Tag Archives: Bates

Downton Abbey Christmas Special – A Review

Downton Abbey has upped its game, thank God. Fellowes must have been reading my blog after all, then. I’ve long suspected it. The crafty fellow(es). One wonders where else those nocturnal prowlings take him…

The latest instalment of Downton Abbey proved the age old dictum that there are no problems that can confront fictional characters, which cannot be solved with an extra length special episode. It was neat, it was smart (in places) – everything was wrapped up nicely with a pretty little ribbon tied on top. But there was still a sense that something wasn’t quite right, wasn’t there? Perhaps it was too clean. I don’t know.

Let’s start with what went right because, insignificant gripes aside, there is no doubting that the DA Christmas special was immensely superior to the smoking disaster that was the second series.

I think a major reason for the return to form was the abandonment of ridiculous and unimaginative story lines. Branson and Sybil did not feature, and were mentioned only in passing, and there was no more nonsense from Lord Grantham, although where Fellowes decides to go on that score is far from clear. Indeed even Bates and Anna did not turn my stomach as they used too, probably because their circumstances finally warranted their pathetic, simpering exchanges. I even caught myself almost feeling sorry for Bates – the poor fellow, never really a happy-go-lucky sort of guy, found guilty by evidence so circumstantial it makes the Jeremy Kyle show look fair. I suppose we can look forward to a third series dominated by a monotonous struggle for justice. But that’s tomorrow. Today I was pleasantly surprised.

In some ways it was as if the entire second season had never taken place. I cannot stress how important that is. We must all try to put the nightmare behind us, once and for all. Matthew and Mary, who for reasons beyond my comprehension could not be together when last we saw them, decided all of a sudden that they could. Buoyed by festive cheer, they threw caution to the winds and set sail across the face of the deep into each others arms. May Poseidon bless their voyage. At least there’s some good news for the future. One can’t help but feel a tad sorry for the ex-Mr. Mary to be (name escapes me). Fair enough he threatened her and all that, and he revealed himself to be something of a cad with some of his dark mutterings regarding the servants, but the poor bloke was pretty screwed over in the end. Oh and his fight with Matthew was hilarious. It could have been a scene straight out of Eastenders.

Romances aside, Miss. O’Brien continued her slow but steady trudge towards redemption and Thomas reverted to his usual capers. In general the episode had glimpses of that old Downton Abbey feel about it, but I can’t help but think that the beautiful magic of the show has been shattered, at least for me. It was good, but it was not that good. That being said, there is nothing wrong with good, and I look forward to more of the same.

One final thing to mention – the woefully unsubtle random asides, made by the characters in an uncomfortable attempt to reflect the ways of the time.  ‘Curiouser and curiouser,’ Lord Grantham espouses, apparently for no reason other than to inform us that Fellowes is aware that Alice and Wonderland might have been read, and indeed quoted, by the upper class in the early C20th. Little details like that can do wonders for the weight of a historical show, but they do need to pass almost unnoticed, or else they might seem clumsy and designed, rather than organic. And that, my dears, is bad.

PS: If it felt awkward watching the family playing Charades, at least Fellowes and co had done their research. If you are interested, Charades dates back to 16th century France – a time when the French made parlour games famous. I suppose we had to let them have something after Agincourt…

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Downton Abbey Series 2, Episode 4 – A review

It has taken four episodes but finally the award winning Downton Abbey is back to its best. I think the overwhelming averageness of the new series’ first three instalments best goes unsaid. I don’t know where Fellowes was, but he wasn’t where he used to be, that’s for sure. It’s as if he had decided what would happen in episode 4 and didn’t really care how he got there. Well, we’re here now, at last.

I should note here before moving on that I shall not be explaining in this post the ins and outs of the show, but rather assuming in my audience a certain level of intelligence and culture. If you are an American, then, I can only apologise, because most of what I will be saying will be sadly beyond you. Easy now, that was only a joke. Seriously, if you haven’t heard of it, its a period drama about rich people and their servants set at the time of the First World War.

To business! In my mind, the problem with episodes 1-3 was that they tried to do too much. With half an hour breaks every three minutes there is not enough screen time to give everybody their due. This is something that Fellowes realised in series one, but until now, he has tried in series two to deal with far too many threads. Take Edith and her farm boy, for example. What on earth was that about?

This episode was back to basics – it focused on what really matters – i.e. the relationship between Matthew and Marry. After all that convenient leave Matthew managed to acquire in the first three episodes (and I hope that all the men in the trenches got to see as much of their loved ones as he has done) it is perhaps unsurprising that episode 4 was the first time that we really missed him. The family’s reaction to the news was heartfelt, and when he entered the room halfway through the song; well, what a surprise! Of course they ruined it with the little duet, but there we go. They were so sweet together.

What a shame he is going to die. No – you say – there is hope! I do not think that there is. The best we might have hoped for was that the series would end with Matthew missing, probably presumed dead. But they have already used that party trick! Throw in the good luck charm, referenced again in this episode and you really have your final scene – a sad, lonely, teddy being trampled into the mud amidst the blood and the screaming. William’s dead too, by the way. He’s much to naive to live. Of course I may be wrong. God knows I hope that I am.

So that was the success story of the episode. But what else happened? Aside from the general banter that has made Downton such a wonderful success,  and the scheming of Thomas – prick – and the enigmatic Ms. O’Brien, there were two other love stories at work. I do not want to talk about Anna and Bates. This is because, and I want to make my feelings quite plain here, I do not like Bates. Actually, at the risk of being misunderstood I should say that I really hate him. I am aware of the fact that this may be controversial news. I know there are several of you Bates lovers out there. But to me he is nothing but an insufferable martyr, liable to get his melodrama on at the slightest whiff of trouble. What’s that, my wife’s back? Well there’s no point in talking to anybody, like a sensible person would do. I’d better leave right now with no explanation and a few epically dreadful lines so that, when the people who quite reasonably thought I had betrayed them realise that, in actual fact, somehow I am the good guy, they feel really bad about themselves, and come crawling back. Because that is all I want. Attention. Anna you have let yourself down, girl.

The second romance involved Sybil and Branson and this was the weakest part of the episode. It is a perfect example of what I was talking about at the start of the post. Branson is supposed to be a character you can get behind. He’s young; he’s a liberal; he’s a reactionary. Yet such is the limited screen time that he has been given that he comes across a little creepy. When he tells Sybil that he loves her and that he knows that she loves him, our first thoughts are not ‘aw’, but to the contrary that he is a maniac, because, as far as we are concerned, they have seen each other on three or four occasions. They are a minor couple – this is their lot in life – but there was nothing to stop Fellows helping his audience out by referencing some long trip to London that they went on, just the two of them, or something like that, just to make us aware that they have a story that goes beyond the camera’s lens. This little alliance fails because Fellows does not have the time or the desire to make it real.

Hang on a minute – the shrewd reader might say – earlier you spoke of the need to focus on what matters, but just now you claim that Sybil and Branson – at most a sideplot – require more time. Good God speak sense sir! Surely this is a contradiction. Well – I say to that – it is about prioritising screen time but it is also about using that screen time effectively. That is what Fellows did very well in series one. Even Matthew and Mary, arguably the driving force behind the whole show, had only a handful of scenes together, but when they did, there was a real meaning and intrigue to their exchanges. Compare with Bates and Anna, if you dare, or with Sybil and Branson and you will see what I am talking about.

Branson’s mania and Bates’ general existence aside, though, it was a thoroughly encouraging episode. Here’s hoping for more of the same next Sunday!

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