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Brilliant acting, somewhat marred by copied scenes, puzzling behavior
on January 13, 2011
At first I tried to overlook Downton Abbey's resemblance to Upstairs Downstairs--even after another homosexual footman became infatuated with the duke, and another eldest daughter was headstrong and rebellious. One suspects there were plenty of both in the Edwardian era; but I did reluctantly downgrade the rating after the flower show storyline. Although sparkingly portrayed, perhaps even better than the original, the scene unfortunately was too direct a duplicate from the Mrs. Miniver movie.
In addition, there were unconvincing aspects in the same script, the first key to the plot: It is hard to believe that Lady Mary would not have screamed her head off if a Turkish diplommt had really broken into her room, her bed, and her virginity (and WHY did Lady Mary answer "No" when her mother asked if he had forced himself, which he so obviously HAD? It wasn't as if she had broken into HIS room).
Moreover, Matthew, the several-times removed cousin, though middle-class, would surely not have been so clueless about the manners and ways of the aristocracy when he arrives at Downton (though he does improve): He is the university-educated son of a respected physician, not a green grocer (despite what the Dowager Countess thinks; and by the way, wouldn't YOU stand if that intrepid and titled lady were your grandmother and she entered the room? Yet none of the younger women do when she is announced during tea).
In addition, the role of Edith was, frankly, confusing (through no fault of the excellent actress): She's rather a sympathetic character at first, then turns suddenly into a vicious, green (with envy) monster who calmly reveals her sister's scandal--but standards hadn't changed THAT much since Austen's day, and Edith must have realized that she and her entire family would be socially tainted, just as all the Bennets were by Lydia's misbehavior.
Maggie Smith, of course, gets it hilariously and exactly right every single time and (metaphorically) steals every scene. As a matter of fact, the entire cast's stunningly superior acting, the detailed and accurate(!)costumes, and the very beautiful estate (though never an Abbey, that part of the title should have been dropped), keep Downton from sinking into mere soap opera. All in all, even though the plot sometimes seems cut from other works and pasted together with melodrama, the series is extremely enjoyable and certainly still worth the purchase--but Edwardian subtlety is not its strong suit.