Sunday, January 9, 2011

Downton Abbey Tonight!

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Downton Abbey Tonight on Masterpiece (Theater on PBS)
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Credit goes to Laurel Ann from Austenprose who put this lovely post together.  If you lurve Jane Austen novels, movies, sequels, etc. you'll spend hours there!)


Downton Abbey (2010)

Take heed period drama lovers. Mark your calendars and set your DVR’s. Downton Abbey premiers on Sunday, January 9th on Masterpiece Classic on PBS. This new Edwardian-era series is set in a stately home populated with a huge cast of characters headed by Robert Crawley, the present Earl of Grantham. Leading an idyllic life of a country Lord, the tragic events of April 14, 1912 will change his life and those under his care forever when news of the sinking of the RMS Titanic reaches the household. Among the 1517 people who perished in the luxury liner’s loss were his immediate heir James Crawley and his son Patrick, also his daughter Mary’s fiancé. Since the Earl and his American heiress wife have three daughters and no male heir, their plans for their eldest daughter to marry the heir of succession are asunder and their ordered lives thrown into turmoil. Who will inherit the estate? What will happen to Downton Abbey after their current plans and outside money saved it twenty years ago? Can the entail be broken and Mary be allowed to inherit?
Everyone has their opinion, including many of the downstairs servants who facilitate the privileged lives that the upstairs residents enjoy. Meet the cast of characters that populate this grand manor house, and learn how they fit into this new four-part series which begins on Sunday.

Upstairs Cast

Hugh Bonneville as Robert, Earl of Grantham in Downton Abbey (2010)Robert, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
Robert Crawley was born to a life of privilege and wealth. As an English aristocrat he has inherited Downton Abbey through the line of male succession known as primogeniture, “the right, by law or custom, of the first-born to inherit the entire estate, to the exclusion of younger siblings.” It was established centuries before to ensure estates were kept in tack. When the estate was cash poor in 1889 he married Cora, an American heiress whose fortune ensured the future of the estate. Even though it was basically a marriage of convenience, they have grown to love one another deeply. Their marriage contract stipulated that Cora’s fortune, once absorbed into the estate, could not be separated from it. Confident that they would produce a male heir, they instead had three daughters: Mary, Edith and Sybil. Since females cannot inherit, and with the deaths of James Crawley and his son Patrick, his first and second in line to succession, the family by law must cede the estate to third cousin once removed Matthew Crawley.

Eliazabeth McGovern as Cora, the Duchess of Grantham in Downton Abbey (2010)Cora, Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern)
Cora is a Buccaneer, one of the many American heiresses who invaded England in the 1880-90’s in search of a titled Lord to marry. Born to humbler stock, her father Isidore Levinson was a dry goods multi-millionaire from Cincinnati. In 1888, at the age of twenty, she and her mother arrived in London. By the end of her first season she was betrothed to Robert, Viscount Downton, an heir to a great estate. At the insistence of her father-in-law she accepted the clause in her marriage contract confident she would produce a male heir. She did not. Now that Robert’s cousin and heir James Crawley is dead, and the new heir is an even further distant cousin, she does not believe that her father’s fortune should be separated from his granddaughters and be given instead to a complete stranger. With her plans for her daughter Mary to marry Patrick now shattered, she believes that Robert must overturn the marriage settlement, regain her fortune, and break the entail.

Maggie Smith as Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey (2010)Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Dame Maggie Smith)
Robert’s widowed mother, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, is a traditionalist when it suits her. Proud of her thirty-year contribution to the continued health and success of Downton Abbey, she is fiercely loyal to her son and spitefully disdainful to her American daughter-in-law, the constant reminder of the compromise that the family was forced to make in allowing her son to marry outside their class. Even though she was born the daughter of a baronet and brought little money to her marriage, she still thinks Cora is beneath her, since she is only a merchant’s daughter from the colonies. Ironically, each of the Countesses of Grantham thinks they are superior to the other, causing conflict. In the past, Violet supported her husband’s insistence on Cora’s fortune being absorbed into the estate, but now that the heir and the spare are dead, she does not want to turn Downton over to a complete stranger who is another middle-class nobody. She chooses instead to entice her daughter-in-law into an alliance, to plot together to break the entail.

Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey (2010)Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery)
Beautiful, confident and calculating, Mary is the eldest of the three daughters of the Earl and Countess of Grantham. Raised to privilege, she is her grandmother’s favorite, treating her American mother as an outsider. Engaged to Patrick Crawley, the son of the heir to Downton Abbey, she privately held him “in check” for a bigger fish. She imagined that she would be an heiress like her mother but with her fiancé’s death that will not happen. Her mother’s fortune is tied to the estate, an estate that she cannot inherit unless her father pursues legal recourse and breaks the line of succession. The realization that her status socially and financially are in limbo enrages her, especially when she learns that her father will not fight the entail. Her anger is vented in her rivalry with her younger sister Edith, pitting both sisters against each other over their prospective marriage partners. While Mary is courted by a Duke and other aristocrats, her grandmother Violet and mother Cora see alternate solution to the entail dilemma in her marrying the new heir Matthew Crawley. She thinks him a country bumpkin and a joke, until her reputation is sullied and scandal lowers her vantage.

Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith Crawley in Downton Abbey (2010)Lady Edith Crawley (Laura Carmichael)
Being the second sibling in an aristocratic family is always a tenuous position made even more difficult by Edith’s jealousy of her elder sister Mary’s beauty and social position. She resents that every decision in the family revolves around Mary and their desire for her to marry well. But second best always tries harder and Edith uses her ambition to drive a wedge of spite between herself and Mary. She does not care about the entail. She would never have inherited anyway and flaunts the situation over her sister to gain emotional ground in their vindictive pursuit of the best man to marry. Their rivalry escalates after the death of Patrick, the fiancé that Mary didn’t really love, but Edith did. Clever and calculating, Edith sees Mary’s disdain of the new heir Matthew Crawley to her advantage and uses him in revenge, backfiring against her own happy plans with a local wealthy widow whose romantic interest is nipped in the bud by a spiteful older sister.

Jessica Brown Findlay as Lady Sybil Crawley in Downton Abbey (2010)Lady Sybil Crawley (Jessica Brown Findlay)
The youngest daughter, Sybil is given a freer rein while her parents focus on elder sister Mary, the entail and her pursuit of the right mate. If her two elder sisters represent old school expectations for women in the nineteenth-century, then Sybil embodies the modern twentieth-century woman: free thinking, politically active and adventurous. Detached from her family squabbles over the entail, she has absolutely no interest in them either way. The outcome will not affect her or help her social causes. She is smart enough to know to go through the motions of her family expectations while she secretly schemes to help advance one of the parlor maids to a position as secretary, talks politics with the Irish chauffeur and attends political rallies. Reveling in occasionally shocking her family with progressive clothing choices and outspoken views, she exasperates her parents and sends her grandmother into swoons. Even though her life-goals are beyond what her family thinks are proper for a young lady of her breeding, this rebel quietly lets no one stand in her way.

Dan Stevens as Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey (2010)Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens)
The unexpected heir to Downton Abbey, Matthew is the third cousin once removed of the Earl of Grantham. Young, handsome and unmarried he is a practicing attorney in Manchester who would be a good “catch” to anyone besides the aristocratic family he has been thrown into. Born into the professional middle-class, his father was a doctor which is amazing to his cousin Lord Grantham and offensive to his wife. Violet, the Dowager Countess chooses to not think about him since she is confident that the entail will be broken. Regardless, he is the heir and is invited to move to the estate to learn its management and become part of the community. Reluctantly he agrees, but only if he can continue working at his trade during the week and the estate on the weekend, which prompts the Dowager Countess of Grantham to ask what a weekend is? Ha! Mary thinks he’s an unsophisticated joke, Edith as a possible weapon of revenge and Sybil as an anachronism.

Penelope Wilton as Mrs. Crawley in Downton Abbey (2010)Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton)
Mrs. Isobel Crawley is Matthew’s widowed mother. Born into a medical family, her father and husband were both doctors and she herself a nurse during the Great War. Part of the professional middle-class she is a well-educated woman with socially progressive values, entirely different from those of the aristocratic family that her son has been called to join. Like Violet, she is intensely proud of her son and determined that he accept his new social position, boosting his pride by reminding him that they expect him to fail. She agrees to move with him to the estate and manage his household, but on the other hand, thinks he is throwing away a brilliant career. Determined to be useful, she volunteers at the local hospital, which Violet’s late husband endowed and she figuratively oversees. Outspoken and innovative, it is not long before she and Violet are at odds with one another.

Samantha Bond as Lady Painswick in Downton Abbey (2010)Lady Rosamund Painswick (Samantha Bond)
The only sibling of the Earl of Grantham, Lady Rosamund married into great wealth, but not an aristocratic seat. Her late husband Marmaduke Painswick was an incredibly successful banker in London, so consumed in his job that his beautiful and sophisticated wife had the freedom to travel and expand her social connections beyond the usual constraints of a woman of her day. This suited her exceedingly, allowing her to do and say what she chose. She has two children, Lavinia, who is married to a landed colonel in the Grenadiers, and Cyril who does something slightly nefarious in the Far East. She is a dutiful sister to Robert, but like her mother, is always eager to speak her mind very decidedly. When Mary visits her aunt in London, Lady Painswicks’s advice borders more towards interference, persuading her niece to make a decision with disastrous results.



