Last Sunday, as a burnt-orange sun began to droop against a particularly cold, hard New York skyline, and the dull ache of a dwindling weekend began to sink in, I somewhat reluctantly turned my thoughts to the evening ahead. And unexpectedly, I smiled.
Until Mad Men premieres again in April (counting down the days!), my Sunday-night blues are re-colored rose by the airing of one of my favorite guilty-pleasure TV shows: Downton Abbey. But it’s not just the Sunday-night respite of Downton that has me riveted. Nor is it the story line, or even the incredible cast of characters. Nope. It’s the eye candy — the visuals that, in my opinion, make the story.
I love the way Downton is shot: The colors are muted — soft whites, creams, grays, blacks, with the occasional pop of a jewel tone — and there’s a blur on the camera at the edges, drawing you into the world that writer Julian Fellowes has created. They deliberately focus your attention on specific details, like the beadwork on a dress, or the glint of silver candlesticks, or the sumptuousness of well-polished wood. This camerawork is not only exquisite in its own right; it also highlights details important to Downton (the home) and emphasizes the role that the estate plays in the drama — making it a living, breathing character in the story.
Now, one might reasonably ask, how exactly does beadwork bring Downton to life? I’d argue that that detail — along with other such elements — helps paint the picture of Downton as not only a wealthy estate, but as a beacon of ancient English aristocracy and of tradition, as a culture unto itself. These details not only help define that time and place (early 20th century Britain), but they also are crucial to telling the story by continually stressing the difference between the old and the new — the changing times affec not just the estate but the country and the world.
Much like Downton Abbey’s Sunday-night time slot, the show’s brilliant visual effects beautifully emphasize the ending of one era — and the beginning of another.