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Downton Abbey: Life above and below stairs

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The fifth series of the popular period drama Downton Abbey has just started in the UK, but why does it attract so many viewers?

Period dramas are films or television programmes that take place in a particular historical setting, and attempt to recreate the time period through careful choice of costume, location and language. They can be an excellent way of showing us what is was like to live in the past. Downton Abbey takes place in a large manor house in a fictional village in the 1910s and 1920s, and tells the story of the wealthy Crawley family who live 'above stairs' and their many servants who work for them 'below stairs'. Historical events such as the First World War and the sinking of the Titanic are included in the story to represent the important events at the time.

The Crawley family is led by Lord Grantham and his American wife Cora who have three daughters, Mary, Edith and Sybil. They are often visited by Lord Grantham's sharp-tongued mother who is played by Maggie Smith, who you may recognise as Professor McGonagall from the Harry Potter films.

Below stairs the cast of servants includes the cook, the housekeeper and the butler, who is in charge of all of the other maids and servants who do the cleaning and cooking in the large house. Although the programme depicts the many dramas and romances of these characters that live above and below stairs, it is the friendly relationship between the family and their servants that appeals to many viewers.

Because Downton Abbey takes place over a large time-frame, viewers can also see how new technology, inventions and fashions affect the characters. They must adapt to the introduction of jazz music, shorter dresses, and even an electric whisk in the kitchen!

The programme has also been very successful in the USA, as it portrays an entirely different world and lifestyle to today. Not many people are used to having someone serve them food and help them get dressed in the morning! Many people also like the authentic costumes and beautiful settings, as they provide an accurate image of what Britain was like at that time. Very observant viewers however sometimes notice when modern day items are accidentally visible in a scene, for example a television aerial on a roof, or a plastic water bottle left on a mantelpiece which left the creators of the programme very embarrassed!

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Have you ever watched a period drama? Do you think they can teach us about what it was like to live in the past? 


Harabeli Supersweet's picture
Harabeli Supersweet 5 October, 2014 - 10:58

Yes, I have watched "Downton Abbey". I love that drama, the history, the characters, the costumes, the colours, their British accent, everything! But the fifth series haven't started yet in my country!
I think that period dramas can teach us a lot of things about history and life in different periods of time. They can show us some things that history books can't describe!

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shani092's picture
shani092 2 October, 2014 - 09:01

I love this show. As living in a place where there is no TV, I used to watch Downton Abbey on internet :). it bring me to old Briton But i am not sure about the accuracy of the show. BUT i still love it.

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MatthewB's picture
MatthewB 24 January, 2015 - 18:21

The Internet is a great way to watch foreign television programme - living abroad at the moment, it's so nice to be able to put on a favourite episode of an English programme to remind me of home!

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