Movie review: Returning to Downton Abbey

da-1sht-int-f-hiresI can’t remember exactly how I got into Downton Abbey. I think a friend recommended it to me, and I watched the first season while it was still on Netflix.

Needless to say, I quickly fell absolutely, completely in love with this show. I’d watched plenty of British period dramas before, but there was something extra special about this one. Maybe it was the elaborate sets, or the gorgeous costumes, or the top-notch ensemble cast.

Whatever the reason, by the end of the final episode of the first season, I was hooked. I watched the rest of the seasons on PBS as they aired, and I had a wonderful time discussing the show with family members, friends, and coworkers, who also couldn’t seem to get enough of this show.

When the final season aired in 2016, it was a bittersweet moment. I was sad because I knew I was going to miss all these wonderful characters, but I was happy because the show wrapped up in such a lovely way. I was satisfied with the ending, but of course I didn’t object when I heard the announcement that the story would be continuing in a big screen movie.

The Downton Abbey movie, out in theaters this past weekend, feels more like an extra long TV episode than a movie — and I mean that as a compliment. I was curious how the TV series would translate to film, and to me it worked seamlessly. This is really just like two or three episodes played together, and at the end of the movie, I wanted it to keep going!

This is not a standalone film; if you saw the trailers and were curious, you definitely need to watch the show first. As a fan, I appreciated that they didn’t take up any runtime by reintroducing characters, but the film will probably feel rather confusing to those who aren’t already familiar with the Crawley family and their staff.

The plot is fairly simple: the Crawleys receive word that the king and queen of England will be coming to stay at Downton, and this brings a rush of excitement and anxiety. Of course, it wouldn’t be “Downton Abbey” without a few conflicts and scandals along the way, but everything is nicely wrapped up by the end. Pretty much everyone gets a happy ending, and the film ties up a few loose threads remaining after the end of the final season.

The Downton Abbey movie feels like the cinematic equivalent of grabbing a book and a cup of hot chocolate and curling up by a warm fire. Nothing earth-shattering happens here, but that’s okay. Watching the movie gave me a nice, cozy feeling.

I actually found myself tearing up at two points in the movie — the first time was at the beginning, when I heard the theme music and saw the camera panning over Downton, and I realized how much I’d missed this place. Then I also got a bit misty eyed at the very end, as I realized I was probably seeing Downton for the last time.

Is the movie actually the last we’ll see of Downton? The film apparently exceeded expectations at the box office, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the story picks back up again at a later date. But, I’ll also be okay if this truly is the end. It was nice to get one more chance to say goodbye.

TV review: Looking back on ‘Downton Abbey’

downton_abbey_christmas_2013__131110163527I’ve been a bit at a loss of what to do on Sunday nights this January, because for the first time in a long time, there isn’t a new episode of “Downton Abbey” airing on PBS Masterpiece. The sixth and final season of the popular period drama aired a year ago, bringing an end to the always buzzworthy exploits of a wealthy British family and their servants.

“Downton Abbey” was a surprise hit and turned into an unusual cultural phenomenon. The series followed the Earl and Countess of Grantham, Robert and Cora Crawley, and their daughters, Mary, Edith and Sybil, who occupy an elaborate estate in England called Downton Abbey. People who wouldn’t normally watch period dramas tuned in every week to find out what would happen next to the characters, and the show drew a wide range of fans. I watched it, my mom watched it, and my grandma watched it. I had friends who watched it and co-workers who watched it. One of co-workers’ favorite things to do on Monday mornings would be to discuss what happened on Downton Abbey the night before. We’d gasp at the scandals and gossip about what love interest Lady Mary would pursue next.

It’s easy at first to dismiss “Downton Abbey” as a glorified soap opera, and even fans will admit that yes, sometimes the drama got a little soapy — kidnappings, upstairs/downstairs romances, health scares, and secret babies. However, the show was more than just a series of plot twists. It had one of the best ensemble casts I’ve ever seen on a TV show. Although it would take too long to name all the standout actors, one of the best was Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary. Lady Mary wasn’t always a nice person; in fact, sometimes she could be vindictive and downright nasty. Yet Dockery played her so well that she never became the villain, and I found her to be a complex, sympathetic character. And of course, no one will forget Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess. The Dowager was a master of snarky one-liners and produced the show’s most-quotable bits of dialogue. Although she never passed up an opportunity to roast a fellow family member, the show also demonstrated just how much she cared for her family.

The show’s gorgeous sets and costumes always added a sense of elegance to the proceedings, and I still want to steal Lady Mary’s wardrobe. It was fun to watch how technology and fashion changed throughout the show as the characters entered a more modern era.