Downstairs cast

Jim Carter as Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey (2010)Mr. Carson (Jim Carter)
As the butler of a grand manor house like Downton Abbey, Mr. Carson is the senior male domestic servant and shares the management of the house with the housekeeper. He is in charge of the pantry, wine cellar, dining room, silver, kitchen and the male staff who report to him. Butlering is a time honored position in the hierarchy of service to a great family estate like Downton, and Carson wears his mantle with pride and dignity. Like other household servants, butlers were required to remain single and focused entirely on the family that they were serving. Carson has worked at Downton since he was a boy and compares events and actions against the high standards that he has known in the past. Because of his longstanding relationship with the family his allegiance is to Violet, the Dowager Countess and not with his current mistress Cora. Ironically, he supports their desire to break the entail for Lady Mary even though it is against the norm and not in line with tradition.

Phyllis Logan as Mrs. Hughes in Downton Abbey (2010)Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan)
As housekeeper of Downton Abbey, Mrs. Hughes shares the responsibility of the smooth running of this large household with the butler Mr. Carson. She manages the appearance of the house, the female servants under her change, the laundry and the household accounts. She reports directly to the Countess of Grantham and works with her to plan the family calendar, weekly menus and guest visits. She has remained unmarried, but is given the distinction of Mrs. in honor of her position. Kind and fair, she is also strict with her staff ruling by fear as a hard task-master expecting standards to be upheld. As she reaches middle age, she reflects upon her career choice and the loss of marriage and family. She often is at odds with the cook Mrs. Patmore, but is a confidant to Mr. Carson and respects his advice.

Lesley Nicol as Mrs Patmore in Downton Abbey (2010)Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol)

They say an army marches on its stomach, and at times from the varied dishes and mass amount of food served at Downton that Mrs. Patmore is cooking for a legion and not just the Crawley family and the servants. As cook in a stately home she is in charge of the kitchen and the kitchen staff. She reports directly to Mr. Carson but resents that he has authority over her decisions in the kitchen, and the fact that Mrs. Hughes manages HER larder. Mrs. Patmore knows her worth as an accomplished cook and makes everyone well aware of it. Temperamental and explosive, she is hiding a secret that may jeopardize her position at Downton, taking out her errors on her young kitchenmaid Daisy.

Brendan Coyle as Mr. Bates in Downton Abbey (2010)John Bates (Brendan Coyle)
In the servant hierarchy, Bates the valet holds the special position of right hand man to his master the Earl of Grantham and is only accountable to him, not the butler Mr. Carson or any other household staff. He is responsible for his wardrobe, dresses him, and accompanies him when he travels. Mr. Bates arrives at Downton with a history of service to his Lordship as batman (officer’s personal servant) during the Boer War where he has wounded in service. He arrives at Downton to take up his new position with a cane and pronounced limp that he is determined will not affect his duties. Both her Ladyship and the staff are skeptical, but Lord Grantham wants to give him a fair trial. Stoic and fiercely loyal to his master for giving him the opportunity, his only ally within the house is the sympathetic housemaid Anna who he is attracted to, but will not, or cannot enter into anything more than a friendship with.

Siobhan Finneran as O'Brien in Downton Abbey (2010)O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran)
A lady’s maid to a Countess is a huge responsibility that O’Brien has undertaken with mixed feelings. Among her many duties to her mistress are the maintenance of her wardrobe, helping her dress and styling her hair. To qualify for the position she would have to be well-educated and proficient at needlework. She is the female counterpart of Bates, his Lordships valet. Passive aggressive, O’Brien is all sweetness and flattery to Lady Grantham, ready to disclose all the household gossip, but behind the families back she is malicious and vengeful. Lord Grantham is wary of her, but his wife claims her as a friend. O’Brien agrees to her face but knows full well that being a paid servant does not buy friendship. Bitter over her career choice and condescending to her fellow servants, she commiserates and plots against anyone in her way with the ambitious footman Thomas who are both eager to badmouth the Crawley’s and the staff .

