Downton Abbey

Book CoverLast night I bumped into a tweet from Linda Holmes at NPR Monkey See about a PBS miniseries that was about to start. So I changed the channel.

OH MY GOSH YOU GUYS. Downton Abbey is delicious television! If you’re a historical romance fan, or a historical drama fan, or you really like opulent British houses or early 20th century costumes, or outstanding acting, do yourself a favor and tune in.

Some folks speaking with me last night were irate that the broadcast was allegedly edited for the US audience. According to this article/interview, the original series was edited to add the heir to the first episode, and some minor changes were made, but the major difference in length is based on the UK commercials, which were part of the broadcast (Thank you PBS for not having any!) and thus the US broadcast is 6 hours, not 8.

I am so enjoying this program, I can’t even tell you. British viewers who saw it last fall have told me that it only gets better. I particularly like how the Earl’s hobbled circumstances brought about by the limitations of the entail on his estate are reflected in the limitations of his valet, Mr. Bates. They’re both forced to maneuver in very tight political spaces, and do so in such different ways. I’m fascinated by the eldest daughter, Mary, too. She gets to the edge of evolving and adapting, and then falls back on her standard expected behavior each time. The question of pride, duty, and employment is painfully explored as well, particularly in scenes with Matthew Crawley. Each character has an enormous ability to Presume S/He Knows Best, and watching all those arrogant and determined people collide makes for amazing plotlines.

Various PBS stations in the US are rebroadcasting the first episode, which was part of the Masterpiece Classics series. The second and third are set to be aired this week. You can click the link at the top middle of the PBS Downton Abbey page to check your local PBS listings, though I am told that the first episode is up on Hulu. (I searched for the link, but like all thing on Hulu, I couldn’t find it. I’m sorry). You can watch the first episode online at for a limited time or buy a copy from PBS or If there was ever a reason to use some Amazon gift cards, this would be it.

ETA: Thanks to Keira Soleore for the link from Hulu, which leads back to the PBS viewer for episode 1. I don’t think it’ll be available for long, though.

If you’re watching and want to squee, please, try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, but let me know what you think! If you’re not watching, I hope you’ll catch up and join us – this is some fine, fine television viewing up in here.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Barbara says:

    I loved it too! that’s it.

  2. 2

    I’ve been bursting at the seams, waiting for this to air over here! I was able to see the ITV broadcast last fall and it was so difficult to not spoil everyone!

    I have to toot my own horn here and mention that I was co-moderator for the official Twitter chat (#DowntonPBS), and I tweeted bits of historical background about the episode as it aired. /end self-promotion

    Can we declare the Edwardian period as the new Regency yet? lol

  3. 3
    Amy Goldschlager says:

    I just love that the actress who played Harriet Jones, Prime Minister, on Doctor Who, is playing the new heir’s mother. Totally social awkward on Dr. Who; here, she’s lecturing her son on manners. Awesome.

  4. 4
    duckgirlie says:

    Woo! I love this series.

    (Another reason for the editing around is that the original episodes weren’t all the same length, so they’ve done a little re-arranging to make sure that episodes didn’t end at strange places)

  5. 5
    Keira Soleore says:

    Sarah, here’s the direct link on Hulu for the first episode of Downton Abbey:

  6. 6
    AmyW says:

    I have been suffering from new Masterpiece Theatre withdrawal since they’ve been showing contemporary mysteries so often. Loved Part 1 of Downton Abbey. Not so sure about the character of Mary, but I’m looking forward to the rest!

  7. 7
    Hannah says:

    I love this series! Thanks to the magic of a region-free DVD player I’ve already seen all but the last part. I’m very sad that I have to wait until the fall for the next season. DH and I also loved the new Sherlock series and can’t wait for that to return.

  8. 8
    Ana Farish says:

    The program and accompanying Twitter chat were fantastic.  I even got my friend and her fiancee hooked on the show, and they are not normally into watching “period dramas.”  We are planning a little Downton Abbey viewing party next Sunday, and I will definitely participating in the Twitter chat again.  Lots of fun!

  9. 9
    Donna says:

    I had no intentions of watching this last night, but thankfully I was watching the Nature piece on the Adamsons that preceeded Downton Abbey & just left it on. I am HOOKED, and in love with Mr. Bates. I’m hoping the head maid is too.

  10. 10
    Suzanne says:

    Thank you for the heads up. They weren’t repeating Episode 1 on the Denver area PBS station, but I was able to download it from itunes!

  11. 11

    Looks like KCTS 9 in Seattle will be repeating Episode 1 on Wednesday.  Thanks for the heads-up and the link for checking local PBS listings!  I saw the Twitter buzz late last night, but by then of course it was too late for the original airing.

