Downton Abbey (2010-2015) is a BBC series that was imported to America by PBS. It recently finished its fifth season and announced that its sixth season will be its last. As with Pride & Prejudice, it is about the landed gentry in Great Britain, but it occurs in the early 1900s, while P&P occurred in the early 1800s. Another similarity with P&P is that both involve a family of daughters, which means that the family will lose its “entailed” estate to a distant male relative. A dissimilarity is that P&P focused almost exclusively on the family and its neighbors while Downton Abbey focuses as much on the lives of the servant class and its interaction with the gentry class.
What I love about Downton Abbey is the writing (so witty) and the acting (superb). Some of the DVDs include special sections that describe the wonderful production values. The Rotten Tomato critics score the five seasons at 95%, 100%, 78%, 69%, and 80%. The audience is a bit less erratic – 93%, 94%, 86%, 76%, and 83%. I loved all five seasons with four stars out of four, but Season Three with Matthew and Mary was the best.
Based on my earlier fascination with Pride & Prejudice, I went on to read an annotated edition of Jane Austen’s book and Deborah Moggach’s wonderful script for the 2005 movie adaptation of the book. Since then, I have become just as fascinated by Downton Abbey, and was fortunate to find both the script and definitive annotations for Seasons One and Two in two books in the San Antonio Public Library. A similar book for Season Three is scheduled for publication later this year in December.
These script books contain the definitive annotations because they are provided by the series’ creator and writer, Julian Fellowes. He explains not only historical context, but also why the characters act as they do and say what they do. It is also interesting to learn about how filming deviates from the script and how the actors have as much control over character development as the creator and writer of the series. Not as interesting are the numerous references to incidents in Fellowes’s life that prompted him to create similar incidents in the series.
Downton Abbey is special to most people because of the characters and their relationships, and these books are invaluable in bringing greater depth of understanding to the viewers and readers.