Monday, June 4, 2012

An Rx for "Downton Abbey" Withdrawal

My friend and former work colleague D has recently become a fan of "Downton Abbey", having caught up on the first two series on Netflix. (Whatever were you waiting for, girlfriend?!? I knew you were going to love it!!!)

But now that she is done watching "Downton", she was looking for some recommendations of tv series with similar feel to get her through until the third series of "Downton" comes out. I gave her a few suggestions, which I thought I would share here for other people who are going through similar withdrawal pangs. (There is some definite overlap with this list and my Top Ten Costume Dramas list.) The common thread of all of these series is a fantastic ensemble cast.

[ETA: I watched each of these programs initially on dvd from Netflix. (I now own most of them.) Many of them are available on Netflix Streaming. However, if you don't have Netflix or are on a budget, most of these, if not all, can be borrowed from your local library.]

1. "Cranford" & "Return to Cranford":
Downton tie-in: Mr. Carson/Jim Carter &
Lady Mary Crawley/Michelle Dockery
These mini-series set in a small town that is slowly trying to adapt to changing times as the Industrial Revolution reaches out to their agrarian community. But the story is really all about the wonderfully strong and kind ladies of Cranford and their relationships and "adventures". Jim Carter plays Captain Brown in both series, the man in the village on whom the ladies rely for help and good judgement, while Michelle Dockery plays the strong willed heiress Erminia Whyte in the second series (which, honestly, isn't as good as the first, but it does have Tom Hiddleston in it, and I think his smile is just, GAH, amazing! Love it!! And the curls! Yes, crushing, right there.)
2. "Larkrise to Candleford":
Downton tie-in: Mr. Bates/Brendan Coyle
Americans of a "certain age", if you grew up watching "Little House on the Prairie" and loving it, I pretty much can guarantee you will enjoy "Larkrise to Candleford". The story follows young Laura Timmins as she leaves her hamlet home in Larkrise to work in the Royal Post Office in the more urbane Candleford. She matures/falls in love/makes mistakes/fixes mistakes, all the things you do growing up. Fellow members of Team Bates!® should enjoy this series, where Mr. Coyle plays Laura's loving, proud, and somewhat stubborn (remind you of anyone? Batesy!) father. A great cast of characters rounds out the populations of both Larkrise and Candleford.
3. North and South:
Downton tie-in: Mr. Bates/Brendan Coyle
This mini-series set in the Victorian industrial north of England definitely has some serious moments as it takes on the struggle of the laboring classes and the cultural disparities between life in the north and south of England. But it's the struggling love story between John Thornton (Richard Armitage) and Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe) that I love the best. Mr. Coyle brings that same warmth and strong moral fiber to his role as union leader Nicholas Higgins that he has in both "Larkrise" and "Downton", although he is a little more rough around the edges in this one. All three of these series are set in the later half of the 19th century.

4. Island at War
Downton tie-in: Anna Smith/Joanne Froggatt
Moving into the 20th century, we are at war. World War II, to be precise. A great story focusing on three families living on a fictional English Channel island following the Nazi invasion.  In one of the storylines, Joanne Froggatt plays a conflicted young woman, torn between her loyalty to her country and the memory of her father, who was killed in the invasion, and her romantic interest in a thoughtful (and handsome) Luftwaffe pilot played by Laurence Fox (Gosford Park).  Philip Glenister ("Cranford") plays the fascinating German commanding officer.

5. Sense and Sensibility
Downton tie-in: Matthew Crawley/Dan Stevens
A very good interpretation of the Jane Austen novel, (although I am partial to the Ang Lee version with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet.)  Dan Stevens plays the lovely Mr. Edward Ferrars, with whom our heroine, Elinor Dashwood, has fallen, sensibly, in love. And because in this day and age, you can't have an Austen dramatic interpretation without a wet white shirt scene for the hero, one of those has been written into this adaptation!

6. Wives and Daughters
Downton tie-in: Isobel Crawley/Penelope Wilton &
Sir Richard Carlisle/Iain Glen
IMDB has a fantastic description of this miniseries: "The daughter of a country doctor copes with an unwanted stepmother, an impetuous stepsister, burdensome secrets, the town gossips, and the tug on her own heartstrings for a man who thinks of her only as a friend." This is SO good. Bring tissues. You will melt!! Penelope Wilton plays Mrs. Hamley, the kindly neighbor who is as good as a mother to the heroine while Michael Gambon (Cranford, Gosford Park) plays her husband Squire Hamley.  Iain Glen's cunning Mr. Preston is rather reminiscent of his Downton Abbey character!

