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Downton Abbey

This is the best BBC mini-series to come along in years — amazing cast, including Maggie Smith, lavish budget, great scripts. It was shown on British television last year and is now available on DVD, and from Netflix. A second season is in production for broadcast this fall.

It’s set in Yorkshire starting in 1912. The plot and subplots involve the Crawley family as well as their servants. It’s awesome television, not to be missed.


  1. David L.M. Marcum wrote:

    There is a wonderful architectural story behind the mini-series as well.

    The house used as “Downton Abbey” is actually Highclere Castle in Berkshire. The original house on the estate was rebuilt and gothicized by Charles Barry, the architect who also rebuilt Whitehall Palace (the Houses of Parliament) and gave us the famous buildings with the tower containing Big Ben. The Carnarvon family have held the estate since 1679.

    Sadly, through the latter 20th century, the family lacked the resources to maintain the house. It deteriorated to the point that the ground floor and parts of the 1st (we’d say 2nd) floor were the only usable space in the house, with significant water and weather damage on the upper floors. The situation was so dire that the family had to decamp to a small house on the estate. While they had sworn not to sell off the house itself, they sought planning permission to sell off 200 acres of the estate for a housing development in order to raise the money to at least stabilize the building to prevent it from having to be condemned.

    Just as planning permission for the housing development seemed to be falling through, along came the “Downton Abbey” series. The money paid for use of the property for the series enabled the most vital stabilization repairs on the house.

    A lovely historic property is being saved, and a wonderful series which highlights the house and is sure to deliver more tourists to its gates to raise money for further repairs allows us all to vicariously sample the penultimate golden era of modern English history!

    Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 12:33 am | Permalink
  2. David L.M. Marcum wrote:

    BTW, if you enjoy Julian Fellowes’ work, in addition to the hilarious film “Gosford Park” (where Dame Maggie Smith’s reaction to a “coffee accident” is one of my favorite scenes on film) you should read his books “Snobs” and “Past Imperfect.”

    Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 12:47 am | Permalink
  3. admin wrote:

    Wow. I didn’t know that the Downton Abbey production budget helped to stabilize Highclere. That is awesome…

    There is an interesting theme that shows up often in English literature. That is that England never had a guillotine revolution like France’s (“Qui’ils mange de la brioche!”) because the English nobility were much more humane with the lower classes, providing enough of a safety valve to prevent a violent overthrow. I suspect that there’s a great deal of historical truth to that. And certainly in this series the humanity of the Crawley family toward their staff and their village is an important part of the plot.

    Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  4. David L.M. Marcum wrote:

    I tend to agree. Also, during that time period, England was enjoying an unprecedented economic boom that would eventually lead to the “empire on which the sun never set.” That boom in turn led to the development of a professional middle class that, while being unable to break into the social circles of the upper classes (they were in “trade” after all), were certainly highly important to the economic boom and therefore played a significant role in everyday life in England. Power had been steadily devolving from royalty and high nobility in England for nearly a century by that point. During the 18th century, the new professional middle class used its increasing wealth to claim an even more powerful role in British politics. So perhaps that played the most significant role in preventing such a revolution in England.

    Conversely, France was bankrupt by the last quarter of the 18th century. All political power was firmly consolidated in the upper echelons of the nobility and royalty. And this rarified crowd had no idea how to yield any of the rights and perquisites of “L’Ancien Regime” to the struggling middle class. Leave enough ordinary people grovelling on the margins of society long enough, and bad things WILL happen.

    I often wonder if our current U.S. politicians read history.

    Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

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