January 11, 2011

Downton Abbey: My Top 5 Favorite Characters from Episode 1

Masterpiece fans are hailing Downton Abbey as the greatest thing since Bleak House (high praise, indeed!) and Amy and I are in complete agreement so far. The miniseries was a huge hit in its native England, but Anglotopia.net sparked a tempest in a teapot when it shared a story by a British tabloid claiming Downton had been dumbed down for American audiences. (The post has since been removed.) PBS countered by saying that only the commercials had been edited out and the typical MP intro added to the beginning of each episode. Apparently there was some concern that U.S. audiences would fail to understand the complex inheritance laws of the British aristocracy, however anyone who's read Jane Austen (probably everyone in the MP audience), George Eliot, et al., would be quite familiar with them.

Top 5 Favorite Characters

5. Matthew Crawley
Newly named heir to Downton Abbey after the two other heirs drown in the Titanic tragedy, Matthew is a third cousin of the Earl of Grantham and an attorney. Determined to maintain his independence, Matthew chafes under the expectations of Lord Grantham and his family. He's made up his mind not to marry any of the Grantham daughters, but one wonders if he will waver... especially after his reaction to the beautiful Mary. Matthew, do you protest too much? Also, we're predisposed to adore actor Dan Stevens after his portrayal of Edward Ferrars in the recent adaptation of Sense & Sensibility.

4. Lady Mary, The Oldest Daughter of the Earl and Countess of Grantham

Throughout most of the first episode Mary comes off as cold and calculating, but there are a few moments when her character seems more complex and I wonder if we will begin to sympathize with her (Mary's sister Lady Sybil seems to), as the series progresses. Is she merely trying to hook a rich husband or is all her scheming a result of being made a pawn by the other players? Mary, Mary, how contrary are you, really?

3. Cora, Countess of Grantham

Like the characters in Edith Wharton's The Buccaneers, Cora is a wealthy American new money heiress married to a titled aristocrat who required her substantial inheritance to maintain his expensive household and land. Unlike many such marriages, her husband fell in love with her and, were it not for the fact that Cora only bore daughters, the two might have lived happily ever after. Now Cora must maintain her relationship with her husband while trying to ensure that her dowry is passed to her eldest daughter Mary in spite of her adopted country's inheritance laws. How far will she go to see that it isn't entailed to a complete stranger?

2. Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham
It wouldn't surprise me to learn that Violet secretly studied up on political tactics by reading Machiavelli's The Prince (by candlelight, of course, as she abhors the newfangled electricity installed at Downton Abbey). Formerly aligned against Cora, the Earl's wife, she will make and break alliances based on what she determines is best for Downton Abbey and her son, Lord Grantham. The actress Maggie Smith delivers simple lines like "What is a weekend?" with just the right tone and wit to make them incredibly memorable and quite funny.

1. John Bates, Lord Grantham's Valet
Bates fought alongside the Earl of Grantham in the Boer War and Lord Grantham hired him out of loyalty and respect. Lamed by a shrapnel wound, Bates is proud but needs this job desperately. Unfortunately, his nemeses include the harpy-like O'Brien, lady's maid to the Countess of Grantham, and ambitious first footman Thomas, who will stop at nothing to jeopardize Bates's position. Bates didn't tell Grantham about his lame leg... Is he hiding something else? Will he stoop to the tactics of dastardly duo O'Brien and Thomas or maintain his dignity? Will he return the affection of head housemaid Anna?

Honorable Mentions:
Scatterbrained scullery maid Daisy (a potential Cinderella story?), kind head housemaid Anna, and loyal Robert, Earl of Grantham who keeps Bates on in spite of the hubbub it's causing "downstairs."


  1. I've been daydreaming about Lady Cora's gowns for the past two days. Love Elizabeth McGovern ever since she played Marguerite Blakeney in The Scarlet Pimpernel. For a Yank, she truly holds her own in these BBC productions.

  2. Anonymous8:52 PM

    Great costumes! I love Maggie Smith. A agree with your top five characters.

  3. Thank you for introducing all these shows. I'll have to check into them.

  4. I can only take my hat off to the impressive roster of talent and skill of the English series. I really hope to continue producing more things like this in the factory yours to the delight of all.
    It's just perfect the atmosphere of the time and classes cohabit in it. And then you come to mind the equally wonderful "Upstairs, Downstairs", although old, is still a benchmark.
    It's a series for lovers of vintage series, craftsmanship and drama students in our country.

  5. A very good series, the environment and the sets are wonderful. About time that not veia slightly this way of care in television