7. Daniel Deronda
Downton tie-in: Lord Grantham/Hugh Bonneville
Again from IMDB: "It is across the roulette table that Gwendolen Harleth first locks eyes with the enigmatic Daniel Deronda. Gwendolen is beautiful, vivacious, and a gambler, but desperate for financial security; something that possessive Henleigh Grandcourt would be able to provide for her. Daniel is the adopted son of an aristocratic, but doubtful of his own identity. He pours his energy into selflessly helping his friends, including poor Jewish singer Mirah Lapidoth. As Gwendolen's situation becomes dire, and Daniel seeks to uncover the mystery surrounding his own birth, their lives become intertwined." The role of Henleigh Grandcourt is about as far away from Lord Grantham as you can get for Hugh Bonneville. He is EVIL!! (But kind of hot in his evilness.) You be the judge.

8. Lost in Austen
Downton tie-in: Lord Grantham/Hugh Bonneville
This miniseries is really sort of wonderful, provided you aren't overserious about your Jane Austen. Pride & Prejudice fangirl #1 Amanda Price trades places with her favorite fictional heroine of all time while Lizzy Bennet tries her hand in 21st century London. But despite knowing the whole of Pride & Prejudice by heart, Amanda isn't QUITE ready for the 19th century, the haughty Mr. Darcy, the scheming Mr. Wickham, or the delightful Bennet family. Hugh Bonneville plays the patriarch Mr. Claude Bennet with the same kindness and charm that he has in Downton. Yes, it is cheesy, but it is fun. And Guy Henry is the SKEEVIEST Mr. Collins ever.

9. The Forsyte Saga
Downton tie-in: same pre- and post-WWI time period in England
There haven't been any major cast overlaps in "The Forsyte Saga" and "Downton Abbey" as yet, but I really think that anyone who is a fan of the complex characters of "Downton" will appreciate the story of the Forsytes: money, class, and morals at the end of the Victorian era/start of the Edwardian era. (The costumes are even more elegant and intricate than Downton. Stunning!) These guys definitely know how to bring on the drama.  You are going to want to have a hanky handy in certain parts, and there are some characters that you are going to love to hate, just like Thomas and O'Brien. (Well, not in quite the same way as Thomas and O'Brien, but trust me, there are some nasty pieces of work in this miniseries, WONDERFULLY nasty!)

10. Gosford Park
Downton tie-in: Lady Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham/Dame Maggie Smith & Julian Fellowes, writer
 Julian Fellowes' first attempt to capture equally the lives of those both above and below stairs won him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. This is a murder mystery/social commentary, set in a country manor house in the 1920s, complete with an all star cast of the best of Britain and directed by Robert Altman. What's not to love!?! The fact that it has to end!! Maggie Smith gives a performance that is clearly a rough draft of her character in "Downton Abbey". There will be a lot of recognizable faces in this cast for any fan of BBC dramas (a good number of them will be in the dramas mentioned above.)

So this has been long in coming, but here are my suggestions for how to get through the remaining months until we get to see the third series of "Downton Abbey".  Brew yourself a pot of tea, bake yourself up some scones, and tune into these programs to try to reclaim the enjoyment you felt earlier this year!

ETA (8/27/2013): This post has now had over 12,000 views since I first posted this back in June 2012. It is great to know that so many people are into Downton Abbey and are looking for more shows like it!! (Hopefully, American TV people will get the hint!)

Comments are still open on this post so please feel free to share your own recommendations for additional ways of getting through the withdrawal. Please also check out my blog entries where I list my top 10 mystery series recommendations and my top 10 costume drama recommendations!


  1. This are great recommendations ...Wives and Duaghter brought me to Downton Netflix suggestions!

    1. Thanks, Michael. I have seen all of these on Netflix and a good number of them are on Netflix Streaming.

    2. I've heard that Upstairs Downstairs is also similar/good

    3. Anon- I was thinking about including "Upstairs/Downstairs" on this list, but as I haven't seen the original series from the 1970s yet (it's in my queue), I was uncomfortable vouching for the show. (Although I understand from others that it is very good.)

      I have seen the first of the newer series, and honestly, I didn't care for it nearly as much as "Downton".

  2. I love when I spot Downton people in other miniseries. I haven't seen a few of these so I'll have to check them out.

  3. A nicely done 1997 British show "The Grand" is streaming on Netflix. Stephen Moyer from True Blood plays the fortunate son living "upstairs" Worth a watch for Downton fans.

    1. Ooh, thanks for that recommendation. I have had that show recommended to me by Netflix in the past, but I wasn't convinced. I will add it to my queue. (Plus it has the lovely Susan Hampshire!)

    2. The Grand was great...and surprisingly risqué at times! (in a good way)

  4. Ahhh. I have already tapped most of these resources from my dvd collection, but there are a few new titles on here that I will have to find. Thanks so much!

  5. Melanie, my husband just found a good film that sort of helps fill the gap: The Scapegoat with Eileen Atkins and Matthew Rhys. Have you seen it?

    1. No, I haven't! I will have to check it out: LOVE Eileen Atkins!!



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