Death, drama, romance, relatable characters, beautiful score, spectacular cinematography… and the year is 1912. Created and written by Julian Fellowes (“The Tourist”), “Downton Abbey” has been running on PBS’s Masterpiece Classics anthology since 2010 in the United Kingdom, and 2011 in the United States. The series has recently been booked for their sixth and final season, which is set begin airing in the US in 2016. “Downton Abbey” is a smashing classic, continually watched and re-watched by fans around the world. The series’ popularity can be attributed to a handful of factors that have been present in each episode since season one, scene one; including the 20th century characters Fellowes has made that can relate to his 21st century audience, a score that tugs at fan’s heartstrings, and stunning cinematography. “Downton Abbey” is a series that takes all of the facts, issues, and some of the major historical moments of the 20th century, and relates them all to what it might have been like for the Crawley family and their staff.
“Chapter One” sets the scene for the remainder of the first season, and helps the audience get an idea where the main characters are at at this point in their lives. We meet the service staff and see some of the drama that comes with working in a house as large as the fictitious Downton (which uses the backdrop of real-life Highclere Castle). We also start to meet the family, who is dealing with the loss of their cousins James and Patrick from the Titanic sinking. Patrick was all set to marry their eldest daughter, Mary (Michelle Dockery, “Non-Stop”), and James was to inherit the Downton estate. As the episode goes on, we learn that Mary wasn’t so keen on going through with an arranged marriage, and that she lusts for something deeper in a relationship, like mutual respect or maybe even love. Of course, we can’t talk about the characters without talking about Lady Granthom (Maggie Smith, “Harry Potter”), who is vying for Mary to inherit the estate. Lady Grantham is one of the older characters on the show, which allows Smith brings her classic sass to “Downton,” and offers up some quality humor to the show’s dramatic center.
Another aspect that makes “Downton Abbey” so easy to get drawn in to is the cinematography. David Katznelson (“Driving Lessons”) uses varieties of depth, angles, focus, and a multitude of shots with each scene. The way they’re edited together by John Wilson (“Billy Elliot”) makes us feel like we’re a fly on the wall, observing all of these stories and lives unfolding in front of us, instead of behind a screen. The resolution is also astounding — on a close-up shot of Mr. Carson’s (Jim Carter, “The Golden Compass”) face as he’s intently pouring wine, you could count the hairs in his big, bushy eyebrows if you really wanted to.
The main theme to “Downton Abbey” (“Did I Make the Most of Loving You?!”) was written by John Lunn, and recorded by the Chamber Orchestra of London. Besides the location where the show is filmed, the theme is one of the first things that “Downton” fans think of. With emphasis on violin and piano parts, it’s able to capture the emotion and drama that is littered throughout this first episode, and the rest of the series. As the family and their staff cope with the tragedy of the Titanic, the score is strategically placed throughout the episode, making the emotional dialogue really work those tear ducts.
“Downton Abbey” isn’t even completely released yet, and it’s already become a classic. It’s a show that people of all ages enjoy, and families can spend time watching it together. That’s the beauty of Masterpiece Classics. “Downton” continues to be one of the most popular shows on PBS, because of our beloved 20th century characters, a strong score, and the cinematography that helps the story stay engaging.