Perhaps what really made “Downton Abbey” resonate with fans, though, is the way it addressed social issues of the time — issues that are surprisingly still relevant today. While it was fun to watch the “upstairs” family and their posh lifestyle, this series also showed us the challenges and obstacles the “downstairs” servants experienced. Sadly, being born into a certain social class did restrict one’s future, although the modern era brought the promise of more opportunities. The show’s themes of discrimination, acceptance, and equality show that we’ve come a long way — but we still have a ways to go.

I’m not sure we’ll ever have a show again quite like “Downton Abbey,” although the series is certainly re-watchable (don’t ask me how many times I’ve re-watched my favorite episodes). While I’ll always wish we had one more season, I think it ended at a good place, and it avoided the trap that some shows fall into of outstaying their welcome. If you’ve never seen the show, I’d encourage you to give it a try, even if period dramas aren’t normally your thing. And for fans who are still going through withdrawals, let’s not forget those “Downton Abbey” movie rumors that are still going around!

TV review: Final season of ‘Downton Abbey’ a bittersweet but fulfilling send-off for fans

mast-da-s6-icon-hiresFans visited the halls of Downton Abbey one last time on Sunday, as PBS Masterpiece aired the final episode of the wildly popular British period drama. Over six seasons, the show has followed a wealthy British family and their servants through the tumultuous start of the twentieth century, as the golden age of the English aristocracy draws to a close. It’s been quite a journey for fans, with plenty of humor, heartbreak, and, at last, some happy endings.

The ending is satisfying but bittersweet for fans, and I think the show runners chose a good time to end the series. They leave us wanting more while recognizing it’s better not to overstay their welcome. If you haven’t ever seen the show, now is the perfect time to schedule a binge-watch, since you won’t have to wait a full year to find out what happens next. (Remember when they — spoiler alert! — killed off Matthew in the final moments of the final episode in season 3, and then we had to spend a full year just thinking about how sad that was before the next season came out? That was the worst.)

Although sometimes I do lovingly refer to “Downton Abbey” as a fancy soap opera, it’s really so much more than that. Yes, there are plenty of secrets, scandals, and I-can’t-believe-that-just-happened moments. However, there is also thoughtful character development (and top-notch acting), and the show takes time to reflect on deeper social themes, such as increasing opportunities for women and members of the “lower class,” who previously had been trapped by their social situation.

It’s fair to say that the final episode concludes in a predictable fashion, although I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’ve been through some tough times at Downton, and we want the characters to go on to happy lives. Still, the show has offered some genuine surprises during its run, and it ended in a way I never would have predicted back when I was watching the first couple seasons. So, without further ado, here are my spoiler-filled thoughts on the end of the series.

I love so many of the characters on this show, but my favorite probably has to be Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery). Although she’s come a long way since season 1, she’s still a flawed character, and that’s what makes her so fascinating. She can be proud, snobbish, and sometimes heartless, but she’s also smart and confident, and capable of more kindness than people give her credit for. I’ve loved watching her mature into an accomplished business woman. She’s had a tumultuous romantic history over the course of the show, but I think she’s chosen wisely in Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode), who is her match in intelligence and wit. I wish we’d gotten to meet Henry a little earlier (he appears only in the final season, aside from a brief appearance in one episode of season 5), and at times, he and Mary’s romance seems a little rushed. Still, I’m glad one of the (many!) weddings at the end of the show is theirs. I also really liked Mary’s unlikely friendship with Tom Branson (Allen Leech), the family’s former chauffeur who married Mary’s late sister, Lady Sybil. It’s a lovely example of barriers between classes breaking down and a family drawing together after a tragedy and building a new future.

One of the most dramatic transformations on the show is middle daughter Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael). She started off as the annoying “other sister” but has developed into a sophisticated modern feminist writer and publishing company owner. She has more than her fair share of tragedy but gets the happy ending she deserves in the final episode. Out of all the men she has loved, I think Bertie Pelham (Harry Hadden-Paton) is the best; he absolutely adores her, and her daughter Marigold.

Fans love “Downton Abbey’s” snappy dialogue, and the best witticisms are usually courtesy of the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) and Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton). The two frenemies end the show as actual friends, and their spirited arguments are often the highlight of any episode. Isobel’s romance with — and subsequent rescue of — the kind-hearted Lord Merton (whose terrible children are arguably some of the nastiest characters on the show) is another nice plot twist.

Another feature I really love about “Downton Abbey” is that while it certainly shows off the grand lifestyle of the English aristocracy, it spends just as much time depicting what life is like for the people living “downstairs.” The servants have hopes, dreams, fears, and loves, just like the wealthy family “upstairs,” but often their social position holds them back. Times are changing, however, and particularly in the last few seasons, we get to see the servants push past barriers. Perhaps the most inspirational and poignant example is Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle). Once a somewhat bumbling valet, we’ve come to see that Molesley is a kind-hearted and intelligent man who never got a chance to achieve his full potential. In the final season, we watch him pursue his dream to become a teacher — and succeed.

