What a fantastic show. The first season and the Christmas special, in particular, were everything that a TV show should be, with complex, amazing, flawed and compelling female characters, emotional plotlines and costumes and sets to die for. It gripped me, it moved me to tears -- from sadness and from joy -- and it featured men and women who felt painfully, achingly real.
Unfortunately, it also had some bumps in the second season that marred an otherwise amazing show. It turned to melodrama when authentic emotion would have done the trick, and although some of the female characters remained complicated and sympathetic, and some who I had previously disliked grew into favorites, others lost their agency and became little more than plot devices. Daisy and Sibyl were both sacrificed to the plot, while the newly introduced Lavinia offered hints of greatness but ultimately became a cliche reminiscent of a young lady in a sentimental Victorian novel.
However, despite these problems, Downton Abbey has one of the greatest arrays of compelling female characters that I have ever seen on television. Set in a world of restriction and dignity, on the cusp of social upheaval, Downton Abbey is really the story of its women, who struggle and suffer in a world that is changing, but, as Lady Grantham says, not changing fast enough for them.
I have a lot of Downton-related thoughts, so expect several posts on these plots and characters over the next few weeks.