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Downton Abbey



Absorbing costume series is perfect watch-together fare.
Parents recommendPopular with kids
  • Network: PBS
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2010

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Bonds of family and friendship are tested repeatedly but generally stand strong; when push comes to shove, most characters have one another's back. Loyalty to Downton and its residents is strong. Themes include -- on one hand -- adultery, betrayal, manipulation, and revenge and -- on the other -- dealing with the inevitability of change, broadening your perspective/options, and learning to embrace new ideas.

Positive role models

Characters are humanly flawed but most are well meaning; most change over time, mellowing and/or becoming more open minded. Lord Grantham may resist change, but he's a good father and a good caretaker of his estate/staff. Cora will do anything to protect her daughters. Sisters Mary and Edith are horrible to each other, and both do what they can to sabotage each other's happiness (especially in early seasons). Sybil goes behind her father's back to participate in her forward-thinking political causes. Most of the servants take pride in their work and the family they work for, except for a few who work hard to cause chaos and pit their employers against each other.


A brief, unpleasant scene on the operating table -- fluid is pumped out of a man's heart. Another man's leg is shown covered in sores. A corpse lies in a bed and is dragged down a hallway. A couple of fist fights -- blood is drawn after one. A pregnant woman takes a fall and loses her baby (nothing is shown). The second season focuses more on World War I; some scenes take place in the trenches with active bombing, some injuries, and lots of tension -- as well as the aftermath (recovering from wounds, etc.). Some very sad deaths.


Passionate, clothed kissing on a bed leads to implied sex. Additional kissing between both opposite-sex and (rarely) same-sex couples. A footman and a duke talk about their secret affair, and the same footman makes advances toward another man and is rejected. Big drama occurs when a soldier finds out his injury will prevent him from having children. Some innuendo. An unmarried couple sneaks away for a secret tryst; birth control comes into play.


Infrequent. One sister calls another a slut; a couple of uses of the word "bitch."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Servants smoke cigarettes often, and lords and dukes smoke cigars (accurate for the time period). Wine and spirits are served with dinner and after. A footman steals wine. Occasional drunkenness.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that there are plenty of adult themes in this popular BBC series -- sex, scandal, and cover up; sexual assault; thievery; blackmail; sudden death -- but all are handled in very buttoned-up Edwardian English fashion. When an unmarried woman sleeps with a male visitor, both are still completely clothed when the camera cuts away. Both opposite-sex and same-sex couples kiss. There are some sad and/or tense moments (a corpse is dragged down a hallway, a medical procedure is shown in detail, a woman dies in childbirth, a beloved character is raped), but overall Downton Abbey offers the typical costume drama experience, complete with backstabbing sisters (they can be really cruel), out-of-touch but usually well-meaning upper-class characters, and a few scheming servants amidst an otherwise loyal and steadfast house staff.

What's the story?

Beginning the day after the sinking of the Titanic and passing through World War I and beyond, this BBC series encompasses the drama of one upper-class English family, the sprawling Downton Abbey where they live, and the servants who maintain it. Lord (Hugh Bonneville) and Lady (Elizabeth McGovern) Grantham have three daughters -- Mary (Michelle Dockery), Edith (Laura Carmichael), and Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay) -- and a big problem when the cousin set to inherit Downton (and marry Mary) goes down with the Titanic. That leaves third cousin Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) -- a lawyer who's not accustomed to dressing in a tux for every dinner. When he arrives, he's sneered at by the Dowager Countess (the always-amazing Maggie Smith) but is eventually accepted as the estate's only hope. He may be Mary's as well. Downstairs, the loyal staff includes Carson the butler (Jim Carter) and ladies' maid Anna (Joanne Froggatt). But not all is sunny and loyal downstairs. Thomas (Rob James-Collier) the footman is always scheming and the new socialist chauffeur, Tom, is more than happy to drive Lady Sybil to all of her forward-thinking political causes.

Is it any good?


For fans of costume dramas, this Masterpiece Classic series (originally broadcast on the BBC in England) is a complete delight, even if it sometimes veers into melodrama. Attention to detail really draws viewers into the time period -- there's the sprawling estate, the classic cars, the first telephone, the newspapers ironed every morning, etc.. But of course it's the dresses and hats that really steal the show.

Interwoven stories are compelling both upstairs and down, and all the acting is good and occasionally superb -- Smith's sneering Dowager Countess takes relaying gossip to an art form. And sisters Mary and Edith really know how to torment each other. But for some viewers, the petty fighting and gossip might get a little tiresome, leaving characters like Mary harder to root for and the motivations of some, like the always-scheming Thomas the footman, a little hard to understand. But the lack of reflection and redemption doesn't make the series any less compelling.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Downton Abbey's time period. How were things changing for England and the world when the show first began? How did technology change life for both the upper and servant classes? How do the times change as the show goes on?

  • How could you find out more about the historical events that the series refers to/takes part in? How accurate do you think the show is, from a historical perspective?

  • What makes a show like this so appealing? Is it the characters? The setting? Do you think there's infinite potential in a series like this, or can the stories eventually run their course?

TV details

Premiere date:September 26, 2010
Cast:Elizabeth McGovern, Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith
TV rating:TV-PG
Awards:Emmy, Golden Globe

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Adult Written byKKoff March 3, 2011

Could have used a heads up . . .

This really is a gorgeous period drama with all the twists and scheming you'd expect. The story is incredibly engaging and is beautifully cast. However, after reading Common Sense Media's review on Netflix, I felt comfortable with my young teenage siblings watching it with me but was very startled when the duke and footman do more than just "talk about their affair" (all that was stated in the review). There is a lengthy kiss between them. I'm very surprised that this normally conservative review site, one that I often count on to help guide media choices in our family, left out that information since many parents would either like to avoid such a scene altogether or would like to discuss it with their teenagers beforehand. I truly feel like you've let me down.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Parent of a 6, 10, 12, and 17 year old Written byLiving Aloha January 12, 2014

Not really appropriate for my family, but maybe yours will enjoy it.

I have to be honest in saying I only saw the first episode, which was going great until the last 5 minutes. I don't understand why they needed to throw in a homosexual kiss/relationship to tickle our fancy! There were no other kissing scenes until this final one. It just seems like sensationalism to sell a product that would have been great without it! I really don't want my early teens watching this, and actually it makes me very uncomfortable myself. My children tend to get embarrassed with ALL kissing scenes, let alone this type. I would have to say I WAS looking forward to watching this series because of the positive hype surrounding it, but I feel that I need to make a stand for what I believe to be "not appropriate" material and will not be watching it. This may seem a bit prudish, but I just would like to see television improve and I don't think this will happen until people stop watching what they feel is inappropriate. I respect others opposing views, but this is just my own opinion.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Parent Written bydad with teen February 17, 2012

Yes - CommonSense has let us down here...

I agree with KKoff. Apparently two males passionately kissing is so normal as to not rate a mention on your site! Well not in my world, and not for young children or even teens. This is a brilliant quality series, but there is certainly plently of overt and implied sexual behaviour that will need explaining to children - Including the main plot line of a lady of the house sleeping with a guest (series 1), an overt homosexual encounter (series 1) and the lord of the house having an affair (series 2).
What other families should know
Too much sex


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