Monday, January 9, 2012

Downton Abbey Season 2

Lady Mary Crawley being dressed for dinner by Anna, the head housemaid in Downton Abbey
I loved the first season of Downton Abbey on PBS which tells the story of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants before and during the years of World War I, and wrote about it on the blog. Last night the second season started here in the United States but when I talk to friends about it I am surprised by how many are not familiar with the program. If you are not watching Downton Abbey by all means do tune in. It's a total pleasure and takes you away to a beautiful world.

The drama is shot in part at Highclere Castle, the home of Lord and Lady Carnavon who still live there today. The site has been home to the Carnavon family since 1679, and the castle was built in 1842 by Sir Charles Barry who was responsible for building the Houses of Parliament in London.
The production values including the costumes and interiors are gorgeous. The family members dress in ornate evening clothes for dinner, and downstairs, the servants in uniform are a monochromatic study in black, white, and grey. One of my favorite rooms is Lady Mary Crawley's bedroom, pictured at the top. A deep red pattern decorates the walls and there is always a fire ablaze in the fireplace opposite the bed. Sometimes the female characters are pictured in her bedroom in evening dress having a chat before dinner and invariably Mary says, "I'll be down in a minute." I am often reminded watching this series of John Singer Sargent's paintings, like this – Sargent's The Dinner Table from 1884.
or this oil sketch of Madame X giving a toast.
(watch my video tour of a recent Sargent exhibition in Cooperstown)

But of course the real world interupts the beauty of Downton when World War l breaks out in 1914, which is where we find ourselves in season 2, and honestly one is concerned for the welfare of these characters because you know that some of them will not survive the war. It reminds me of the autiobiography of the Duchess of Devonshire which I enjoyed so much reading last year. She lived through World War ll and noted how practically all of the young men she knew died in its wake – an entire generation.

At Downton Abbey, the war affects those left at home too. With some of the servants enlisted, the household becomes disorganized, and its refined manners and way of operating begin to crumble. The aristocratic art of living starts to crack. But Lord Grantham tries to reassure his servants and relieve them of pressure during wartime. "The world does not turn on the style of a dinner," he says. "Mine does," replies Mr. Carson the butler.


Reggie Darling said...

I cannot get enough of Downton Abbey. The sets, the clothes, the people, the story-line. It is all perfection, and so delicious! I have found myself hungering for more and reveling in past episodes again and again. It is the Brideshead of this decade, I believe, at least in its television incarnation.

Bart Boehlert said...

Reggie, It's just about perfect and I love the way it looks. Maybe some Americans will produce something similar! TV could use it.

Ella said...

I remember when you wrote about it last time and I wished that it would come to Sweden. I didn't have to wait so long! It came and I love it so much and we have already seen Season 2 now, the last program was a special Christmas episode during Christmas. But I understand that there is a Season 3 which I long for!

Blue Turtle said...

I have watched Abbey Season just recently(a couple of episode) and I am starting to get hooked. I love the set. It's amazing.

Susan @ Interior Design Pro

Rhea58 said...

I, too, am amazed that many folks never watched season 1...and everything about this production
(the sets, the clothes, and of course, the actors) is fabulous!
I normally watch the Good Wife at this time slot so a hard decision had to be made.
Waiting for this Sunday's viewing.

Edward said...

I too am enamored with DA. I shows a slower pace of life. Oh to have that many servants (and to be able to afford them). I think the last time I drank tea from a china cup was in my grandmother' house back in the 50's. There is a nice short article about Highclere in the new Town and Country with some nice pics.

Gail, northern California said...

I could not wait for Season Two to begin (and even a hint of there being a Season Three puts me in a tailspin).
I have two minor complaints...not complaints really, more observations. The first was having Mary give Matthew a stuffed toy as he headed back to the front. Really? A stuffed toy? It looked like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. Why not a scented handkerchief or scarf, or lock of her hair? Second, why not let Edith have the pleasure of an honest day's work? Period. For the first time in her life she felt needed and full of self-worth. Plowing fields, uprooting trees, anything but the barnyard hanky-panky with the farmer.
As you can tell, I get a little too involved in the storyline. ;-)

Bart Boehlert said...

Hi Gail,
Good observations. Poor Edith, she just cannot get a boyfriend! I think it's interesting how Mary really is the central character, everything hinges around her. And she made a dramatic entrance this week, a little into the episode and coming off a train. I think the actress who plays her is divine -

Gail, northern California said...

The casting is absolutely spot on. Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess, sheer perfection. But, it's Matthew's mother I adore.

I agree with you about Mary. And her father Lord Grantham. The world seems to revolve around those two. What lusciously plum roles they landed.

Downton Abbey is the highlight of our Sunday evenings, and I'm always disappointed when it's over. The two-hour season premiere spoiled us.

Gail, northern California said...

Edith was finally given the limelight and I was delighted although I would have to agree that most of the time she has brought much of the torment upon herself, always getting in hot water.

I LOVED it when Lord Grantham said without question that his dog would be permitted access to any part of the house he liked. ;-)

Mary's very plain dress as she greeted Lavinia was one of my favorites (gray with sheer, white embroidered handkerchief panels on the bodice. Drool.)

William is a lovable oaf with the strangest mouth and smile I've ever seen.

I hope Mr. Bates isn't leading Daisy on. She did everything but offer to pay his room and board, and provide other "niceties".

Alas, a complaint. I have a hard time understanding them. It's as though they've been instructed not to move their lips. Whispering is all well and good but if you can't understand the dialogue, what's the point? And there's a LOT of whispering, both
upstairs and down. Volume has nothing to do with it.

Your thoughts?

Gail, northern California said...

Please change Daisy to Anna in my last post, Bart.
Thank you.

Magnaverde said...

Oh, dear. I was planning to head out your way for the Winter Antiques Show so I could see the restored rooms at the Armory but I now may have to break down and purchase a television device instead. What miserable timing.

Bart Boehlert said...

Dear Gail, I haven't seen the episode yet! We recorded it on the dvr-
Dear SG, Do come east and skip the tellie. I believe you can watch episodes on your computer device.

Gail, northern California said...

Please let me know if you have trouble understanding what they're saying. I hang on every word, and still I have a problem. We record it a quick re-wind and STILL we can't understand a word of what was just said.

P.S. We have the same issue with "William and Mary".

Mar gar et said...

Absorbing DA like a sponge! It's way too delicious for words, perfectly cast, divine sets and costume, lighting. I understand them perfectly, but I grew up listening to my mom's (sometimes comical) N.O./Irish accent!

However, I haven't watched the episode yet in which the manor is turned into a hospital of sorts. It drives me nuts to think of blood on those fine fabrics! "Drink your potion from our fine china!"

Last year, I visited a house in VA that was used as a Civil War hospital. Remnants of soldiers' laments were scribbled in pencil on the walls, and I could only imagine the pain endured within those walls. The family moved back after the war, and were kind/historically-minded enough to know to preserve this piece of history.