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Best of Downton Abbey: What Makes it sooo Good?

I could tell you that it’s one of the must see shows of British television history.  Or I could say it’s the high quality drama the world has fallen in love with.

But you know all that.

As any frequent visitor to Lady Mary and co will tell you, there’s so much to love!

Jane Howarth itcherEveryone’s favourite late-Edwardian drama is an irresistible combination of part highbrow, part soap.  Downton Abbey (Brian Percival et al., 2010) creator and writer Julian Fellowes’ personal passion for the series and the era is famous.

As you may or may not know, he holds a title and a seat in the House of Lords.  But you don’t need an honorific to enjoy the show, and you don’t need Fellowes’ super-detailed knowledge of the period either. ~ Jane Howarth

Another major point in the show’s favour?  It’s one of the few period drama that isn’t adapted from a book or play we all know.

And there’s so much more!  Here’s my run-down of the little things that make the Abbey so awesome.

Caution, spoilers ahead – though you’ve probably heard most of the major plot twists already.

The Best Downton Abbey Episodes

Time passes quickly in Downton.

When we arrive on the scene, it’s 1912.  The first season ends days before the outbreak of WWI, and by the time the second season winds up, it’s all over.

Onwards to the Roaring Twenties!

With every episode covering something completely different, and spanning a gigantic chunk of time, it’s hard to pick favourites.

But, cup of tea in hand, I suffered on and forced myself to re-watch a few highlights of the box set (sigh, it’s a hard life), and came up with this shortlist.

Season 2, Episode 3

…prompting Downton to become a convalescent hospital

First the big theme.

War wounded flood in (alongside Thomas, who only has himself to blame), prompting Downton to become a convalescent hospital.

It’s a big shift, and as they round up nursing staff, the usual hierarchies start to blur – a little.

The War impacts on the residents’ personal lives too, and William signs up to fight, spilling his feelings to Daisy before he goes.

Anna and Bates make plans, and Violet tries to get shot of love nuisance Lavinia to clear the way for Mary and Matthew.

Basically, everything’s happening.  Everything!

Season 4, Episode 5

Isobel, Mary and Tom move on, and Anna and Bates get back together.  After finding out what happened to Anna, Bates is on the trail of her attacker.

And something’s up with Edith.

She hasn’t heard a peep from Michael, who has gone to Germany to secure a divorce from his mentally ill first wife.  To make things worse, she might be pregnant.

Could this episode be a massive set-up for new storylines to come?

I think it just might be.

Season 4, Christmas Special: The London Season

The costumes on this eye-friendly drama have always been phenomenal, but I feel like the Season 4 Christmas Special really outdid itself.

It’s resident liability Lady Rose’s turn as a debutante – cue sequins, feathers and lovely things, making this one of the most sparkly and beautiful episodes of the series.

And apart from costumes I wouldn’t mind borrowing?

There are loads of the classic scandals we love, courtesy of royal intrigues and petty crime (looking at you, Bates).

Everyone has a jolly day by the seaside too.  Hurray!


The Best Downton Abbey Characters

…they get the most irresistible storylines and they make things happen.

Thanks to its mix staff and grander residents, Downton Abbey is home to a wide, wide range of characters.

And with most of them living and working in close proximity, they find all kinds of awkward ways to interact.

How can I possibly choose the best?

Well, here’s my criteria.  These ladies and chaps are the ones I look forward to seeing, they get the most irresistible storylines and they make things happen.

Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham

Does Maggie Smith’s Dowager Duchess need any introduction?

I wouldn’t like to be the one to tell her if she did.  You could fill a book with her frosty one liners and put downs.

Occasionally, she does something thoughtful too.  When she does, it’s all the better because you can imagine what it’s costing her pride.

Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham

She’s not always likeable, but she’s not predictable either.

Violet might get the last word, but don’t underestimate the current Countess of Grantham (played by Elizabeth MacGovern).  She’s not always likeable, but she’s not predictable either.

And best of all?

Cora knows exactly what to do in every situation.

From handling Mary’s scandal, to whipping away salted desserts and ordering the perfect replacements, she finds the answer.

Lady Sybil Crawley

With her modern thinking and good nature, perennial favourite Lady Sybil, played by Jessica Wright Findlay, is simpler to like.

Throughout her three seasons, she stood up for women’s rights, helped her maid interview for secretarial jobs, married for love over money and status, and tried out the most daring costumes like – gasp – trousers.

Now let’s head over to the servants’ quarters.

Thomas Barrow

She’s not always likeable, but she’s not predictable either.

I don’t know whether to love or hate Thomas.

Thomas, played by Rob James-Collier, has caused chaos more times than I can count, but somehow he usually gets his way – only to have his hopes dashed once again.

He also has an unfortunate talent for leading the other staff astray.  Awful, but it does put him at the centre of the suspense that makes Downton great.

Mrs Patmore and Daisy Robinson

Now for the nicer side of life belowstairs.

It’s a tie between the two members of the accidental double act, Sophie McShera’s Daisy and Lesley Nicol’s Mrs Patmore.

Sure, they bicker, but they look out for each other and the other staff too.

Daisy and Mrs Patmore are easily two of the nicest characters, and if I could step into the show for an afternoon, I’d spend it gossiping at the kitchen table with these two.

After a dress-up session in Sybil’s wardrobe, of course.

The Best Downton Abbey Couples

As the show reminds us, it was vitally important in securing inheritance, finance and social status.

In the early 20th Century, marriage was about more than love.  As the show reminds us, it was vitally important in securing inheritance, finance and social status.

Life’s definitely that bit harder for these couples, who can’t simply follow their hearts.