  12. 12

    It is amazing. We’ve also had a revival of Upstairs, Downstairs, which was not so amazing. The difference, I think, is the writing. Downton is sharp, sharp, sharp, and it gets the details right, that is, the current events form a background to the main story, not the other way around.
    Downton was written by Julian Fellowes (himself a bit posh, and a lord), the man who wrote “Gosford Park.”
    Another interesting thing is the presence in Downton and in Upstairs, Downstairs, of two of the stalwarts of drama. Maggie Smith and Eileen Atkins play two very different matriarchs. Maggie Smith remarked to Atkins (they’re friends) that it would be “dame on dame action.”
    And btw Dame Maggie is just perfect, isn’t she?
    The mother of the heir is Penelope Wilton, a distinguished actress and the widow of Ian Holm (remember him as Bilbo Baggins?) She’s pretty well known here, and I’d forgotten her role in Dr. Who!
    Anyway, another series of Downton has been commissioned. Can’t wait!
    Just wait until you get to the gorgeous stranger!

  13. 13
    TaraL says:

    *sigh* The only local rebroadcast of Ep. 1 is at 1 a.m on one of the PBS channels that we don’t get on our DVR. I set the rest to record and put the 1st disc into my Netflix queue. It’ll get watched… eventually.

  14. 14
    Charlotte says:

    (Apologies, but -) EEEEEEEEEE!
    I got home in time to catch the first episode on PBS last night and I’m definitely in love with this show. The cast – especially Dame Maggie as others have mentioned – is wonderful and both the location and the costumes are so beautiful!

  15. 15
    AmyW says:

    @Lynne Connolly—Ian Holm is still alive, but he is divorced from Penelope Wilton:

  16. 16
    Ana says:

    I’ve watched the entire first season and now i can’t wait for next one! Apparently is the most expensive British TV series ever produced (1 million Pounds per hour!)
    best sentence ever: “What is a ‘weekend’?”

  17. 17

    @TaraL You can watch the episode in its entirety on the PBS website. Sarah linked to the page in her post.

  18. 18
    SusannaG says:

    I myself am excessively fond of “We can start with ‘Lady Crawley’ and ‘Mrs. Crawley.’”

  19. 19
    TaraL says:

    @Evangeline Holland

    Yeah, saw that and tried it. My wifi is too slow and I dislike watching it in 3 minute hiccups. I’m in no hurry really. I’ll watch the first episode when it gets here and the rest will probably take several months to get off of the DVR.

    received69 – LOL, these CAN NOT be random. They’re too damn funny.

  20. 20
    Chicklet says:

    It’s so fun, isn’t it? For anyone worried about missing an episode due to the vagaries of life, the US DVD release is TOMORROW, and it will be available on Netflix on January 25.

  21. 21
    Suzanne says:

    I bought it at Amazon as it was half price 🙂

    I have been to Highclere Castle, it was very lovely. My one regret was not seeing their egyptian collection though. Without looking it up, I think that the castle was owned by the patron of Howard Carter, who found the tomb of Tutankhamun 🙂

  22. 22
    Nadia says:

    Ooh, fire up that DVR, my local PBS is re-running the first episode on Wed. late night.  And, thank you thank you for the link to Masterpiece Classic shedule, because I also noticed they are running Emma again, and I missed recording the first episode.  Bonus!

  23. 23
    Cyranetta says:

    I had really been looking forward to this shown on PBS after reading some of the postings on the Austenprose blog, and I was certainly not disappointed.

    I was honestly surprised at how much I was drawn into the characters, especially Bates, and I find myself wishing that it wasn’t a miniseries.

    And I have to confess a decided partiality for this particular era in costume style.

  24. 24
    Lizabeth S. Tucker says:

    I’ve lost a lot of respect for PBS and their Masterpiece series over the last few years due to the hacking of British series.  In particular, key scenes were deleted from SHERLOCK, scenes that were essential to the mystery’s solution and to the development of trust between Sherlock and John.

    I am looking forward to seeing this one, but I’m waiting until it is available on DVD and for download.  You think PBS doesn’t have commercials? What do you call the last 7-10 minutes of the broadcast?  I call them commercials and I also call it time better served showing the production as it was originally aired.

    thats79? Yep, that’s at least 79 episodes that I’ve seen mangled.

  25. 25
    Karenmc says:

    This is why I didn’t get enough sleep last night.

    makes99: this makes 99 minutes of sleep I need to make up this week.

  26. 26
    Lyssa says:

    Thank you for this recommendation! Though unaware of the Gosford Park connection before watching the first episode, my first impression led me to want to rewatch that movie. No wonder now! The whole insight into the classes within the classes captivates the viewer as they watch. And I agree, “What are weekends?” great line, and delivered by Dame Smith with such a throwaway air that it delivers a double punch.

