(Series 4, ep.2) I sat through this second episode of series four of Downton Abbey with a smile on my face throughout. I don’t think there’s another programme that I watch with such pure enjoyment – it really is the televisual equivalent of having a big box of choccies all to yourself.
This week, Matthew Crawley made his wishes known from beyond the grave via a letter he’d written to Mary, naming her as his sole heir. It was a lovely letter. He’d written it when they were in Scotland and she was still pregnant. “I don’t know if the baby will be a boy or a girl, but I do know it will be a baby,” he wrote. And, hence, no good at all at running Downton if he should die before he managed to write a proper will.
Everyone clapped their hands and said how wonderful it was that Mary was now partly in charge of Downton. Her father, however, thought he’d better send the note to his solicitor to get it checked out. He’d quite liked the idea of grasping the Downton reins again and stopping these smart juniors in their modernising tracks. Sadly for him, the solicitor agreed that the letter was valid, so Mary’s eyebrows are now in charge and she and Tom have already driven around the perimeter of the Downton estates Making Plans. Continue reading
(Series 4, ep.1) Downton Abbey is back, with a lot of old faces and some new ones. But the characters who are no longer there cast a long shadow over the whole episode.
We started off with a shady figure leaving some goodbye notes before stealing out like a thief in the night. As dawn broke, so did the news – Miss O’Brien had only gone and unexpectedly quit! For a good five minutes almost every character uttered a variation on the theme of, “How could she? Without any notice? What shocking behaviour!” Was this Julian Fellowes’ way of taking a pop at departing actress Siobhan Finneran?
With O’Brien’s departure, there were several vacancies – Lady Grantham was obviously in need of a lady’s maid – unthinkable that she could dress herself! Thomas was in need of a partner in crime (though there had been a rift between him and O’Brien in the last series). And Downton was lacking a single female character who smokes. I’m expecting Lady Edith to leap into this latter breach, as she’s quite getting to grips with the roaring twenties down there in London with her married boyfriend, the fast thing. Continue reading
(Series 3, ep.8) The annual House v Village cricket match was a hot topic in the final episode of the series, and who was chosen – or agreed – to play was a key indicator of who was in and who was out.
For most of the episode it looked like Thomas would be very much out. Out of Downton altogether, that is, and possibly even out of the country (India and America were mentioned at various points). But not out of the closet, because as far as most of the members of the household were concerned he was never in. This didn’t stop O’Brien from being able to whip young Jimmy into a frenzy of homophobic fury, leading him to demand that Thomas was let go without any references, otherwise he, Young Jimmy, would go to the police and tell them exactly what kind of man he was.
It was interesting that most of the other members of the household were fairly cool about Thomas’s sexuality. Even Lord Grantham, hardly a beacon of liberal thinking, was pretty comfortable with it, having spent his years at Eton apparently besieged by boys wanting to kiss him. I admit I spent the rest of the episode trying to imagine that and failing, but never mind. It was a testament to Rob James-Collier’s acting that Thomas finally became a sympathetic character – partly because we hopefully now live in more enlightened times, but largely because when things aren’t going Thomas’s way is when he shows his humanity and a grace that he lacks when he’s feeling smug and superior. Continue reading
I’m still watching Downton Abbey during the current First World War period of action, but with less joy and pleasure than the previous one. There’s a rule Qwerty once explained to me about sitcoms and soaps. To work for the viewer, the action needs to take place in one setting. Downton isn’t a quite a soap or a sitcom, but the same applies as far as I’m concerned. I can cope with the Abbey becoming a hospital for injured officers. I watch Holby and Casualty, and know full well how much fun can be had from people playing doctors and nurses.
What I’m less keen on is all the moving of action between Downton and the tiny length of ditch representing the horrors of the trenches in France. It was batty that Matthew seemed to keep popping from place to place anyway. There wasn’t either Eurotunnel or regular weekends off as far I know from my visits to the Imperial War Museum.
Actually, do you know what? I don’t like the war setting full stop. I like my Sunday evening drama to be benign and predictable, largely taking place inside a lovely house, with pretty frocks, elegant soirees, lots of subtle interplay between the characters and bags of flirting and sexual tension. I don’t want Sunday night drama to be comprise, well, too much bloody drama. I don’t want my heroes to come back from the Front with a spinal injury and no operational sexual organs. It takes all the fun out of it.
Shallow? Why yes.
The subject matter of life, injury and death during any war distresses me, as it should of course. Poetry by Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon has enormous emotional resonance. I don’t take it lightly. In fact, I think we’re a nation still scarred and traumatised by war. During the First World War, shellshock was not recognised as a mental condition until long after many men had been shot for ‘cowardice’.
This is important stuff, but I don’t watch drama to be educated. I watch to be soothed and to be distracted from thinking about everyday troubles.
And in Downton Abbey, no-one can be happy in love. Everyone and everything in this series seems to be about being thwarted. The evil scheming Mrs Vera Bates, who looks like she might be quite a laugh to get hammered with, is hellbent on destroying her tedious estranged husband’s chances of happiness with saintly Anna. Earnest Nurse Lady Sybil wants to cop off with Tom the troublemaking Irish chauffeur but can’t because of their class differences. Continue reading