Downton Abbey Withdrawal

Blimey! The second series of Downton Abbey is over! Now what!

If you’ve fallen in love with the English period drama like millions of others, you might be feeling a little bereft right now. The good news is that Downton Abbey will be back – filming for the third series began last week. The bad news is, it’ll probably be a year before we see it on the screen. Fill your need for costume, drama and roller-coaster romances set in the bucolic English countryside with some of the following suggestions.

You might start with re-watching Downton Abbey itself; Series 1 and Series 2 are now available on DVD. The exquisite fashions and the breathtaking Highclere House (which stands in for Downton Abbey) never get old.  Or explore the characters and settings in-depth with The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes which is filled with behind-the-scenes photos and lots of insight on how the series was filmed.

Another option is to go to the original (and still maybe the best) series about the class system of the English upper class – Upstairs, Downstairs. There are many similarities between the series which both follow the entwined lives of a rich, upper-class family and their servants. The setting here is London (as opposed to North Yorkshire) and starts a few years earlier, but you’ll find the same meticulous attention to detail,  fine acting and addictive story lines. With five seasons and over 60 episodes, you can happily wallow in repressed English drama for weeks. A recent continuation of Upstairs, Downstairs, set in the late 1930s, is interesting but somehow misses the magic formula.

For a quick hit of upper class/lower class, go to Gosford Park, a theatrical release about a weekend holiday at an English country home, set in the 1930s. Like Downton Abbey, it was written by Julian Fellowes and it also stars Dame Maggie Smith (the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey)

Manor House is a reality show that plucks ordinary, modern people from their lives and transports them to a 1906 country house to play the parts of masters and servants. This is a real eye-opener on just how privileged the upper class was and how the life of a servant was filled with hard work and not much else. Fascinating.

Finally, I’d recommend the recent production of Emma. Most of Jane Austen’s heroines are forced to live in reduced circumstances, but Emma is securely ensconced in a comfortable upper class life. While the time period is 100 years earlier than Downton Abbey and the focus is on the wealthy, you’ll still find witty dialogue, beautiful homes and idyllic countryside.