Rob James-Collier as Thomas in Downton Abbey (2010)Thomas (Rob James-Collier)
Tall, handsome and imposing, if the image of the first footman is to represent the grandeur of the estate, then Thomas certainly fits the bill. As deputy to the butler his duties range from serving meals, cleaning silver, opening and closing doors, carrying heavy items, or moving furniture for the housemaids to clean behind. The footmen may also double as butler in his absence, and valets, especially for visiting guests as we see Thomas do for the visiting Duke of Crowborough. If egos could be worn as a crown, Thomas would be a King. He is ambitious, underhanded, a liar, and a thief. Bitter because he was not chosen as valet to his Lordship, he plots with O’Brien for the dismissal of Bates. Unscrupulous, when he cannot obtain a better position by his sexual favors, he resorts to blackmail. Tall, dark and arrogant he is Mr. Darcy gone to the devil.

Joanne Froggatt as Anna Smith in Downton Abbey (2010)Anna Smith (Joanne Froggatt)
The head housemaid or parlormaid, Anna holds the highest ranking of the lower female servants. Responsible for cleaning main rooms and bedrooms by dusting, changing bed linens, drawing the curtains and sweeping floors, she reports directly to Mrs. Hughes. She also acts as maid to the three Crawley daughters Mary, Edith and Sybil, though they do not seem very appreciative of it. Hardworking, reliable and compassionate, she has improved her station in life from her family’s tenant farmer background. She is an ally of Mr. Bates, and feels deeply for his physical challenges. Determined to understand him more, she unearths his secret, and the reason why he will not act on his feeling for her.

Rose Leslie as Gwen in Downton Abbey (2010)Gwen Dawson (Rose Leslie)
As the under housemaid, Gwen works with Anna in cleaning the main rooms and bedrooms of the house. Grateful for the best job that is open to uneducated daughter of a farm worker, she also has quiet ambition to improve her station by secretly studying to be a secretary by correspondence. Gwen is a bit of rebel so she and Lady Sybil are immediate compatriots. Lady Sybil soon adopts her as her next social project in attempt to help her improve herself and obtain a new job. Their adventure together has a surprising outcome.

Thomas Howes as William in Downton Abbey (2010)William Mason (Thomas Howes)
The second footman William assists the first footman Thomas in serving at table, opening doors, hauling luggage, polishing silver and shoes and anything else that his easy-going nature can be imposed upon to undertake. He reports directly to Mr. Carson who is stern with him, but most of the abuse comes from Thomas by way of insults and dumping his work on him. He has a crush on Daisy, the kitchenmaid, but she only has eyes for Thomas. Raised on a farm, his mother wanted him to go in service in a big house to better himself. William has only ever wanted to work with horses, not serving canapés and champagne to toffs.

Sophie McShera as Daisy in Downton Abbey (2010)Daisy (Sophie McShera)

In the hierarchy of a large Edwardian household, the lowliest servant is the scullery maid. Daisy is actually one step above that as kitchenmaid, but it is debatable if she is treated any better. She reports directly to the cook Mrs. Patmore and can seem to do no right. Wide-eyed with fright half of the time, someone is always screaming her name. The first in the household to rise in the morning, her long day of duties include cleaning and lighting the kitchen stove and household fires, assisting the cook in preparing meals, cleaning the kitchen and all around dogsbody. Raised in a family of eleven children, Daisy now has Mrs. Patmore and all of the downstairs servants to put her in her place. Sweet on Thomas, she has no clue that his tastes run in the opposite direction, while shy William would do anything for her if she would ever notice.

Allen Leech as Tom Branson in Downton Abbey (2010)Tom Branson (Allen Leech)
The position of chauffer in 1912 was a fairly new necessity to the aristocratic class. Automobiles were quickly replacing horse and carriage as the chosen mode of transport, and the replacement of the retiring chauffer with Branson is a must for the Earl and his family. Branson is responsible for transport the Crawley’s to their daily activities and the maintenance of the fleet of automobiles used for their personal service. He reports directly to the Earl, and is not considered part of the household staff, nor is he part of the outdoor servants either. Branson not only brings chauffeuring expertise to Downton, his political ideologies connect with the Earl’s youngest daughter Sybil, who finds they share a passion for social justice and progressive politics which leads to an adventure that turns dangerous for Lady Sybil and Branson’s position at Downton.


Enjoy!

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5 Cha Cha Bloggers left a comment:

R. Quilter January 9, 2011 at 1:44 PM  

I am looking forward to watching it!

Dawn January 9, 2011 at 7:50 PM  

Just seeing the lovely costumes and settings makes me happy!

petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? January 12, 2011 at 7:27 AM  

What a beautiful post, Janeen! I can already get a sense of the series by your cast introductions and profiles!

p.s. I haven't seen Elizabeth McGovern in a very long time, btw! She looks terrific!

Susan January 15, 2011 at 12:02 PM  

I can so identify with this program which so closely mirrors my own home
and life style!

Rebecca January 29, 2011 at 12:15 PM  

I love this series and haven't missed an episode yet. :)....