I’ll admit I’m a sucker for a good period drama. Pride & Prejudice, The Piano, The Room with a View, I love them all. And while a movie lasts only about two hours, Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey is the period drama fix that blessedly stretches from week to week. I desperately wish for more than eight episodes in a season, but it does keep viewers like me hungry for more.
Fans will be able to get their fix when season five of the British drama premieres tomorrow night on PBS. The full season has already aired overseas.
Much has changed for the Crawley family over the first four seasons, both inside and outside the family home—Downton Abbey. Class lines have becoming increasingly blurred, and the gap is beginning to close between the upper and lower classes. The once abundant staff of servants at Downton has been downsized as the family fortune gets tighter and servants seek better work opportunities.
The beginning of the fifth season sees the first Labour Party Prime Minister for England, which pleases the servants more than the family—except perhaps for Tom Branson. It’s 1924 and the world is changing quickly, and for the most part it’s the males at Downton (both upstairs and down), rather than the females, who are struggling to adjust.
As the episode opens, we learn that instead of Sweden, as proposed by Aunt Rosamund, Edith’s child is being raised by farmer Mr. Drewe and his wife. Edith can visit little Marigold but no one (including the Drewe’s) suspects why Edith has taken such an interest in the child. With still no news of what’s happened to the child’s father, Mr. Gregson, poor Edith continues to move about in a unhappy fog, which as usual, goes largely unnoticed by the rest of the family.
Isobel Crawley has a male suitor, and Dowager Countess Violet Grantham may be playing matchmaker, or not. The relationship between Crawley and the Dowager Countess has become one of my favourite storylines. The two still challenge each other, but the early friction between them has given way to a genuine friendship over time. Maggie Smith is perfectly cast as Violet Grantham and excellent writing coupled with her dry delivery means she steals many a scene.
After having Charles Blake and Tony Gillingham both vie for her affections, Mary Crawley still hasn’t come to a decision between her two suitors. Modern Mary confides to prim and proper Anna just which information may be lacking in order to make her choice.
Young and rebellious cousin Rose shocked the family by having a brief affair with a black jazz singer in season four. She seems to have settled into a new role taking on charity work, but still makes waves when she invites a feisty guest to dinner.
Robert and Cora Crawley’s anniversary generates heat in the bedrooms at Downton, both literally and figuratively, and the end of the episode will see one character exit the show.
Downstairs at Downton, Tom Barrow is still putting the heat on Ms. Baxter, threatening to reveal her secret if she doesn’t meet his demands of spying on certain staff members.
While not the most compelling season start, this episode does set the stage for a web of season plotlines and tension. I can’t help but still miss Matthew Crawley’s character. The show lacks the excitement that left when his character was killed off, but this episode plants some potentially scandalous seeds for the lives of those in the Abbey this year.