Downton Abbey Season 1 Review

  • Series Title: Downton Abbey
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes:  7
  • Discs:  3 (and special features disc for set)
  • Network:  ITV
  • Cast:  Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Jessica Brown Findlay, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Dan Stevens, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle, Rose Leslie, Sophie Mcshera, Lesley Nicol, Robert James-Collier, Allen Leech, Siobhan Finneran
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC) (set is seasons 1-3)

Downton Abbey is similar in spirit to the classic series Upstairs Downstairs, and during it’s run an updated version of Upstairs Downstairs was produced by the BBC but it was less successful than Downton Abbey. The first season opens in 1912 with the sinking of the Titanic and quite a bit of the first season concerns “the Entail” which is an agreement that Cora Crawley’s fortune, Downton Abbey itself, and all the lands attached to the house (“the estate”) can only be inherited by a single male heir. The problem is: the Earl and Countess of Grantham have three daughters and not just one but two male heirs went down on the Titanic. A third cousin is found, Matthew Crawley who arrives at the Abbey with his mother, Mrs. Isobel Crawley. And this sets up much of the above stairs drama of the season, as the earl and his wife try to throw Matthew and eldest daughter, Mary together, so the family can keep the estate. And a male heir wouldn’t hurt, either.

Yet Downton Abbey introduces us to the servants first, which makes this show very approachable for a modern audience. A new valet arrives for Robert Crawley (Earl of Grantham), Mr. Bates. Bates was Robert’s batman in the Boer wars where he was wounded. The current head footman, Thomas, and the conniving Lady’s Maid, O’Brien, decide to make Mr. Bates’ life a living hell (in part because Thomas thinks he will be promoted to valet if Bates isn’t there). This conflict almost leads to Bates’ dismissal, but Anna, an extremely kind housemaid, takes a shine to Mr. Bates and does her best to see justice done for him. Grantham also knows the man to be honest, kind, and capable. Bates will stay.

But we know Thomas and O’Brien to basically be terrible people. The two try to blame Bates for stealing wine when it was Thomas who did so. O’Brien is caught lying to back Thomas and harm Bates – and later thinks she’s going to be dismissed by “her ladyship” (the Countess of Grantham), this leads O’Brien to deliberately do something careless that results in a family tragedy. Anna admires Bates, and discovers a few secrets he’s hiding that in other circumstances may lead to his dismissal but there are special circumstances (and Bates’ very British sense of honor means he will not cast blame on others, even when they are to blame). Still, Anna, Daisy the kitchen maid, and a guest butler/valet staying at the house all provide information to Carson the butler and Lord Grantham that, in addition to Bates’ character, saves the man and keeps him in the house. Carson even gets information that proves Thomas stole wine from the cellars, which meant Grantham was going to dismiss him. Thomas, though, quits first, to be a war medic.

Other characters include Gwen – a housemaid who wants to better herself. She takes a shorthand course and uses her savings to buy a typewriter. Lady Sybil the youngest Crawley daughter takes a shine to Gwen and tries to help her find a job. This seems to be hopeless, but then by chance, a workman in the house to install telephones complains to Sybil that he really needs a secretary. It’s a match.

Daisy the kitchen maid is shy, and easily led astray, especially by Thomas. But at her heart, she’s a good person, and when she sees she’s made a mistake she admits it, usually with plenty of tears.

Mrs. Patmore, the cook, is rough around the edges and dealing with a medical issue she keeps secret. Eventually, her losing her sight becomes common knowledge and Lord Grantham agrees to pay for her to have an operation in London to restore her sight.

Upstairs, most of the stories involving the three girls have to do with them courting. But Mary doesn’t seem to want to marry, especially the various men thrown at her (such as Matthew). Edith has horrible luck – she wants to marry but no one seems interested in her. When someone is interested, often Mary turns their head. Sybil is young (she has her first London season during the show’s first season) and is more interested in Liberal politics especially votes for women than she is in finding a husband quite yet. However, when her father hires a good-looking Irish chauffeur, Lady Sybil is immediately interested in him.

Season 1 covers 1912 and 1914, with the last scene of the last episode being the announcement that Britain is at war with Germany (World War I).

I enjoyed Downton Abbey. I have seen this season before but it’s been awhile. I was surprised how much I remembered and how smoothly plot points that will be important later are introduced. This series is recommended.