If you aren’t a devotee of PBS’s Downton Abbey, well...it’s a new year, time to start. Each new season of the period drama has been so anticipated that last year First Lady Michelle Obama couldn’t wait for season three and was granted a rare sneak peek–along with a promise to not share a whisper with anyone else–to see it in advance of the airing.
That’s where Downton Abbey takes its viewers–into obsession, into a world apart, a world gone by, an elitist world we might rail against in real life, but which we adore on the small screen.
The series began in the U.S. on Sept. 23, 2010 as part of Masterpiece Classic on PBS. On Jan. 5 season four begins. Set in the period between the end of the Edwardian Era in 1912 and 1922, when the current season opens, Downton Abbey takes place in the fictional Yorkshire country estate and follows the lives of the Crawley family and their servants. There has been the sinking of and a death on the Titanic, the onset of World War I, the Spanish Influenza pandemic and a plethora of scandals over three seasons, including a dead foreigner in a principle’s bed.
There has also been culture clash, class drama, romance and rivalries galore.
Here are five more reasons to watch:
The incomparable beauty of the English countryside is breathtaking. Downton Abbey the place is simply spectacular. Who among us didn’t want to grow up in a "castle" with gigantic rooms and secret passageways, floor to ceiling books and of course–a ballroom. This place is exactly what we had in mind. Of course we would be above stairs, not below....
4. History, history, history.
Downtown Abbey lets you live history through the Crawley family and their friends, from the sinking of the Titanic to the first shots of World War I, which killed 9 million people and decimated an entire generation of young British men, among them aristocrats as well as commoners. The devastation of the war as well as the influenza pandemic are felt everywhere–even in Yorkshire.
3. Cora, Countess of Grantham
Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern), wife of Downton Abbey scion and patriarch, Robert Crawley, Lord Grantham, is the heart of Downton Abbey. She weathers scandals and tragedy, survives a terrible miscarriage, turns Downton Abbey into a convalescent hospital for soldiers during World War I and orchestrates her three daughters–Mary, Edith and Sybil–lives. She is remarkable, as is McGovern.
2. Lady Violet Crawley, The Dowager Countess of Grantham
One of the most wonderful characters ever on the small screen, the Dowager Countess is the cranky get-off-my-grounds matriarch of Downton Abbey, who gives the best and most withering of looks and rejoinders. Played by the inimitable Maggie Smith, who just turned 79, Violet is riveting. A typical exchange: Violet at the dinner table: "I’m so looking forward to seeing your mother again. When I’m with her I’m reminded of the virtues of the English." Matthew chimes in: "But isn’t she American?" Violet: "Exactly." Ah, yes, that’s the aristocracy we know and love....
1. Lady Mary Crawley
The eldest daughter of Cora and Robert, Mary is the romantic soul of Downton Abbey. Played with sensual grace by Michelle Dockery, Mary is linked to everyone in Downton Abbey through love, through rivalry, through loss. At the end of season three her husband had just been killed. As season four opens six months later, she is a recluse. What will become of this most lovely of our English flowers? Will she turn to one of her closest women friends for comfort? Where will Mary’s full and lovely heart lead her next?
Victoria A. Brownworth is an award-winning journalist, editor and writer. She has won the NLGJA and the Society of Professional Journalists awards, the Lambda Literary Award and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She is a regular contributor to The Advocate and SheWired, a blogger for Huffington Post and an contributing editor for Curve magazine and Lambda Literary Review. Her novella, Ordinary Mayhem, won Honorable Mention in Best Horror 2012. Her collection of vampire stories, Night Bites, has been published in several languages. Her novel, After It Happened will be published in fall 2014. @VABVOX