various new cast members joined for series four: Tom Cullen as Lord Gillingham, an old childhood friend of Mary's whom she hasn't seen in years; Nigel Harman as Gillingham's valet Green; Dame Harriet Walter as Violet's friend Lady Shackleton; Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, playing the Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba who appeared as a house guest at a dinner party; Joanna David, as the Duchess of Yeovil; and Julian Ovenden as the aristocrat Charles Blake. Returning to series four in the 2013 Christmas episode were Shirley MacLaine, who reprised her role as Cora's mother, Martha Levinson, and Paul Giamatti as Harold, Cora's brother. The show introduced its first black character, Jack Ross, a jazz musician and singer from Chicago, played by Gary Carr. Jack's presence ignited race-related tensions within the household. Daisy Lewis portrayed a local schoolteacher, Miss Sarah Bunting, Andrew Alexander played Sir John Bullock, and Raquel Cassidy portrayed a new lady's maid named Baxter. Brendan Patricks returned to the show as Evelyn Napier. Christine Carty played Virginia Woolf, the third "real life" character in the series, at a Bloomsbury Group party attended by Edith.
Actress Siobhan Finneran, who played lady's maid Sarah O'Brien, did not appear in series four. A rep for the ITV series has confirmed Finneran's departure, but said that the character could return in the future.
The relationship between lady's maid Anna and valet Mr Bates faced additional difficulties, with a plot line that caused uproar among some British viewers.
Fellowes continued his writing method, which he explained was to subject 'a couple of characters per series to a very difficult situation and you get the emotions that come out of these traumas.' This was 'about taking characters to the brink', he said.
Christmas special 2013: The London Season
Scenes for the 2013 Christmas special were filmed at Royal Holloway, University of London, Goldsmith's College London, West Wittering beach in West Sussex and Berkshire's Basildon Park. Lancaster House in London stood in for Buckingham Palace.
The episode featured Paul Giamatti in the role of Lady Grantham's younger brother, Harold Levinson.
ITV announced at the end of series four that Downton Abbey would return for a fifth series in 2014. The British airdates were set to start in late September and lead up to the seasonal 2014 Christmas special. On 20 August 2014 Vanity Fair magazine announced that the U.S. airdates were set to start on Sunday, 4 January 2015, following the UK broadcast of the 2014 Christmas special. The first episode (of 8 total) of series five was broadcast in the UK on 21 September 2014.
Tom Branson and the schoolteacher Sarah Bunting become close to each other, which displeases Robert, who feels that the vocally-socialist Sarah may pull Tom away from the family and back to socialist agitation. The villagers want to build a war memorial, and ask Carson to head the committee. He accepts with the condition that they make Robert the patron. Cora has an admirer in Simon Bricker, an art historian. Robert doesn't like this newly found friendship. Daisy enlists Miss Bunting's aid for self-study and begins to think in a left-wing manner, which upsets Mrs. Patmore. Miss Baxter's previous criminal past is revealed. Mary and Gillingham have a one-week fling in a Liverpool hotel. A past affair between a Russian exile, Prince Kuragin, and the Dowager Countess is revealed. Prince Kuragin is united with his estranged wife by Violet, with the help of Lord Flintshire (Shrimpy). Inspector Vyner of Scotland Yard and the local police Sergeant investigate Green's death. Edith's secret child is discovered by the Dowager Countess through Rosamund. Edith's interference in Drewe's family upsets Mrs. Drewe, who balks at Edith's infatuation with Marigold. Charles Blake plans to reunite Tony Gillingham (whom Mary had spurned after their getaway) with Mabel Lane Fox (with whom Tony had broken off an engagement in order to be with Mary) with Mary's help. Edith receives confirmation that Michael was killed by Nazi thugs. Edith inherits Michael's 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. Mrs Patmore inherits some money and decides to buy a cottage to rent out. This inspires Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes to invest in a property for a bed and breakfast that will help support them in their marriage after retirement. Rose and Atticus Aldridge, son of Lord and Lady Sinderby, become close. Lord Merton asks Isobel's hand in marriage. She accepts, but is discouraged by insolent remarks from Lord Merton's son Larry. Isis, Robert's beloved dog has cancer and is put down. Rose accepts Atticus' marriage proposal. In spite of Lady Flintshire's and Lord Sinderby's reluctance, Rose and Atticus get married in London with everyone present. Inspector Vyner arrests Anna on suspicion of Green's murder. Bates writes a confession to killing Green, and escapes to Ireland. The witness in the case becomes uncertain, and Anna is released on bail. Cora eventually learns that Marigold is the child of Edith and the late Michael Gregson. Cora decides to adopt Marigold from the Drewes as a family for Edith, without revealing the facts. Robert and Tom realise Marigold is Edith's daughter. The 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' suggestion. Everyone attends Downton Abbey's Christmas party. Tom Branson decides to move to the United States to work for his cousin and takes his four-year-old daughter, Sybil, with him.
Christmas special 2014: A Moorland Holiday
The 2014 Christmas special air date in the U.S. has been set to follow the U.S. season, where series five had started on 4 January 2015.
Downton Abbey will return with a sixth series in November 2015; consisting of eight episodes and Christmas special in the year of 1925.
Christmas special 2015
The ninth and final episode of the upcoming sixth series will take place on Christmas Day of 1925.
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, courtship and eventual marriage as the earl and countess of Downton Abbey. Initially planned as a book, it was then picked up by ITV.
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 series1 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 9pm, 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 Irish newspaper The Herald. The Irish War of Independence, for example, is incorrectly described in the blurb as the Irish Civil War. Allen Leech, who plays Tom Branson in the series, was asked about this by an Irish reporter writing for the Irish newspaper The Herald, and denied that the series depicted Irish characters in a stage pejorative fashion. Nevertheless, Tom's brother Kieran is depicted as boorish, rude, and drunken, and is described by the Dowager Countess as a 'drunken gorilla'—an unwelcome reminder to an Irish audience of the ape-like figures depicting the Irish that featured in British and American publications in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The character of the Earl of Grantham 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'.
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."
Relationships between servants and the Grantham family, as well as with other upper class characters, are portrayed in a manner excessively familiar and more informal than the norm for the era. For example servants below the level of butler and housekeeper regularly ignore protocol and address senior members of the family with personal requests or observations.
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 rights to broadcast Downton Abbey have been acquired in over 220 territories and is viewed by an estimated global audience of 120 million people.
In the United States, Downton Abbey was broadcast in January 2011 on PBS, as part of the 40th season of Masterpiece. The programme was broadcast in four 90-minute episodes, requiring PBS to alter the beginning and endpoints of each episode with minimal editing. Editing for length has continued for subsequent series.
In Canada, VisionTV begin airing the programme on 7 September 2011. Canadians can also view it on PBS. In Ireland, independent television channel TV3 aired the first series in January and February 2011.
In Australia, the first series was broadcast on the Seven Network from 29 May 2011. The second series was broadcast on the Seven Network from 20 May 2012. The third series was broadcast on the Seven Network from 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 South Africa, BBC Entertainment via DSTV began airing the first series on 19 February 2012. In the Philippines, the series airs over the Velvet Channel. 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.
STV opt out
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. 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. 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. Scottish cast members Phyllis Logan and Iain Glen were both quoted as being pleased with the decision.
The complete series is available from Amazon Instant Video. Series 1 through 4 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 on the online retailer's website of all time, 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|
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.
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