Downton Abbey

PBS is accustomed to having programs that become somewhat popular in the United States.  Oh, not like American Idol or The Big Bang Theory popular.  No, just programs that develop a devoted following among the PBS viewers.  Masterpiece is one of their most watched series.  That program carries British series divided into three categories: Classic, Contemporary, and Mystery.  And in 2011, they struck gold with a Classic series – Downton Abbey.

Downton Abbey has attracted an audience beyond the usual viewers of Masterpiece.  Fans range in age from teenagers to seniors.  Starring Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, and Phyllis Logan, the story revolves around the aristocratic Crawley family, headed by the Earl of Grantham, and their servants, examining each group’s place in the world of early 20th century England – and their interactions with each other.  As the series has progressed, we’ve seen the beginnings of societal change and how the characters react.  Tradition and innovation clash.  But much more important, loves are found and lost and found again.  There are feuds and backstabbing within the different classes.  Wartime affects the entire household.  Even peacetime brings new worries.  Now who could resist that?

With season two of Downton Abbey coming to a close this Sunday night and many months until season three comes to American television, fans might want to check out or revisit some titles that also give us a view of life in a manor house or a look at the uniquely British relationship between servant and master.

  • Gosford Park (2001) – Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey, won an Oscar for his screenplay of this murder mystery set during a weekend party at a country manor house in 1932.  Maggie Smith, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Gambon, Clive Owen, and Ryan Phillippe star.
  • Upstairs, Downstairs (1971-1975) – The original British TV series of the interactions of master and servant, also set in the early 20th century.  This series, too, was a huge hit for PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre when it aired in the 1970s. Created by Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins, Marsh also plays head housemaid Rose Buck.
  • Upstairs, Downstairs (2010) – Taking place some years after the first series, the story continues as a new family takes possession of 165 Eaton Place.  Jean Marsh reprises the role of Rose, with Eileen Atkins joining the cast.  Also stars Keeley Hawes, Ed Stoppard, and Claire Foy.
  • The Remains of the Day (1993) – The story of a butler whose devotion to duty blinds him to the actions of his employers – and even to the chance of love.  It stars Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.
  • Cranford (2007) – This lovely series depicts life in a Victorian-era English village, a place where class lines blur as friendships are created.  Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, Imelda Staunton, Philip Glenister, and Jim Carter star.
  • Jeeves and Wooster (1990-1993) – Light-hearted, often hilarious, look at how a good servant can save the day, especially when his employer is a bit dim-witted.  This series stars Stephen Fry as Jeeves the butler and Hugh Laurie as Wooster the master.  (For those who only know Laurie as Dr. Gregory House, his performance will amaze you.)
  • Berkeley Square (1998) – British television series focusing on three young women employed as nannies in Edwardian-era London.  Of course, love and tragedy come into play.  Claire Wilkie, Victoria Smurfit, and Tabitha Wady star.
  • Manor House (2002) – British reality TV series that gives us a look at the everyday life of those who lived in a manor house during Edwardian times.  An eye-opening view, as participants discover the incredibly hard work that went into creating a comfortable home for the master class.

For a closer look at the manor houses of Great Britain, you might want to check out these books.


So curl up with a nice cuppa tea and some shortbread cookies and spend a few hours in the English countryside with a few friends above and below stairs.

Flickr CC  : downton abbey wallpaper.png   Photo by mengjinger


I adore Downton Abbey! I was

I adore Downton Abbey! I was actually in London on vacation when the show first aired on ITV and clearly remember watching, enthralled, in my hotel room. I've been a devoted fan ever since. If only there were more episodes!

This is a superb list of movies and TV shows. I am particularly glad to see Jeeves & Wooster on this list, another personal favorite. If I only had a Jeeves of my own, my life would be much smoother. 


How great to be in London for

How great to be in London for the show's first run!  And, of course, the fans over there will get first look at the next series, too.  Too bad it can't be like Doctor Who and we could see it the same day.  

And it's so good to hear from other Jeeves and Wooster fans.  And I'm with you.  I could use a Jeeves in my life, too.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

How about "The 1900 House",

How about "The 1900 House", slightly different period than Manor House, and much less drama, but just as interesting in my opinion.

I've not seen that series,

I've not seen that series, though it sounds very interesting.  Unfortunately, we don't have a copy of the video or DVD of 1900 House available for checkout here at HCPL.  However, we do have a book based on 1900 House in our collection.  And PBS has a site about The 1900 House.  The site has information about the era, resources for further information, and even video clips.

Thank you for writing!


Thanks for the movie

Thanks for the movie suggestions! I'm loving Downton Abbey and will try some of these other dvds that you list.

You're very welcome.  I

You're very welcome.  I admit to having particular favorites: Cranford and Jeeves and Wooster.  I'm even old enough to have watched Upstairs, Downstairs in its initial run back in the 70s -- and absolutely loving it. But I think all the series and movies are great.  I hope you enjoy them, too.

Thanks for writing!

A shout-out to Fry and

A shout-out to Fry and Laurie! I'm so pleased that you included the light-hearted Jeeves and Wooster series, which was featured on Masterpiece during the 1990s. As the unflappable Jeeves and the goofy but good-heartd Bertie, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie are an inspired comic team -- which, as you rightly observe, is likely a revelation to the average American filmgoer and TV watcher. Don't miss the boys' reading of "Minnie the Moocher," with Laurie at the keyboard and Fry doing the hi-de-ho bit.

I adore the adventures of

I adore the adventures of Jeeves and Wooster!  And when my sister told me how much she liked Hugh Laurie (when House premiered), I sat her down to watch the first episode of Jeeves and Wooster -- the one in which they perform "Minnie the Moocher."  She was greatly impressed.

Thanks for writing!