The 2011 season of PBS Masterpiece Classic kicked off with the ensemble cast of Downton Abbey. The setting is an English estate in 1912. When the earl's cousin dies in the sinking of the Titanic, he is left without an immediate heir. Legally, the mansion, land, money, etc. are entailed along the family's male line. The earl's daughters cannot inherit.
This predicament sets up the romantic storyline of the series. The earl's eldest daughter, Lady Mary, is influenced by her grandmother (the great Maggie Smith) and her mother to pursue the accidental new heir - the earl's third cousin, Matthew. For Masterpiece fans, Matthew is played by the actor who portrayed Edward Ferrars in the 2008 version of Sense & Sensibility. However, the two don't even want to consider the possibility of marrying each other. Matthew is a lawyer from a lower class who wants to continue working, even though he will one day be the master of Downton Abbey. Lady Mary is a pampered young woman who cares more for titles and proper etiquette than the feelings of others.
The cast standouts are the numerous actors who make up the estate's servants. The little chimney sweep girl provides humor. The lame valet struggling to hold onto his job provides heart. The malicious footman striving to move up in the ranks provides intrigue.
I'm looking forward to week 2's episode - this Sunday, 9 p.m., PBS.
For a live Twitter party while watching the show, go to http://twitter.com/Austenprose with the hashtag #DowntonPBS - to discuss while watching.