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The tremendously popular British series Downton Abbey portrays the social impact of World War I, but the biggest battle being waged right now is between critics and defenders of the show in the British media.
One reviewer in the Telegraph said the show’s second season plotlines are “bonkers” and accused the new Downton of being nothing more than a high-class soap opera, while the Daily Mail wrote that the series zips along at “supersonic” speeds so fast it makes you feel “half the story is missing.”
Downton Abbey’s executive producer answered the criticism by pointing to the show’s immense popularity. In an interview with the Mirror, Gareth Neame said the second series is watched by even more viewers than the first.
“It has become one of the most talked-about dramas in a generation,” he said. “The narrative unfolds with speed and energy. Given that ratings are high and a much wider audience enjoy Downton Abbey than previous period dramas, it would suggest that people are enjoying the pace of the show.”
As for the soap opera accusation, Neame said that the show’s multi-faceted approach to a large number of characters suggests the comparison, but he argues that it’s constructed in very different style.
“First and foremost,” he said, “it is a period costume drama that is filmed very much in a contemporary style, which I hope adds to its appeal.”
Such a response is unlikely to convince the Telegraph’s Glenda Cooper, though. She writes that she used to “avidly follow the triumphs and tragedies of the aristocratic Crawley family through a haze of tears.”
“The problem,” she says, “is that my Downton tears are now usually the result of hysterical laughter.”
The same would appear to be true for the Mail’s Jan Moir, who says “the gaffes and inconsistencies are becoming impossible to ignore. Very little makes sense.”
Yet both Moir and Cooper still find lots to like in the show. “Some elements remain fabulous,” writes Cooper, while Moir says “Downton is still unmissable and pretty darned wonderful.”
The second series, which began airing last month in the UK, covers the years from 1916 to 1919 in eight episodes. It will air in the U.S. in January on PBS.