There are too many other highlights to count: Anna and Bates having a baby after going through so many trials (finally, they seem to catch a break!); Carson and Mrs. Hughes tying the knot, proving it’s never too late to fall in love; the genuinely heartwarming redemption of Thomas, the servant everyone at Downton once hated; and so many more.

Even though “Downton Abbey” ended well, it’s hard to let go of a show that’s become one of my all-time favorites (I’m still hoping for either a prequel featuring the Dowager Countess or a spin-off with Mary, Edith, and Tom’s children in the World War II era). I’ll miss these characters, and the familiar opening lines of the theme song that start off each episode. I’ll soon be trolling Netflix, looking for another British period drama to fill this void, but I suspect I’ll always love this show best. Sunday nights in winter just aren’t going to be the same without you, Downton!

TV review: ‘Downton Abbey’ season 5 ends on a high note

downton-abbey-christmas-special-2014-season-5Another year has come and gone at Downton Abbey, wrapping up with the season 5 finale this past Sunday on PBS. The British drama continues to be an addictive delight, though next season is rumored to be its last.

“Downton Abbey” — about a British noble and his family navigating the tides of social change at the turn of the century — is one of my favorite TV shows. Though it gets some good-natured teasing for being a “glorified soap opera,” it rises above the drama thanks to richly drawn characters, its exploration of relevant social issues of the times, and its often-witty dialogue, many of the best lines belonging to Maggie Smith’s feisty Dowager Countess.

This season, the characters continue adjusting to the changing times. Servants begin to pursue business opportunities — and further their education — outside the abbey. Social rules are bending, and secrets are revealed. The lines between social classes continue to blur still further.

One of my favorite plot lines this season was seeing some of the servants explore their identities beyond the walls of the abbey. Assistant cook Daisy expresses a desire to further her education and think more for herself, and cook Mrs. Patmore, head housekeeper Mrs. Hughes and even the butler Mr. Carson are pursuing business and investment opportunities. This highlights how times are changing — servants want to have dreams and goals of their own; it’s no longer just about promoting the wealthy Crawley family.

Another detail I liked was that many of the romantic plot lines this season involved the older characters. While Hollywood often glorifies the young and in love, it’s never too late to find love or a second chance at happiness. Spoiler alert! Mr. Carson’s proposal to Mrs. Hughes (finally!) was not only the most adorable moment this season, it’s one of my favorite moments of the show, period.

As much as I don’t want “Downton Abbey” to end, I think six seasons is a good number for the show. It’s best to leave fans satisfied but wanting a bit more, rather than complaining the show “jumped the shark.” I’m sad that Allen Leech’s character, the former chauffeur Tom Branson, is (apparently) leaving the show. He’s had one of the best character development arcs on the show, figuring out how to live with the Crawley family after his wife dies. I hope his character will still have some role in the next season (maybe he won’t actually go to America!). I’m really hoping for happy endings for Lady Edith, Anna and Mr. Bates, characters that have all had more than their fair share of tragedy. And it will be interesting to see what happens with Lady Mary. I think I like her new suitor Henry Talbot (played by Matthew Goode); in the past, Mary’s used to men desperate for her attention, so the new character’s aloofness will add a welcome challenge.

It’s sad to think of Downton ending, but I’m happy with how the show’s developed. After it ends, I’d be interested in seeing a World War II era spin-off series featuring the children of Mary, Tom and Edith — or a prequel about the younger days of the Dowager Countess!

TV review: Season 4 of ‘Downton Abbey’ brings new challenges for characters

Downton Abbey Season 4  Part EightFans must once again bid farewell to the glittering halls of Downton Abbey, as another season of the popular British period drama draws to a close. Whereas season 3 brought a number of dramatic and often tragic changes to the Grantham estate, season 4 was more about the aftermath of those changes, as characters sought to overcome challenges and build a new life beyond their tragedies.

One of fans’ biggest questions this season was how the show would survive without two of its best-loved characters, Matthew Crawley and Lady Sybil, who both died in season 3. However, the show seemed to remain as popular as ever, continuing to draw plenty of buzz for PBS.

So, is the most recent season as good as the seasons that came before it? Critics have been a bit tougher on the show this season, its Rotten Tomatoes score dropping from the almost perfect score of the first two seasons. Overall, I would have to agree that yes, the first two seasons are the strongest in terms of writing and plot development, and season 4 may not be show runner Julian Fellowes’ strongest offering. And yet, the show continues to be just as much fun to watch. By now we’ve developed connections with all the characters, and I can’t imagine not tuning in every Sunday night to catch the latest intrigues. It’s a show that’s meant to be watched and then discussed, sharing those “I can’t believe that just happened!” moments with other Downton addicts and speculating about what will happen next.

