Downton Abbey, the acclaimed PBS Masterpiece series, has ended after six exciting seasons. The main characters all received happily ever afters: Lord and Lady Grantham, hale and hearty, parental duty done, have grandchildren in the nursery. Robert has Mary and Tom to help run the estate, and Cora has her hospital work. Mary and Henry, Edith and Bertie, and Isobel Crawley and Richard Grey have all happily married. The indomitable Dowager Countess Violet is healthy and as pithy as ever. Barrow has metamorphosed from his self-centered, angry, conniving self into a man who realizes the value of friends and ‘home’ and has earned the title Butler, while Mrs. Hughes and Carson retire on Downton property with a pension, and Anna and John Bates have a son. Fellowes has even left us with a hint that Tom Branson might find favor with Edith’s new magazine editor.
What made it a hit? The attention to period detail in fashion and costuming, in history and news, in servants and service? In the interplay of station upstairs and downstairs? The beauty of Highclere Castle and its natural surrounds?
All that, and the uniqueness of the characters and their personalities, certainly. The drama, births and deaths (and occasional resurrection… or maybe not), the interplay of fate as crafted by Fellowes and by history with these characters, surely.
Did we love Mary at her bitchy best? No, but we did love to hate her for it. Did we root for Edith to earn a happy ending through all those seasons? Yes, and were disappointed, as often happens in life. And dear Sybil. How we cried at her death, and our hearts broke knowing that Tom would have to raise their darling daughter without her.
We made it through the war to end all wars, through turning the Abbey into a hospital, went from horse and carriage to horseless carriage, watched candles give way to electricity, and telegrams to telephone. We saw the modern evolution of the kitchen–fridge, toaster, mixer, and all.
We learned that Cora was one of the golden era American princesses whose parents married them to British nobility, surrendering fortunes to gain them titles. Thankfully, for Cora and Robert, it was a love match–even if he didn’t seem to let us know it initially. But even that rang true. After all, his upper class Victorian and Edwardian upbringing didn’t allow for public displays of affection, so his coolness was appropriate. But in time, Fellowes warmed him up.
Thing is, all of this is what makes for a great novel. The depth of fully realized characters, the tension and conflict between them, their goals, and the world their occupy. Drama, Humor. Setting. Detail. Story. Story. Story.
Downton may have ended, and will remain a fond memory for many of us, but that empty Sunday night space only means an extra hour or so each week that we can lose ourselves in a really great novel.