Downton More Than Abbey To Move With The Times

Spanning a time period of almost ten years in one of the most invigorating, changing time periods of recent history, Downton Abbey has the scope to tap into an array of movements and ideas of the early 20th century, and as such is a very changeable show. The question is, has it made the most of this charged sociological variety, or been warped too fiercely from the historical drama we all fell in love with just a few years ago?
Like most shows, Downton began life in a much happier place than it is in now (although, with time and lots of tea, I am beginning to forgive Mr Fellowes for the recent blood encrusted episodes). The cinematography had a golden lilt to it, which played well with the richly coloured costumes of the Crawley family. Sweeping shots indulged in the gorgeous architecture of Highclere Castle, or thrashed about within the mad ferociousness of the kitchen.
On the whole, these aspects of the show have not changed. However, with the beginning of the First World War, Downton dipped into a colder, starker atmosphere. You’ll notice that the steadicam is used more frequently in the second series, reflecting the instability of the age. The storylines likewise become more scrappy, moving from family tensions and drama at the dinner table (in which the rip in William’s jacket might as well have been classed as a guest star) to Vera’s plot to expose Lady Mary and Ethel’s pregnancy.

Moving with the times, the third series of Downton Abbey reflects the uncertain period after the war with its focus on money troubles, and Carson’s unstoppable grumbling about the new world he has been left in. During the war disruption was expected, but it’s a slight shock to lose rooms crowded with nonchalant servants, billowing dresses, and rigid social order. We do, however, see a return to plots that are more removed from historical events, like Bates’ false imprisonment (Hollyoaks, anyone?).


The transition through the war doesn’t mean the eradication of previous storylines. The love triangle roars up every now and then, just to make sure that we’re still bored of it, moving from Pamuk-Mary-Matthew, to Lavinia-Matthew-Mary, and most recently Garrigan-Mary-Matthew’s ghost.

Even characters seem to be making repeat entrances. Rose has begun to take on Sybil’s role as the naive, modern thinker, with less emphasis on the political ideas and more on her love for freedom and life. And of course there’s Edna, whose return was bizarre, and as of yet seems to have served no purpose but to stir up trouble.

On the whole this series feels like the return of the smooth(er) historical background of the first series, with the less period based storylines of the next two. I’m not sure if Downton has lost a little of its charm, or if the romanticism of the early period has left the show.

Either way, historically the show has been forced to move forward, perhaps with a little look back at the good ol’ days when we could look forward to a new world to explore, and a social order more removed from our own to create interesting deviances and political commentary.

None the less, the spirit of the show remains, relishing the dashing style of the ‘20s whilst strutting its more soap-opera ideas around in front of the backdrop of a rich and fascinating era. Here’s to Season Four!

PHOTOS:// E Online, CBS News


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