Forget Freshers’ welcome parties. We all know that the first two weeks of the academic year are dedicated to a single task: the race to watch as many television series as physically possible before the inevitable pre-deadline migration to the library.
Amidst this annual televisual binge, the Crawley family glided back onto our screens in Downton Abbey, bringing with them their usual accompaniments of social snobbery (or ‘realism’ if you’re the Dowager Countess of Grantham), awkward dinner party conversations and endless cups of tea.
Five seasons in, Downton continues to entrance the nation, with last week’s opening episode garnering 8.4 million viewers. Whilst its success may have been huge, it is also relatively easy to pinpoint just what exactly makes a programme about a bunch of toffs quite so appealing to such a great proportion of the population.
As is tradition of Downton’s continually changing time periods, the new season opens in 1924 at the dawn of a new Labour government, and a growing wave of Socialism is forcing the Crawleys and their peers to re-assess their place and value within society. Hugh Bonneville’s Lord Grantham is predictably unimpressed with the political climate, grumpily condemning the new government as being ‘committed to the destruction of people like us and everything we stand for’.
Unfortunately for Lord Grantham and his principles, the entirety of what the aristocracy stands for appears to revolve around sex, with the wonderful Anna Chancellor causing bedroom mayhem as predatory cougar Lady Anstruther. Chancellor is a prime example of another key component in the success of Downton: its impeccable casting, which promises to be even better this season, with rumours of a George Clooney cameo in the near future.
And finally, what would Downton be without its characteristic over-blown storylines? The fact that illegitimate children, blue hair and a rather underwhelming fire are all par for the course in an episode is what makes this series bizarrely brilliant, and uniquely British. So go, Freshers, and embrace the joy of the hungover period drama binge. And if in doubt, follow the advice of the Dowager Countess of Grantham: ‘principles are like prayers; noble of course, but awkward at a party’. Enjoy.
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