This season pushed many characters out of their proverbial “comfort zones.” The often overlooked middle daughter, Edith, took steps to become more independent and finally seemed to have a turn of good luck. However, the sudden disappearance of her love interest, Michael Gregson, devastated her, leaving her faced with the scandal of being pregnant and unmarried. Tom Branson still mourns the loss of his wife, the youngest daughter, Lady Sybil, and he feels trapped between his lower class background and the higher class world of the Crawleys, wondering where he actually belongs. Lady Mary also grieves for her husband, Matthew, but gradually learns to live and laugh again, although she’s unable to choose between her two new suitors — Anthony Gillingham and Charles Blake — neither of whom are willing to give her up easily. These issues were explored in season 4 but still remain unresolved and undoubtedly will continue into season 5.

Some of the other highlights of the season included the development of the begrudging friendship between the Dowager Countess and Matthew’s mother, Isobel Crawley, who supplied some of the best banter in season 4; watching Mrs. Hughes take charge of the downstairs drama and (maybe?) flirt with Mr. Carson the butler 😉 ; seeing kitchen maid Daisy Mason gain more confidence and grow as a person; and the return of Cora’s American mother (played by the great Shirley MacLaine), as well as the introduction of her brother (Paul Giamatti).

The show did generate some controversy this season with a plot line involving a violent tragedy that happens to lady’s maid Anna Bates. It was a dark and shocking plot twist, but I felt it highlighted an important issue of the time that was probably often overlooked and under-reported. How Anna’s husband, valet John Bates, responded to this tragedy generated another one of the unsolved mysteries from season 4 and introduces a possible darker side to his character. His desire for revenge is understandable, but will audience members still like his character if he did take vengeance, especially if he’s trying to cover it up?

In the next season, I’m looking forward to seeing what decisions Branson makes about his future; I want to see him find love again, though I’m not sure if I like Sarah Bunting, a school teacher who seems to be developing a romantic interest in him. I’m also enjoying the love triangle plot line with Lady Mary. I know a couple weeks ago in my blog I ranted about love triangles 😉 , but I think this one has been handled well. It’s tough to replace Matthew, but I like the contrast between the Gillingham and Blake characters (Gillingham is a soft-spoken gentleman, while Blake has a sharper wit and keeps Mary on her toes) and the different sides of Mary they bring out. I’m also curious to see what happens to Edith, as she tries to provide for her new daughter but also keep her existence a secret.

So, what did you think of the latest season of “Downton”? What parts did you like/dislike? What do you hope to see in season 5?

TV preview: Changes ahead for ‘Downton Abbey’ in season 4

downton-abbey-season-4-spoilers-featuredA shadow has fallen across the halls of Downton Abbey, and tragedy has struck the Grantham estate. Last season, the popular British period drama shocked fans by killing off not just one but two well-loved main characters. In season 4, the wealthy Crawley family will have to deal with the fallout of these losses, as well as the rapidly accelerating societal changes that are bringing an end to the way of life the British upper class has enjoyed for centuries. 

My local PBS station hosted a sneak preview screening of “Downton Abbey” season 4 earlier this week, giving fans a chance to watch the first episode before it airs Jan. 5. As a diehard “Downton” fan, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. 😉 Although I wasn’t sure how well the show would survive after the deaths of Matthew and Sybil ― two of my personal favorite characters ― the preview has me excited about the show and new developments for the characters.

The series has followed the rich Earl and Countess of Grantham, Robert and Cora Crawley, and their daughters, Mary, Edith, and Sybil, who occupy an elaborate estate in England called Downton Abbey. The show highlights both the “upstairs” and “downstairs” residents of the abbey, incorporating storylines about the wealthy Crawleys and their servants.

Season 4 picks up six months after the death of Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), who would have been the heir to the Downton estate and was married to Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery). I’m glad the show runners chose not to start the season immediately after Matthew’s death. Fans were very upset by Matthew’s death, even though it was a necessary plot point since the actor playing the character decided to leave the show. If too many of the early episodes of season 4 had focused on the Crawley family’s grieving process, I think it would have made accepting Matthew’s death that much harder on the fans.

I was a bit concerned how the show would work without Matthew and Sybil, but even though I do miss the characters, there are still many reasons to love the show. The changes in season 3 offer several interesting character development possibilities for season 4.

downton-abbey-season-4-lady-mary-bransonTom Branson (Allen Leech) ― the family’s former chauffeur who caused a scandal when he married the youngest daughter, Lady Sybil ― has emerged as one of the most intriguing characters on the show. Although he still holds onto political ideals that are radical for his time and are in sharp contrast to the Crawley family’s more traditional ways, he’s learned to temper his political passion with compassion. The loss of Sybil brought him and the Crawley family closer together, and he’s taken a more active role in managing the family estate. However, he still must deal with the challenges of being caught between two worlds ― his lower-class past and the upper-class society of the Crawleys ― and I think this struggle will occupy much of the plot in season 4, especially if the show runners decide to introduce a new love interest for Branson. Will it be a girl from his own social class, or will the Crawleys fully accept him into the upper class and expect him to remarry within that class?

