Welcome Back, Downton!


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Did the first Downton of the season live up to your expectations? Here’s what Margaret Kaine thought …

I began writing my novel, ‘Dangerous Decisions’  because I loved not only the original series of ‘Upstairs/Downstairs’, I am also fascinated by the sheer elegance of the Edwardian Era. By the lovely clothes and great country houses, the impeccable manners, even while being aware that this privileged way of life was only made possible by the toil of others.

And so I was well into my plot when ‘Downton Abbey’ first hit our television screens. Written with authenticity by Julian Fellowes and providing us all with welcome romantic escapism, it drew me like a magnet. Full of well-portrayed and distinctive characters set against a luxurious background, I found it absolutely compelling and its fantastic ratings proved that so did thousands of other viewers.

We all looked forward with impatience for this new series of Downton Abbey to begin, although I was a little wary. With some sadness, I confess to feeling that the last series had rather lost its way.

But last Sunday, within minutes of the opening scenes, I was totally absorbed.

Dame Maggie Smith is, as always, an absolute joy and brilliant as the Dowager Countess. “Principles are like prayers,” she advised at dinner. “Noble, of course, but awkward at a party.’  Delivered in her own inestimable style. Wonderful!

It was like meeting old friends from both above and below stairs. I’ve always had a soft spot for Lady Edith, and her hopeless predicament really touches the heart. Carson is so splendidly superior, Mrs Hughes her sympathetic sensible self, Mrs Patmore eternally frazzled and young Daisy trying to better herself. Although I was surprised when she used the term, ’pig-ignorant’ which I tend to think belongs to a later decade.

It was good to see the social changes of the time beginning to creep in, with the socialist young teacher invited to dine without the knowledge of Lord Grantham, whose disapproval was almost apoplectic. Carson chosen over Lord Grantham by the villagers to head their war memorial committee. The scene when the doctor – invited to luncheon by the Dowager Countess – wasn’t offered cake by her butler was hilarious, yet for the period was totally believable. And Lady Mary actually considering spending a clandestine week with Tom Gillingham, to see if they were sexually suited before marriage! There were many lighter moments, delicious repartee between Mrs Crawley and the Dowager Countess, Molesley and his disastrous hair dye, a brilliant cameo by Anna Chancellor, didn’t we always anticipate that Jimmy would take one risk too far? Encouraged by the odious footman Thomas of course, who seems to have so many hidden agendas it is a wonder he can sleep. And I’m sure we will see more in the future of Mr Bates and his splendid wife, Anna. I thought the Countess seemed a little subdued even before the revelation by her maid. And what is the story there? Intrigue abounds.

I shall definitely be watching next Sunday and no doubt for all the other Sundays in the current season. Because – welcome back, Downton, the magic has returned!

Dangerous Decisions is available now as a paperback and on all eBook platforms.

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26 thoughts on “Welcome Back, Downton!

  1. Oh, Margaret; I’m afraid that I don’t agree – I thought that the first episode of the latest series was dire.

    From being an interesting story, true to its period, which it was in the first series, it has deteriorated into a wearisome soap opera with tired plot lines and unbelievable characters and situations, all of which are presented – raced through, even – in the most superficial of ways.

    The writers’ solution for a dearth of new ideas seems to be to create a series of cameo roles, one for each episode. I believe that it’s the turn of Richard L. Grant next week. Additionally, they ensure that Maggi Smith is given a line that will look good in the reviews and TV trailers for the programme.

    With all of the writing talent that must be available to the programme makers, I’m amazed and disappointed that they haven’t been able to come up with something better than the show that it has now become.

  2. Many thanks for commenting Liz, and probably if I observed the programme in depth, I might agree in some ways. But for me, Downton – especially as my current book is also set in the early part of the twentieth century – is a visual portrayal of manners, customs etc. so jolly useful so perhaps I’m coming to it from a different angle. Quite simply, I was absorbed and that is a huge plus for any programme as far as I’m concerned. However, we all have different perceptions of not only TV series but also of books. Interesting.

  3. It’s certainly The Maggie Smith Show nowadays and I think it’s deteriorated. It was once a great example of perfect ensemble playing, but now it appears to be a showcase for frocks and guest stars. We’ll see how it develops…

  4. Margaret Kaine you have often had the knack of voicing my own thoughts and doing a better job of it than I could. I agree that the previous series got a little lost, I think it was a desire for sensationalism. I did feel all the old excitement, with the subtlety of first of the new series and hope it remains throughout. Maggie Smith has always had the best lines of anyone and that has not changed, thankfully.I worry that Lord Grantham used to be such a sensible, wise and adorable figurehead but is currently going a bit senile or a bit caricature. Only the writers will know.

  5. I love a bit of friendly controversy, Margaret. I didn’t like the later episodes of the last series myself, but was just glad to have Downton back, it’s such escapism. Maybe if I’d known I would be asked to do a review, I would have watched with a more critical eye. I simply relaxed and enjoyed it.

  6. I have to admit (ssshh) that I’ve never watched an episode of Downton Abbey! I know! It’s almost shameful… But I do find the period fascinating, so I ‘get’ what makes people so absorbed in the programme.

  7. I find with any long-running series/soap that the actors tend to take over – I’m sure this isn’t intentional on their parts, but how the viewer relates to them, and how good they are at portraying a character. For this reason, I watched the first series of Downton, but haven’t seen a single episode since. Don’t shoot!

  8. Just as if I would, Linda. But while I know there is some truth in the criticisms, I am recording tonight’s episode, and know I will find much within it to enjoy. I try, as I do when reading now, not to have my writer’s hat on, but I admit that it can be difficult at times. Thank you for commenting.

