Downton Abbey: She’s so twentieth century

downton(Series 5, ep.2Downton is sometimes a bit heavy-handed about giving us historical context – for example, much of this episode was taken up by Lady Rose’s attempts to persuade Lord G to get a “wireless,” and Lord G and Carson’s objections that it would rot everyone’s brain.

Sometimes it delivers a historical lesson that just knocks me flat, and it’s often about the specific problems of being a woman in that era. This week, Lady Mary was planning her week of getting to know Lord Gillingham in a carnal sense. As I said last week, Mary is more sensible than her sister Edith, and she wanted to take steps to avoid getting pregnant. She couldn’t get anything herself, because she might be recognised, so she asked Anna to do it. “I might be recognised too!” Anna objected, but Anna has the advantage of being married to a man who is still alive. Lurking at the chemist’s until there was a female staff member to serve her and no other customers present, Anna finally obtained what was needed from a judgemental, disapproving woman who would only hand it over on the understanding that Anna had health reasons for wishing to avoid pregnancy – otherwise she thought abstinence would be enough.  

Armed with her little brown paper package, Mary set off for what was supposed to be a “sketching trip” with a female friend, but was actually a rendezvous in the most romantic city on earth (Liverpool) with Lord Gillingham. Anna was worried about how she would manage the buttons and hooks of her clothing without a lady’s maid to help. “I’ll get Tony to do it,” was Her Ladyship’s cheeky reply.

Meanwhile, I had to feel sorry for the farmer’s wife who is the adoptive mother of Lady Edith’s daughter. Taking the farmer up on his offer of spending more time with the morose-looking child, Edith declared that she would like to be in the child’s life on a more formal footing. The farmer’s wife, who is possibly just about starting to suspect that Edith has a special interest in young whatsername, spent the episode looking confused and tearful as she was sidelined in the rush to bring Edith to the front and centre of whatsername’s life.

Lady Cora thought it would be a nice hobby for Edith to have a darling foundling child to visit occasionally, though she must realise it wouldn’t do to just drop her when she got bored. Lady Cora spent the rest of the episode staring into the eyes of Richard E Grant, who’d arrived at Downton to look at some old painting they had but discovered it was much more fun to stare at the mistress of the house rather than an Old Master.

Talking of Old Masters, when Lord G wasn’t busy warning everyone that the wireless was the work of the devil (apart from when the King was presenting the show), he was stalking around the village with the war Memorial Committee trying to agree on a good place to put Downton’s erection in honour of the fallen. The Committee thought the cricket ground was the ideal spot, because it was nice and peaceful for contemplation purposes. Lord G was worried about the annual upstairs/downstairs Downton cricket tournament, and thought the war memorial should be in the centre of the village where you could have a think about the fallen on the way to buy eggs and milk. He got his way on that one.

Jimmy left at the beginning of the episode, after being found in a m’lady’s bed last week, and Thomas was there to wave him off, with a tear in his eye. Anna had one of her regular attempts to be nice to him, and Thomas had one of his temporary lapses where he seems like he’s not Horrible, just Misunderstood, then he parked a ciggie in the corner of his mouth and he was off again being nasty to Baxter and Mr Molesley.

Posted by Sue Haasler

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