Filling you in on Downton Abbey

By Brittany Mulligan, COMMENTARY
On February 22, 2012

Originally set to be a one-off mini series, "Downton Abbey" creator Julian Fellowes thought the show had more life to it than a shortened run on Britain's ITV network and decided to add two more seasons after its rousing season one success. Few could have anticipated that this seemingly stuffy British period piece would become such a hit, even connecting with audiences here in the United States.

The beloved series had an outstanding average of 9.2 million viewers for the first season, which unfortunately did not air in the United States, leaving many stateside fans to discover it through reruns on PBS, DVD and Netflix Instant. Yet season two launched in America on the PBS station Jan. 8, 2012, and the finale aired Sunday.

"Downton Abbey" takes place at the Grantham estate in 1912, beginning with the news that the historic Titanic ship has sunk and that Lord Grantham's heir was a passenger whose whereabouts are currently unknown. Lord Grantham's oldest daughter, Mary, was supposed to marry the heir and help ensure that the estate was in good hands following the passing of Lord Grantham.

With the heir's death, Lord Grantham finds his next heir to the Grantham estate in a distant cousin, Matthew Crawley. Matthew and his mother move to the estate to learn the ropes of how Downton is run, and so there lies the series' beginnings.

Matthew's reality is apparently worlds away from that of the Granthams. The Granthams are rich, arrogant and dependent on their household staff to maintain order. Matthew on the other hand was poor until he became heir to the Grantham estate and proud that he could earn his own living rather than inherit everything in his life.

It takes some time for the two families to adjust. Violet, the Dowager Countess and Lord Grantham's mother, clashes with Isobel Crawley. Mrs. Crawley has a liberal tendency and does not agree with sitting idly by when she can be of some use to whoever needs help.

In the second season, England is going to war against Germany and many men have been drafted into the army. Matthew, along with two men of Downton's staff, is also forced to leave for the war. The village hospital can't accommodate all the soldiers who have been injured on the battlefield, so with the hand of Mrs. Crawley, Downton Abbey slowly becomes a military hospital.

As World War I ends, it signifies a new beginning for Britain. The Granthams' old way of living is not something they can easily return to.

The main themes of "Downton Abbey" are the differences between the rich and the poor. The show has a wide cast of characters and viewers get to see the perspectives of both sides.

While the maids, cooks, and footmen of Downton Abbey are satisfied with their positions, they don't have the same luxuries as the Granthams. Most of the household staff have resigned themselves to a single life because they don't have many opportunities for marriage. While many are content with their job, they still have to deal with the drama that goes on in the house.

The Granthams live a spoiled life. They usually get what they want, have money to spend without thinking twice and have everything done their way. After the news that a war has started, life changes for the Granthams, but not so much. They still hold a powerful position in their village and have enough money left to keep from starving.

"Downton Abbey" has certainly attracted a wide variety of viewers now that it has started to become a hit in America. Season two leaves viewers craving more and already mourning the end until the proposed season three airs. As for plans for the future of the series, Fellowes has told BBC News he doesn't want to drag the show on forever, but has no plans of letting it end soon.

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