Lady Mary also finds herself in a unique position this season. One of the show’s most complex characters, Lady Mary at times seems cold and unfeeling, but her sharp tongue often serves as a defense mechanism to make herself appear stronger than she really feels. In the first few seasons, she was pressured to marry well, and then when she did marry, to quickly produce an heir. Now that she has a son but has lost her husband, she feels hopeless and adrift. Branson has been encouraging her to become more involved in the management of the estate, and I’d like to see the two of them become friends and for Mary to take on more of a leadership role.

Societal change has always been a major driver of the plot in “Downton Abbey,” and the Crawley family will be confronted by more shifts in the new season. Roles for women are changing, and Lady Edith is taking advantage of these changes to become more independent. She has found success as a writer for a newspaper and is traveling on her own more frequently. Roles for servants are changing too, and the abbey’s “downstairs” residents are beginning to dream of careers other than waiting on a wealthy family. Even the family’s staunchly traditional butler, Carson, has a surprising moment of boldness in the season 4 premiere (a moment that got a round of applause at the preview screening). 🙂

I know many “Downton Abbey” fans were upset about some of the plot developments in season 3, particularly the deaths of Matthew and Sybil, but I’d encourage you to still tune in to season 4. The first episode teased quite a few possible story lines this season, and I’m excited to see what happens to the characters.

Heartbreaking season finale doesn’t have to spell the end of the ‘Downton Abbey’ we know and love

Mary-and-Matthew-Crawley-Wedding-downton-abbey-32428314-3000-2000-e1350522787771Note: This review contains some spoilers about the third season of “Downton Abbey.”

For generations, Downton Abbey has been standing proudly on the Grantham estate in the picturesque English countryside, the mansion seemingly untouched by the passage of time. But take a peek inside the windows of the towering abbey, and you’ll see just how much the Crawley family has been impacted by change since we were first introduced to them in season one of the now wildly popular British period drama.

The wealthy Crawleys have had to face dramatic changes in society as they head into the 1920s: from rapidly developing technology, to economic uncertainty, to a shifting social structure. And they’ve also had to face personal tragedies, including some unexpected losses and painful goodbyes.

The third season of “Downton Abbey” finished airing last night on PBS, and to say that it was a shocker would be a little bit of an understatement. The Crawley family members have had their shares of ups and downs throughout the previous seasons, but this year, the show has had some deeply heartbreaking plot twists. The show runners made the risky decision to kill off not one but two of the show’s best-loved main characters, and some fans are feeling angry and betrayed. However, I don’t think this means “Downton Abbey” has “jumped the shark,” and I hope fans still will stick around for season four.

Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) and Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) were two of my favorite characters on “Downton Abbey,” and I was very sad when they died, especially since their deaths came in such traumatic ways. And if show runner Julian Fellowes’ decision to kill off both these characters had been an arbitrary one, I would have been much more upset. However, I think Fellowes did the best he could with the circumstances he was given.

When both Stevens and Findlay expressed an interest in leaving the show, Fellowes didn’t really have another option for dealing with their characters. I’m not a fan of recasting a new actor in a role; even if they could have found look-alike actors to replace Stevens and Findlay, it’s tough for fans to develop an emotional connection with different actors than the ones they’re used to. I also don’t think they could have explained Matthew and Sybil’s absences in a different way. They could have sent Sybil and her husband, Tom Branson (Allen Leech), back to Ireland permanently, but that would have meant we wouldn’t be seeing Leech’s character anymore either, and that would have made me sad. I also don’t think Matthew would leave Mary for an extended period of time, even if they’d sent him to America on a business trip or something like that.

I wish Stevens and Findlay would have stuck around for season four, which is rumored to possibly be “Downton Abbey’s” last, but I do understand their desire to pursue other projects. Filming a show like “Downton Abbey” is a huge time commitment. Season three contained a combined nine hours of footage, which is basically like filming six standard-length films in a row. I wish them luck in their future endeavors, though they will be missed at Downton!

So, what do these changes mean for the show? I suspect much of season four will center around Lady Mary and Branson trying to adjust to their new circumstances. Mary is in a unique position, now that she has just given birth to the future Downton heir. She no longer has the pressure to get married and have a baby to continue the Crawley family line, and I’d like to see her take a more active role in managing the Downton estate. I also hope that she will be able to learn to love again, though Dan Stevens’ kind, charming Matthew Crawley will be difficult to replace.

