Over the last five years the world has awaited weddings, grieved deaths and eagerly anticipated Christmases at Downton Abbey. However, the end is nigh. The final hours of Downton Abbey are scheduled to air, all too soon this global phenomenon will reach its final conclusion. In celebration of the entertainment Downton has given, I have collated my favourite aspects of the show to share with you. This is by no means an exhaustive list, however, it was collated by a devoted fan. So in tribute, here are all the reasons why I loved visiting Downton.
Sets and Costumes
Watching Downton is an immersive experience. The house, clothes, table settings, décor and jargon essentially comprise a time machine. (FYI check out this Tumblr solely devoted to the lamps of Downton. I do my research people). On days when I need a pick me up, I relish in the splendor of going through Downton’s Tumblr and Pinterest tags. These pages are a treasure trove of past eras. It is fascinating to see how the fashions in particular have changed throughout the show’s run.
Speaking of costumes, I must mention the best scene in Season 1. Who can forget when Sibyl has pants made at the dressmaker? Her modern outfit is only revealed when she comes down for dinner in her shocking new garb to surprise her family. Queue a panning shot to the window where a love sick chauffeur looks on.
Let’s all just admit Lady Violet is the real reason behind our devotion to Downton Abbey. Lady Violet has made a consistent performance filled with sass, on the point criticism and wisdom over the last five years. Contenders for the best Lady Vi one-liner include: “Vulgarity is no substitute for wit” and “What is a weekend?”
Some of Lady Violet’s best dialogue is shared with her cousin Isobel. The two matriarchs never fail to provide a hilarious and insightful commentary to the show’s events.
Exploration of social issues
Throughout the entirety of Downton’s run, the audience has witnessed the clear class divide between the lives of those upstairs and those downstairs. While it is dandy to compare the dinner conversations, costumes and daily struggles of the two, the audience most enjoyed the space in the middle where the two classes intertwined. Examples include, when Lord Grantham paid for Mrs. Patmore to have surgery to restore her sight, Lady Mary and Anna’s friendship or everyone’s favourite character, Thomas Branson. Tom began his story at Downton as a love-struck chauffeur with strong political ideals. His story sees him marry the youngest and best daughter of the house, Sibyl. She too crosses the class divide in order to be with him.
The loss of class and social status was explored through last season’s Russian refugee storyline. This storyline explored a portion of Lady Violet’s backstory and more importantly, drew attention to a current global issue. Downton’s exploration of refugee issues speaks to the wider importance of television exploring misunderstood topics and current events. By embarking on this task, storylines can act as springboards to create public awareness. This is achievable, as Downton illustrates, even if the the show is set in a different era. The human experience has not changed so much that these topics will remain irrelevant.
Homosexuality was another topic dealt with from the first episode of Downton. The world witnessed Mr Barrow’s isolation, which was partly attributable to his sexuality in a far more conservative society. However, Mr. Barrow has been a polarizing character, he can be an evil villain, as well as someone the audience wishes to could help.
For me, the hardest scene in Downton to watch was when Anna was raped. As the singing upstairs drowned out Anna’s screams, I turned to my mum and said “surely not” as I realised what was about to happen to one of Downton’s most beloved characters. The audience witnessed Mrs. Hughes reaction to finding Anna after the attack, Anna’s isolation of Mr. Bates, her unwillingness to tell her story and the shadow it cast over her for the entire season. While this storyline upset me so much I gave a couple of episodes a miss, this demonstrates why the story was important to tell. In an ad break following the scene my dad said “even though that was hard to watch, that would have happened all the time” to which I replied, “it still does.” This story put words to the experience of so many women around the world, which was a sentiment beautifully expressed in Joanna Froggatt’s Golden Globe acceptance speech.
The love stories
Matthew and Mary were two star-crossed lovers (or cousins, depends on your POV), whose epic arguments, full of angry pacing and gestures, frustrated and entertained the world for two seasons. Most of my favourite scenes are from this relationship. So I will inadequately recount the highlights. During the war episodes, Matthew goes missing, and returns home during a concert the house is holding for wounded soldiers. Mary is up the front singing with Edith, when Matthew enters causing Mary to stop. Matthew walks towards her, encouraging her to begin the song again. This small window of happiness does not last as Matthew is wounded, and Mary nurses him. All the while, Matthew is engaged to someone else. This dramatic series of events is followed by a beautiful waltz the two share as they discreetly discuss their desire to be together, then they FINALLY kiss. Season two’s christmas special, gave the world the greatest gift of all when Matthew and Mary finally become engaged against the backdrop of falling snow and while Mary wears a stunning red dress.
In the spirit of full disclosure, my devotion to Downton somewhat suffered following Matthew’s death. But like all spirited fans, in the face of untimely death caused by actors wanting out, I rallied.
Even though the drama of Mary and Matthew is unparalleled, Branson and Sybil remain everyone’s favourite couple. Who does not love a story of a young woman born into privilege slowly falling in love with a liberal, Irish chauffeur? It is through Sybil’s connection with Tom that confirms her desire to be more than a great lady. Sybil becomes a woman interested in politics, women’s rights and starts working as a nurse during the war. Let’s try to forgot that Sybil died due to child birth complications, even though I cannot forget Tom and Cora’s faces as they realise they will loose her forever.
Click here to watch their decision to runaway. Relive the joy.
Honourable mention must be given to William and Daisy. William’s absolute devotion and Daisy’s selfless act of marriage on William’s deathbed is a cornerstone of Downton history.
And do not even get me started on the will-they-won’t-they dynamic between Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes.
Over the course of the show, all the characters developed, however, none so much as Edith. When the series began, Edith was bitter, unlikeable and annoying. As her story progressed, she became easier to sympathise with because she simply had the worst luck in fictional history. She was left at the altar by an older man and was convinced her dead cousin Patrick, whom she loved, had returned with facial burning during WWII. When things were finally improving with Mr Gregson, he was killed by Nazis, leaving Edith alone and pregnant. At the end of last season, Edith is braver. She does not let the past define her or stop her from trying to find happiness. Instead, she strives to have the life she wants and fights to fit that life into the box her time and class demands of her.
Tom’s development must not go unnoticed. After Sybil’s death, Tom not only misses the love of his life, but he now no longer fits comfortably into any class. Over time, however, he learns to embrace the middle ground. My favourite part of Tom’s development is how he becomes Sibyl in her absence. He is a close friend to both Mary and Edith, siding with neither and wanting happiness for them both. In time he becomes a much beloved, trusted and treasured family member by them all, even Lady Violet.
Finally, our wee kitchen maid Daisy made a journey worth mentioning. She recovered from her blind devotion to Barrow, made a brave choice to marry William on his deathbed and pursued her education so she could one day break out of the kitchen.
Downton captured everyone’s attention due to a whole string of shocking moments from its very first episode. Let us never forget Lady Mary having sex with the mysterious foreign visitor, Mr Phumuk, only for him to die in the act. Another shock was when Cora’s maid, Ms O’Brien, placed soap on the bathroom floor, causing Cora to slip and have a miscarriage. Not to mention the alarming rate at which Mr Bates and Anna seem to be in and out of prison.
The fact I could write a reflective piece on this series and not even scratch the surface of storylines and characters is testament to how rich and complex Downton has been. Even though I have felt annoyed and dissatisfied at times, I have always been entertained. This show is a triumph for many reasons. Most impressively, it is period drama that remained relevant to today’s world, uniting a global audience in their well wishes for this cast of characters, which is sure to leave us mourning with its ultimate end.