  9. I watched the first few seasons of Upstairs Downstairs again a few years ago and still thoroughly enjoyed it. I agree, Margaret that the Edwardian era definitely has it’s own charm. Just off to reread The Go-Between.

  10. Sorry Margaret. I’m afraid I have to agree with Liz about the plot lines. The first two series had so many different threads running through which kept everything fresh, and at times, exciting. This new series – so far – is simply a soap set in a different era. The first episode was quite dull, and in one scene Lady Mary announced with an air of triumph, that she was going upstairs to take off her hat! (Was there cheering in the kitchens? No.)

    Maggie Smith is, of course, always fabulous, and her acerbic lines are delivered with perfection. But I could slap Lady Edith for being so drippy sometimes. I know, I know, different times. Although she could at least tell the poor woman who’s bringing up her daughter, the truth.

    Having said all this, I will still watch it. I love the styling – the clothes are fabulous and the house is (sigh) gorgeous. (But I still might slap Lady Edith!)

  11. The only character I felt like ‘slapping’ right from the beginning was – dare I say it – Lady Mary. She always seemed too stiff, and delivered her lines in a sort of monotone. But like you Berni, I’m seduced by the luxurious background, which probably affects my impartiality. To be honest, I just love any programme that I find uplifting, and Downton does have the effect on me. Many thanks for taking the time to comment.

  12. I watched the first series but got so cross with the fact that out of six potential romantic couples, only one had a vaguely satisfying (and happy) ending at the end of that series that I’m afraid I stopped watching. Grumpy old woman, me 😀 I did love the clothes and settings, but ultimately I wanted satisfying story lines too.

  13. Good to hear from you Terri, many thanks for the comment. You and I seem to be on our own here at having enjoyed the first episode. I haven’t seen the second yet, but have recorded it.

  14. ‘Fraid I stopped watching Downton half-way through the second series, Margaret, when Whatshisname made such a miraculous recovery from his war injury. No wonder he crashed his car, and escaped to America. The only reason I might dip into it again is to see Richard E. Grant. Been in love with him ever since seeing him in Withnail and I..

  15. Interesting that we all have an opinion about it – I suppose that underlines its popularity!
    My interest in the period was sparked by Gosford Park, directed by Robert Altman. Didn’t Julian Fellowes write the script for that? Maggie Smith starred in a similar role to Downton. I always felt that the film spawned the series. Like others here, am just a bit bored with it now!

  16. June, yes Julian Fellowes did write Gosford Park, which for me was even better than Downton Abbey. It had more solidarity, and like you, I’m sure the success of that spurred him on to write another.

  17. Well, getting back to the subject of Margaret’s blog I thought this was a lovely entry and I too am enthralled by the period. Of course Downton’s into the 1920s now but I still love that the root of the story was in the Edwardian era. Love Dangerous Decisions, Margaret and look forward to your new Edwardian novel being published.

  18. I’ve seen about two episodes of Downton Abbey, although I keep meaning to borrow my mum’s dvd set.

    From what I have seen, I really don’t like Michele Dockery’s character. She sounds like someone trying to be posh and overdoing it imo. I raqther like the Irish guy. (Of course. 🙂 )

    I don’t think you can beat the original series of Upstairs Downstairs.

    Of the soaps, I don’t even watch Corrie as much as I used to, though it’s probably my favourite of all of them.

    I do miss the days when I wouldn’t miss an episode of Neighbours – the days of Charlene, Scott, Henry, Daphne etc

  19. Many thanks for your kind comments Liz, rather a relief to have another voice in favour of Downton. Nothing is ever perfect of course, but I do look forward to it.

  20. Liv, my overall inspiration for writing in this period was the original Upstairs/Downstairs, I didn’t rate the new series at all. And I haven’t watched Neighbours either since it was Charlene and Scott. One Australian soap I absolutely loved was Sons and Daughters, anyone else remember that?

  21. Weirdly I sat and watched Gosford Park on Sunday night, I love Julian Fellowes’ work and the cast list was awesome, many of my favourites, including the much lauded Richard E Grant. It was enjoyable and very much the blueprint for Downton which I no longer watch ONLY because ITV has dropped orf our telly for some reason? (Dangerous Decisions was a super read and definitely on a par with the quality of Mr Fellowes’ writing, I have to say!)

  22. I watch Downton purely as escapist tv. I must admit that I watch it on catch up so there are no adverts to break up the plot into annoying ‘bites’. But, having said that, some of the scenes do seem rather choppy and almost too brief. Character-wise I find Bates hard to like (but I couldn’t stand him in Larkrise, either) and I keep waiting for Thomas to get his comeuppance but that hasn’t happened yet. I think if Julian Fellows takes the series up to the outbreak of WWII then enough will be enough, for me at any rate. As far as history goes, this is not one of my favourite periods. Writers either produce something gloomy (or worthy) like Peaky Blinders or class-ridden like Downton and U/DS. I found Testament of Youth more to my taste. I’m keeping my powder dry for Poldark, the return of the Three Musketeers and, hopefully, OUTLANDER – when it finally airs on UK TV. It appears that I prefer men in breeches or kilts to men in frock coats and stiff collars. But that’s probably just me. Great blog post, interesting comments. I hope I haven’t lowered the tone, well – not too much in any case..

  23. Thank you, Adrienne and Lizzie. It’s been fascinating to read of people’s differing views although perhaps a little disconcerting to find so many were opposing my own. But it would be a boring world if we all liked the same thing!

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