130125_TVC_DowntonAbbey.jpg.CROP.multipart2-mediumI’m also very curious to see what choices Branson makes in the next season. Allen Leech has done some great character development work this season, and it has been interesting to watch his evolving relationship with the Crawley family. At first Lord Grantham resented the fact his former chauffeur married his daughter, but after Sybil’s death in childbirth, the rift between Branson and the Crawley family has begun to heal. I hope to see a new love interest for Branson in season four, as well, though I’m not sure how they’ll handle it. Will the Crawleys let Branson fall in love with someone from his own class, or will they want him to pursue a girl from an upper-class family? Branson now seems to be caught between the two worlds, and he’ll likely have to make a choice between them next season.

Edith also has grown a lot this season, and I’ve gained a new respect for her character. I want her to have a happy ending, though she seems to be headed for more heartbreak by falling in love with a newspaper editor trapped in a similar dilemma to “Jane Eyre’s” Mr. Rochester.

Some surprising “downstairs” developments in season three have set up more options for drama, as well. One of the most interesting character arcs has been watching the scheming lady’s maid Sarah O’Brien and substitute valet Thomas Barrow slowly turn on each other. Though the two were “friends” and co-conspirators in the previous seasons, in season three they discover their interests no longer align, and they’ve been working to undermine each other all season. However, Thomas may have reached a turning point. Mr. Bates, a servant Thomas formerly treated very badly, and some of the other staff have shown Thomas kindness and compassion, and I think Thomas is genuinely making an effort to treat the other servants better than he used to.

Other characters likely will have to make some major decisions in season four. O’Brien could be campaigning for a new job that would take her overseas, and Daisy still is thinking about William Mason’s father’s offer to take over his farm someday. Will there be a romance between Dr. Richard Clarkson and Matthew’s mother, Isobel Crawley, and will Anna and Bates remain at Downton if they decide to start a family?

Although the season three finale still makes me feel sad, I am looking forward to season four, and I hope fans don’t give up on the show yet. The show still has a great cast, and it continues to be a lavish, highly-addictive drama with plenty of stories left to tell.

If you’re a fan of “Downton Abbey,” what were your thoughts on season three? Are you excited about season four, or do you wish the show had ended at season three with a happier ending? What plot developments would you like to see in season four?

TV preview: ‘Downton Abbey’ Season 3 brings changes and challenges for the Crawley family

downton-abbey-season-3-premiere-mary-matthew-weddingDownton Abbey and the Crawley family may have weathered the turmoil and tragedy of the first world war, but they have not escaped unscathed. Society is changing — slowly but inevitably — and the privilege and prestige once enjoyed by the upper class is gradually starting to erode. It is the beginning of the Roaring Twenties, and the British aristocracy’s lifestyle of lavish parties, servants, and finery may be coming to an end.

The third season of the popular British TV series promises to bring plenty of challenges for the characters that viewers on both sides of the “pond” have fallen in love with. The series follows the rich Earl and Countess of Grantham (Robert and Cora Crawley) and their daughters (Mary, Edith, and Sybil), who occupy an elaborate estate in England called Downton Abbey. The show highlights both the “upstairs” and “downstairs” residents of the abbey, incorporating storylines about the wealthy Crawleys and their servants. PBS has created a fun 5-minute recap of the first two seasons that can be viewed here:

While the third season of “Downton Abbey” won’t begin airing in the United States until Jan. 6, some PBS stations across the country will be hosting special “sneak preview” screenings of the first episode in season 3. The PBS station in my area hosted a preview this week, and of course I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to take a look at the next season. 😉 “Downton Abbey” is one of my favorite TV shows, and I’m excited about some of the plot developments we could be seeing in the new season of the show.

As season 3 begins, Matthew Crawley and Lady Mary are preparing for their wedding. While I wasn’t expecting the wedding to occur as early in the season as it appears to be, I think this is a good narrative choice. Matthew and Mary’s relationship has already gone through quite a few ups and downs in the previous seasons, and viewers have been hoping for a happy ending for them for a long time. I’m guessing more drama will occur this season as they try to adapt to their new life together and determine the future of Downton.

Sybil is expecting a child and continues to deal with the fallout of the scandal caused by her decision to marry the former Downton Abbey chauffeur, Tom Branson. Sybil doesn’t regret marrying Branson, but I think it is difficult for her to return to Downton and face her family, and try to reconcile her old life with the one she leads now. Branson isn’t shy about expressing his feelings about the oppression of the upper class, and tension remains between him and Sybil’s family. While Branson now is working as a journalist, he continues to remain interested in politics, and it’s possible he could get caught up in the violence surrounding the Irish War of Independence. He also may find an unlikely ally in another family outsider — Cora’s outspoken American mother, Martha Levinson. Fans can anticipate many clashes between her and Lord Grantham’s equally outspoken mother, the Dowager Countess.

