Sunday, January 16, 2011

masterpiece classic

One of the pleasures of January is that PBS's Masterpiece Classic returns, and their current new series is Downton Abbey. It promises the grand English manors, concerns about proper suitors for headstrong young women, and worries about inheritance of the beloved Austen novels (it's hard to match Austen's wit, but as far as themes and epic sensibility, we're in at least in the same ballpark), but what fascinates me about this one is when it is set: 1912. It opens with news that the Titanic has sunk and, with it, the heir to the grand estate of Downton Abbey. It can only be passed on to a male heir, of course, and the current heir, who only managed to save his estate back in the 1880s by marrying an American heiress, has only managed to produce three daughters. The choice falls to challenging the entail that guards the estate intact from male-to-male and passing the home and the whole of their fortune on to a third cousin whom he has never met and who, they learn to their horror, is common enough to actually work for a living. Horror! Brewing beneath the drama of this grand estate are burgeoning new possibilities: electricity, cars, women's rights, modern medicine, maids taking correspondence courses to become secretaries...the large serving staff that runs the home are as important to the story as the wealthy owners, all of which makes for fascinating storytelling. And of course, we "readers" know that we are only a few years away from WWI, which will change everything....

Watch the first two (of four) episodes on PBS here.

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