Monday, January 24, 2011

"Downton Abbey" Paints a Portrait of a Vanishing Way of Life in Edwardian England

Elaborate and historically accurate costumes, scenery - and intrigue - set the stage for the tale of Downton Abbey, presented as part of Masterpiece Classic. A four-part series, Downton Abbey airs Fridays at 9 PM, beginning January 28 on WSBE Rhode Island PBS (over the air on digital 36.1; on cable: Cox/Verizon/Full Channel 08, Comcast subscribers please check listings for local channel; on satellite: DirecTV 36, Dish Network 7776). Re-broadcasts are the following Monday at 1 P.M.

The Downton Abbey estate stands a splendid example of confidence and mettle, its family enduring for generations and its staff a well-oiled machine of propriety. But change is afoot at Downton — change far surpassing the new electric lights and telephone. A crisis of inheritance threatens to displace the resident Crawley family, in spite of the best efforts of the noble and compassionate Earl, Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville, Miss Austen Regrets); his American heiress wife, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern); his comically implacable, opinionated mother, Violet (Maggie Smith, David Copperfield); and his beautiful, eldest daughter, Mary, intent on charting her own course. Reluctantly, the family is forced to welcome its heir apparent, the self-made and proudly modern Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), himself none too happy about the new arrangements. As Matthew's bristly relationship with Mary begins to crackle with electricity, hope for the future of Downton's dynasty takes shape. But when petty jealousies and ambitions grow among the family and the staff, scheming and secrets — both delicious and dangerous — threaten to derail the scramble to preserve Downton Abbey. Created and written by Oscar-winner Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), Downton Abbey offers a spot-on portrait of a vanishing way of life.