Downton Abbey, the thoroughly English production about life on a lordly manor at the turn of the 20th Century, elevated its U.S. profile with four Golden Globe nominations. But the show is already a cult hit on public television.
The period drama, produced by British media company Carnival Films for the ITV network, has been nominated for best mini-series/movie, best supporting actress (Dame Maggie Smith), best actor (Hugh Bonneville) and best actress (Elizabeth McGovern).
Cast members Joanne Froggatt, McGovern and Michelle Dockery, who just turned 30, were at a special screening in New York yesterday (Dec. 15) to promote the second season of their drama.
The show is one of the most acclaimed public television series since British costume drama “Brideshead Revisited,” which aired in 1981. It’s averaging more than 6 million viewers per episode.
The principal characters include Smith, who plays the Dowager Countess of Grantham. Bonneville is her son, the Earl of Grantham and McGovern plays a wealthy American who marries the Earl and becomes Lady Grantham.
Downton Abbey is the fictional country house of the aristocratic Crawley family.
The genteel family is caught between tradition and the rapidly changing world, which is being swept by mechanization, industrialization and new ideas that are challenging Britain’s class structure.
In fact, the series is set in motion by the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Eldest Crawley daughter Lady Mary, played by Dockery loses her suitor on the ship, which throws the estate into turmoil.
Under British law, only a male heir can inherit the estate, not to mention Lady Grantham’s considerable wealth. Now because of her marriage, it’s tied to Downton.
That puts the family in a delicate position of finding a suitable mate for Mary. Otherwise, everything will go to Matthew Crawley, a distant third cousin once removed.
Mathew is a barrister played by Dan Stevens, who has a low opinion of aristocratic airs. In turn, he’s viewed as a crass, modern-thinking interloper.
The series also intertwines a number of subplots involving the manor’s extensive and very formal staff, which includes butlers, valets, chambermaids, cooks and footmen.
The show’s second season is set to premier in January, and fans will also be treated to a Christmas special that will feature the developing relationship between Mathew and Lady Mary.
The lingering “will they, won’t they” courtship between Lady Mary and Matthew that has kept viewers gripped could not happen today, said Stevens in a recent interview.
“One of the things I really wish we still had is the time people had to do things. Everything’s so accelerated now,” he added.
The onset of World War I will play heavily in the second season, set in the years 1916 through 1919. The war shakes Downton Abbey’s foundations, as the Crawley’s way of life is forever blasted apart, according to a promo.
The new season airs January 8. Check out a promo below and an interview with cast members.