Lady Edith hasn’t given up on renewing her relationship with former suitor Sir Anthony Strallan, and while I suspect season 3 will end with their engagement, I don’t think show creator Julian Fellowes will let it be a smooth road for them (after all, it just wouldn’t be “Downton” without drama). 😉

And the drama likely will continue downstairs, as well. Mr. Bates, who was accused of murdering his ex-wife in season 2, is no longer sentenced to death, but he remains in prison, and Anna continues to work to free him. The mystery of who killed the former Mrs. Bates likely will be solved this season, but no clues were given away in the first episode.

I’m also curious about a new character introduced this season, Alfred Nugent. He is Ms. O’Brien’s nephew and is working as a footman in Downton Abbey. He is quiet and reserved in the first episode, but I’m sure we’ll be learning more of his backstory. It will be interesting to see what role he will play in this season’s storyline (possibly a love interest for Daisy?)

The primary overarching plotline this season is likely to involve Downton Abbey’s financial troubles, as well as the increasing prominence of class struggles. While I don’t think Julian Fellowes would let the Crawleys lose Downton (the grand mansion is as much a character in the show as the Crawleys themselves), I do anticipate the Crawleys will have to make some difficult decisions about the abbey’s future. And Branson likely isn’t going to be the only former Downton servant who decides he wants to break free and try to make a better life for himself.

Will we lose any major characters this season? I see no indications of this yet, but several major characters did die last season. Although I love all the characters and don’t want to see any of them go, it could be a narrative possibility.

“Downton Abbey” is an excellent period drama, and if you haven’t seen it yet, I’d definitely recommend catching the first two seasons, even if it’s not the type of show you’d normally watch. While on the surface the plotlines do sound somewhat soapy — i.e. first Matthew and Mary hate each other, then Matthew proposes to Mary, then she rejects him only to decide that she really does love him, Matthew proposes to someone else, he finally proposes to Mary again, etc. — the show runs much deeper than that.

The gossipy drama makes “Downton Abbey” fun to watch, but the series also explores serious social issues such as the fairness of the restrictions society places upon people based upon their class. Julian Fellowes has created complex characters and storylines that draw the viewers in, and he doesn’t take the easy way out narratively. Even the characters we love to hate, such as the scheming servants Thomas and O’Brien, have redeeming moments, and no character is perfect. I’m greatly looking forward to season 3 and watching these characters develop even further.

Review: ‘Downton Abbey’ Season 2

*Spoiler alert!* This review contains some spoilers about plot details from the second season of “Downton Abbey.”

“Downton Abbey” Season 2 came to satisfying, though somewhat bittersweet, conclusion with an hour and a half season finale that aired Sunday night on PBS. Though there were a few cliffhangers that will likely continue on into Season 3, several major plot lines were wrapped up that will likely please avid fans of the show.

Since the first season premiered in the United States in 2011, the British period drama has become a cultural phenomenon. The show doubled PBS’ average number of prime-time viewers, and it has drawn all ages and types of viewers, even some who may not seem to be the typical audience for period dramas.

I fell in love with “Downton Abbey” after watching the first season on Netflix last year, and it since has become one of my favorite TV shows. The first season follows the rich Earl and Countess of Grantham (Robert and Cora Crawley) and their daughters (Mary, Edith and Sybil), who occupy an elaborate estate in England called Downton Abbey. The Earl’s daughters will not be able to inherit their family’s money or estate (it must pass to a male heir), and the Earl’s oldest daughter, Mary, is pushed to marry the heir, the Earl’s young cousin Matthew Crawley. The show also follows the lives of the servants employed by the Crawleys, who have their own heartbreaks and struggles.

The second season is more serious at times and a little less light-hearted than the first, though there are still plenty of witty verbal barbs from fan favorite the Dowager Countess, played by the great Maggie Smith. In this season, Downton Abbey is deeply impacted by World War I, and the grand house is even turned into a convalescent hospital for recovering soldiers. The Crawleys and their servants must struggle through changes brought by the war and the gradual breakdown of barriers between social classes. There are some very happy moments in this season, but there are some very sad moments as well, including the unexpected and tragic deaths of several characters.

I think the reason “Downton Abbey” has become so popular is that we come to truly care about the lives of the characters, both “upstairs” and “downstairs.” They aren’t perfect, and they don’t always make the right choices, but we can relate to their struggles, which really aren’t that different than the ones we have today.

Lady Mary has become one of my favorite characters in the show, though she didn’t quite start out that way. A lot of credit goes to actress Michelle Dockery, who takes a character that on paper isn’t very likable and turns her into one of the most emotionally complex and heart-breaking characters on the show. Mary starts off the first season as a very spoiled and conceited character, and we’re frustrated by her rejection of the kind-hearted Matthew (played by a very charming Dan Stevens). Yet even though Mary always keeps a stiff upper lip, Dockery lets little moments of Mary’s humanity slip through, and we catch glimpses of the pain behind that well-polished exterior. She grows up a lot in the second season, and when she realizes she finally does love Matthew, fans can’t help rooting for the two of them to get together.

