When American Anglophiles need a fix our drug of choice is Masterpiece Theatre, but the days of savoring Edwardian class hierarchies may be over. Our all-time favorite, Upstairs, Downstairs, needed Alistair Cooke to explain such delphic mysteries as titles of nobility and servants’ liveries, but the latest export gets right down to the staples of sex, greed, and murder in what the U.K.’s Telegraph called “a soap opera in starched collars.”
Welcome to Downton Abbey, which opens with the sinking of the Titanic. The cousin and heir of Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, is drowned along with the heir’s son, thus threatening the earldom with extinction. Robert has three daughters but they cannot inherit the title, nor the vast wealth that goes with it, because the property is “entailed,” i.e., it must pass in its entirety to the closest male relative. The plan had been for Robert’s eldest daughter, Lady Mary, to marry the heir’s son, become the next countess, and keep the title in the family, but now they need another bachelor Crawley.