By Elizabeth Cate, Collection Development Librarian
Sedona AZ (January 10, 2014) – Were you one of the millions of viewers who tuned into the U.S. premiere of season 4 of “Downton Abbey”? The show, with its soapy plotlines, sumptuous sets and costumes, and top-notch cast, is the most popular series in the history of PBS’s “Masterpiece Theatre,” and it’s been renewed for a fifth season! If you need a dose of British period drama or fiction to tide you over between Sunday evenings, take a look at the following DVDs and books, all available at Sedona Public Library or through the Yavapai Library Network.
The Robert Altman film “Gosford Park” was the principal inspiration for “Downton Abbey.” “Downton” creator Julian Fellowes wrote the screenplay for “Gosford Park,” a murder-mystery set in an upper-class country home in 1930s Britain, and starring Maggie Smith as, not surprisingly, a witty countess.
“Lark Rise to Candleford,” adapted from the work of author Flora Thompson, provides four seasons of charming period drama. In this series, which takes place in neighboring English villages in the 1880s, you’ll recognize the actor who plays the father character—he’s a regular on “Downton.”
“Bletchley Circle” and “The Hour” are period series set in post-war Britain. In “Bletchley Circle,” four friends who were code breakers during World War II reunite several years later to solve a mystery. “The Hour” is a stylish, well-acted show about a team of BBC journalists launching a current-affairs news program.
The entertaining Dilberne Court trilogy, set in an aristocratic household in Edwardian England, offers a fast, light read. The author, Fay Weldon, was a writer for “Upstairs Downstairs,” and she explores themes and characters familiar to “Downton Abbey” enthusiasts, like class conflict, shady footmen, and coarse Americans. The novels in this trilogy are “Habit of the House,” “Long Live the King,” and “The New Countess.”
“Downton Abbey” has been a cash cow for many, including the proprietors of Highclere Castle, where much of the series is filmed. The current lady of the house, the eighth Countess of Carnarvon, has published biographies of two of her predecessors. “Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey” tells the story of the fifth countess, who like the “Downton” character Lady Cora Crawley, was an American heiress who traded her fortune for a title. The sequel, entitled “Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey,” continues the family’s colorful history. Other authors riding the “Downton” wave include long-time “Masterpiece” producer Rebecca Eaton, with “Making Masterpiece: 25 Years behind the Scenes at Masterpiece and Mystery! on PBS,” and Lucy Lethbridge, with “Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century through Modern Times.” Also of interest is the reprinted edition of “Below Stairs,” a memoir by former kitchen maid and cook Margaret Powell, about the drudgery of working in domestic service.
If you missed the original airing of “Downton Abbey,” you can check out the series on DVD. Season 4 will be released in late January.
Sedona Public Library is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, supported by donations and grants. Your tax deductible donation may be sent to: Sedona Public Library, 3250 White Bear Road, Sedona, AZ 86336.