Other elements I liked about the second season included the relationship between housemaid Anna Smith and Lord Grantham’s valet Mr. Bates (their relationship in the first season was a favorite plot line of fans). Although they — finally! — tie the knot in the second season, their dedication to each other must withstand many trials. Anna never gives up on Mr. Bates, even though he tries to let her go because he thinks she’d be better off without him.

Also interesting was the blossoming relationship between Lady Sybil and the family’s chauffeur, Tom Branson. Their romance highlights the barriers between classes at that time (a romance between a girl from a wealthy family of noble blood and a servant would not have been encouraged). However, Sybil and Branson’s relationship also shows how those barriers were slowly beginning to break down in the early 1900s, and it foreshadows how class will become less and less of a definer in the modern world.

Overall, I very much enjoyed the second season, and I’m eagerly awaiting the third season. Even though several major plot lines have now been tied up, I suspect the third season will feature Matthew and Lady Mary’s wedding, a possible love interest for Lady Edith (we may be seeing more of the character Sir Anthony Strallan, Edith’s former suitor), and the continuing effort to clear Mr. Bates’ name after he is falsely accused of murder. I also hope the show continues to follow Lady Sybil’s story, even though she’s now left Downton Abbey, married Branson and is living in Dublin.

For more information about Downton Abbey, visit http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/downtonabbey.

‘Downton Abbey’ a lavish costume drama with strong cast

Entertainment industry insiders probably weren’t predicting a British costume drama set in the early 1900s about a wealthy family and their household of servants would become one of the most buzzed-about TV shows last year.

Yet “Downton Abbey” achieved the difficult task of becoming a favorite with both critics and viewers. The show’s lavish sets and costumes, and its depiction of scandals, heartbreaks and class struggles during one of England’s most dramatic eras of change, make this one of the most fascinating period dramas produced in recent times.

The show takes some cues from the works of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, and another famous British drama, “Upstairs, Downstairs,” but it presents a vision and tone all its own. The series (the second season currently is airing on PBS in the United States) follows the rich Earl and Countess of Grantham, Robert and Cora Crawley, and their daughters, Mary, Edith and Sybil, who occupy an elaborate estate in England called Downton Abbey. Yet despite a veneer of splendor and wealth, all is not well at Downton. The Earl’s daughters will not be able to inherit their family’s money or estate (it must pass to a male heir), a fact that creates a certain amount of resentment. The Earl’s oldest daughter, Mary, is pushed to marry the heir, the Earl’s young cousin Matthew Crawley, who works in the law profession. Mary snobbishly turns him down, only later realizing she actually does love him.

However, only about half of the show’s air time is devoted to the aristocratic Earl and his family, and the other portion — which is just as fascinating, if not more so — is devoted to the family’s staff of servants, who must deal with their own set of scandals and struggles. Though most of the servants are content with their social class, others are not, and they envy the Crawleys’ wealth and position.

I’m a big fan of British shows and period dramas in general, and if you like “Pride and Prejudice” and other BBC dramas, you’ll probably like “Downton Abbey,” as well. Yet even if these aren’t the type of shows you normally watch, consider giving it a try.

My friends and I good-naturedly joke about “Downton Abbey” being our “historical British soap opera” 😉 but it’s actually more than that. Yes, there’s plenty of romantic drama — will Lady Mary and Matthew still end up together, even though he’s currently engaged to someone else?; will the family’s young Irish chauffeur confess his feelings for Lady Sybil, even though they’re not from the same social class?; and will head housemaid Anna Smith and Lord Grantham’s valet John Bates finally tie the knot? — but that’s not all the show is about.

Despite their differences in social classes, the aristocratic Crawleys and their servants really aren’t that different: They all have hopes and dreams that don’t always come true, and both groups are, in a way, limited by their social classes. Although the servants sometimes regret they aren’t able to have their own lives and families because they’ve given their lives to serving the Crawleys, the Crawleys’ daughters also feel pressured by their social status: i.e. to always behave like proper ladies, to marry well, etc. Both classes sometimes wish they could trade places.

There’s a lot of strong performances in this show, so it’s difficult to narrow it down to the best characters. The sweet-natured housemaid Anna Smith (played by Joanne Froggatt) and the self-sacrificing Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) have emerged as fan favorites, as has the Dowager Countess, played with razor-sharp wit by the great Maggie Smith, who supplies many of the show’s best lines.

The show has already aired in the United Kingdom, so if you research the series online, be warned you may run across a few spoilers. A few reviews seem to indicate critics thought the second season was a little too fast-paced, but I’ve only seen the first two episodes of season two so far. There were a few plot details that seemed a little rushed in the first episode, but I didn’t find any pacing problems in episode two.

The third episode of season two is airing Sunday on PBS, but if you’ve missed the first season, you can catch it on Netflix. The first episodes of season two also are available for instant streaming on http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/watch/index.html for a limited time.