  27. 27
    Charleybrown says:

    I’m so excited to hear all the positive buzz that follows this series! It was my most anticipated period drama of the past year and so I worried that it might fail to meet my expectations but it did NOT disappoint! I loved every second of it when I saw it in the fall and it’s great to hear North Americans reacting with such enthusiasm to it now. For anyone interested, I’ve posted picture galleries, videos, cast interviews, etc. on my blog since I’ve been so enthusiastic about this (eversince I first heard the cast announcements of Hugh Bonneville and Dame Maggie!)

  28. 28
    sarah says:

    Netflix has the dvds available starting January 25th—I figure I’ll wait until then to watch them, since I imagine I’ll want to watch as many as I can back to back!

  29. 29
    quichepup says:

    Dame Maggie rocks! I was glad to see the actor who played Nicholas Higgins in North and South here as Bates. Though when they announced him as Bates I automatically pictured Eric Blore in Top Hat.

  30. 30
    Ellielu says:

    I called my mom (from whom I inherited my love of period dramas) to whine last night. She’s a time zone ahead of me—and she just said, “Stop whining and go turn on Masterpiece Theatre.” And, woohoo, was she right. Downton Abbey is lots of fun.

  31. 31
    library addict says:

    PBS almost always edits the British movies and mini-series they show.  Emma had multiple scenes cut (one of which was a lovely conversation with Emma and George toward the end I was shocked they cut); Northanger Abbey (which even worse they released the edited version on the region 1 DVD instead of the full!), Mansfield Park…  And it’s not just the costume dramas.  The Masterpiece Mystery! programs often have scenes cut as well. 

    Then again, it’s not just PBS.  BBC America cut so many scenes out of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South it wasn’t even funny.

    Since I forgot to set the timer for part I, I think I will just get the DVD and enjoy Downton Abbey in full from the get go.

  32. 32
    Katherine C. says:

    LOVED it, as I do just about anything Masterpiece Classic and Mystery! puts on. Can’t wait to see what happens next. Although now I’m disappointed to learn we’re getting edited versions—does anyone know how to get your hands on non-edited versions?

  33. 33
    Tiblet says:

    For those with Netflix, it will be available 1-25-2011, so far DVD only.

  34. 34

    I stumbled on the last half hour on PBS last night (only after hubby relinquished the TV after football reruns were done).

    Loved it and look forward to more!  Then again, I grew up watching Masterpiece Theater with an English mum transplanted to Florida.

  35. 35
    Isobel Carr says:

    Waiting for the full thing on DVD. PBS hacked 2 hours off it and downplayed the entail/inheritance plot line because they thought Americans wouldn’t be able to follow it. *steam coming out of my ears* It’s like removing Mr. Collins from P&P (which also involves an entail, and I imagine most Masterpiece Classic viewers are more than familiar with!).

    Will content myself with the fact that we’re finally getting all of Top Gear (which they’ve been hacking 15-20 minutes off of since they started airing it on BBC America).

  36. 36
    Isobel Carr says:

    I’ve lost a lot of respect for PBS and their Masterpiece series over the last few years due to the hacking of British series.  In particular, key scenes were deleted from SHERLOCK, scenes that were essential to the mystery’s solution and to the development of trust between Sherlock and John.

    *insert sound of grinding teeth here*

  37. 37
    Isobel Carr says:

    Thanks for the Amazon tip! Ordered this and Garrow’s Law: Series One. Yea!!!

  38. 38
    sweetsiouxsie says:

    I am watching it and loving it too. Thank you for your comments on the show, Sarah!

  39. 39
    Brian says:

    @Katherine C. “does anyone know how to get your hands on non-edited versions?”

    The DVD’s ($16.99 on Amazon) are the unedited UK edition of the show (so are the Blu-Ray’s which for some reason don’t come out until April).

    @Isobel Carr “Waiting for the full thing on DVD. PBS hacked 2 hours off”

    PBS didn’t cut 2 hours off, they cut 38 minutes.  The ITV telecast version was 368 min. (as is the PBS DVD) while the PBS broadcast version is 330 min.  So it is edited to fit the length of time slots PBS needed/wanted, but not as heavily as 2 hours (a lot of that 2 hours people keep mentioning was commercials which PBS doesn’t really have).

  40. 40

    I’ve just watched it and I thought it was noteworthy for the acting and the tremendous physical sense you got of the house, particularly downstairs. But the script was lame, lame, lame. The same old BBC cliches were trotted out again. It made me angry that something that could have been more than a thumbsucking comfort watch played safe.

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