Mary and Matthew

We can’t talk about Downton couples without visiting the Mary and Matthew saga.

Besides the fact that this pair are distant relations, they’ve had a complicated relationship.  Things got off to a shaky start, which eventually became an epic on again/off again romance.

Ultimately, their fate was sealed when actor Dan Stevens, who plays Matthew, decided not to renew his contract, leaving Michelle Dockery’s Mary behind.

But they’re not the only long-running romance…

Anna and Bates

Anna and Bates, played by Joanne Froggatt and Brendan Coyle, easily rival Mary and Matthew for soap moments.

They bounce from one drama to the next, chalking up a will they-won’t they start, rape, separation, and now a possible revenge murder.

What could possibly come next?

The Best one Liners from Downton Abbey

Every episode is bursting with witticisms, but these five best Downton Abbey lines have got to be my favourites.

No prizes for predicting that the Dowager Countess, Violet, is responsible for more than her fair share of them.

Elsie Hughes: ‘Is there a public holiday no one’s told me of?’

Junior servants gossiping in the hallway clearly equals trouble.  You tell ‘em, Elsie.

The Dowager Countess: ‘I don’t mean to sound harsh – ‘

Robert Crawley: ‘You may not mean to, but you will.’

She will!  You know it.  I know it.

Every episode is bursting with witticisms…

Only the Earl of Grantham can silence the unstoppable Dowager Countess – quick comebacks must run in the family.

The Dowager Countess: ‘I don’t even know what that means, but it sounds almost as peculiar as you look.’

Never one to miss an opportunity, Violet takes a shot at her American opposite number, Martha.

Maggie Smith and Shirley MacLaine might have formed a close friendship onset, but their characters definitely don’t feel the same way.

The Dowager Countess: ‘No Englishman would dream of dying in someone else’s house, let alone someone he doesn’t even know.’

Ever the fount of sympathy, Dowager Countess Violet indulges in a few warm fuzzies in the wake of a very unexpected (and inconvenient) death.

The Dowager Countess: ‘Edith!  You’re a lady, not Toad of Toad Hall.’

I don’t know what to love most about this line.

The thought of the Dowager Countess settling down in a comfy chair with a copy of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows?

The vision of Edith roaring through the countryside yelling ‘poop, poop’?

It’s just too good, and it’s more than earned its place as my favourite quote.


The Best Moments Downton Abbey has Given us

Somehow, this show fits an unbelievable volume of storylines into every episode, and they rotate at a frightening pace.

Looking for more of that one plot which reeled you in?  Too bad, it’s time for something totally different in another part of the house.

These are my favourite moments, but I’d love to hear what yours are.  Read on and see if any of them are on my list too.

The Unsinkable Titanic

It’s one of the very first events of the series, but one of the best moments too – the sinking of the Titanic.

Pretty grim, but hear me out.

It puts the Crawleys in the perilous inheritance situation that raises the stakes on their every decision throughout the entire series.

So if you’ve ever bitten your nails as the line of inheritance changes again, or groaned as another good marriage prospect goes down the drain, you can trace it right back to this moment.

The Almost-Poisoning of Lord Grantham

Downton Abbey’s lavish period cuisine has a foodie following of its own, but even country estates aren’t exempt from kitchen nightmares.

Daisy passes the wrong bowl to William, nearly poisoning Lord Grantham with cleaning product as a result.

When you’ve been following long-running scandals for a whole season or longer, a little readymade crisis breaks up the pattern nicely.

It’s a totally unexpected one-off.

Though it does echo Mrs Patmore’s salted dessert and floor chicken incident.  Still wish you had servants to cook your dinner?  Yeah, thought not.

The Modern Age

I love these little technology conflicts.

Nobody’s too convinced by electricity.

The discovery of the illicit typewriter, and later the arrival of the refrigerator and sewing machine, are accompanied by a barrage of suspicious glances and disparaging remarks.

I love these little technology conflicts.

Part of me wants to write them off as a cheap giggle at the past’s expense, but gosh, these moments are just so likeable.

Culture Clash

In Series 1, the Dowager Countess asks, ‘Why does every day involve a fight with an American?’

And if you’re Violet, every day does!

She doesn’t like their upstart ways, they don’t like her laced-up manners.  So, what was the best Anglo-American misunderstanding?

It’s a tie between the vulgarity of the swivel chair (imagine such a thing!) and American Martha’s ability to remind the Dowager Countess of ‘the virtues of the English’.

Mary and Matthew’s Engagement

We waited forever for this!

Obviously the best thing about it was that the Ross and Rachel of Downton Abbey were finally, formally a couple.

What made this moment extra good?

The snow! The eveningwear!  It was a magical Christmas Special moment, even if we have to remember it with a hint of melancholy.


What do you Love most about Downton Abbey?

Those moments kind of sum up my favourite things about the show.

Glimmers of pretention, plenty romance (but it’s not exclusively lovey-dovey), and stuff that could only happen in the 1910s and ‘20s.

This is the kind of melodrama that’s hard to find, and even harder to find in a show you can happily admit to watching.

So tell me, what do you think makes Downton Abbey such a great show?

Are you a hopeless fan of one of the characters, or do you just watch for the beautiful wardrobes?

And come on, let’s hear your favourite quotes.  There are literally dozens to choose from, so go for it!

Hi, I’m Jane, BA (Drama, Film and TV) and MA (Cultural and Creative Industries). When I’m not writing about creative things, I’m designing or planning them. If you’re brave enough to risk an avalanche, look behind the stacks of books and DVDs and you’ll find me balancing a cup of tea, a handful of knitting and a cupcake.
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