Tag Archives: Mary

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 8 – A review

Well at least it’s over. For now. Amongst all the descriptions playing in my head one stands out in particular – ‘what the hell’. I think that just about sums it up.

A comment on the Downton Abbey facebook page (which I am still subscribed to, being, deep down, an optimistic soul) opens with this rather unwise remark: ‘Missed last night’s final episode? The Dowager Countess will not be impressed.’ Well, say I, the Dowager Countess won’t be the only person who is not impressed. There is nothing quite as embarassing as when a show misses the point and this series of Downton Abbey has blasted straight past it. With an episode as bad as yesterday’s there is so much to say. Lest this post begin to resemble vomit on a page, with the bits and pieces of my disgust slightly curdling in the light at random points along the way, I will focus my energy on the most irritating part of the grand finale – Lord Grantham, who last night completed his magnificent fall from grace.

The first series Lord Grantham was a major reason behind my interest in the show. He struck me to be a no nonsense sort of character, who loved his wife, his daughters, his dog and his house and valued them above everything. His relationship with Cora offered stability amidst the chaos between Matthew and Mary. Also, while he was never exactly a reactionary, he did not quite conform with the stereotype of an upper class snob either. Rather he seemed to be slightly eccentric in some of his decisions and appointments (e.g. Branson) and it is fair to say that if any of the older members of the family were going to take to this whole change thing that seems to have been the theme of the second series it would be him. His firm friendship with Matthew evinced the fact that, when it came down to it, he valued integrity and not position.

Skip forward a few years and what do we have? A crazed middle-aged man, voice low and crackling, groaning to his floozy – “I want you with every fibre of my being” (or something similar) and an audience wondering where on earth it all went wrong.

I don’t even want to talk about the housemaid. As far as I’m concerned she can go to hell, and good riddance. Okay, maybe that was a bit harsh. After all, everybody makes mistakes; Fellowes did in writing the initial scene in which Grantham decides to go against everything he used to be and play away from home, and, dancing from reality to fantasy, Grantham made a mistake in actually doing it. I could probably tolerate it if it was a one off, and the tension was then about about whether or not Cora or anybody else found out. Fellowes could have just about got away with that. But it wasn’t a one off; Fellowes decided to continue down what was clearly a bad road, and in doing so he ruined the show for me.

It has been suggested to me via a comment made on a previous post that the reason I am so lairy about the developments at Downton is entirely my fault. Instead of feeling sick because of bad writing, the commenter alleged, I likely felt sick because what I was seeing was not something I wanted to see, regardless of how deftly Fellowes was going about it.

I respect this opinion, but to me it is a hollow defence. I accept that Fellowes has been building up a sense of resentment within the breast of Grantham for some time now, but it has never been something we have been able to understand. Indeed, although I can just about see that he is pretty pissed off about something, I have no idea why.

In any case the point is moot, because, given the kind of man Grantham was so skilfully presented to be, there is almost nothing short of divine intervention that would make him stray from his family. So how have we got the position where, not only has he cheated on his wife (for some reason that we are not aware of) but also that he has repeated the act and now wants another woman with every fibre of his being?

And, in a further shocking development, it seems that he can no longer be happy without the girl he has shared three scenes with, for when she decides it’s probably best she leaves (well done madam, take a bow), she asks him – ridiculously – whether he can be happy without her and he replies: “I’ve no right to be unhappy, which is almost the same.” What. The. Hell.

It’s awful, just awful. And that wasn’t his only disgrace last evening. I’m forced to say that the man I once admired is actually a dick; the way he treated Branson (thinking he could buy him off) was so hypocritical given his own situation. He has gone from being a figure of honour to a hapless fool, standing firm against the turning tide and embodying the worst of upper class mores. Even his own mother – the irrepressible Dowager Countess – has shown greater understanding of the need to evolve.

Even without the ludicrous Grantham/housemaid storyline, I think this episode was the worst of the lot because even Matthew and Mary, who had somehow in my mind remained untouched by the ruins of the show falling around them, started showing signs that they were not immune.

Now the key to Downton Abbey was always Matthew and Mary. They have loved each other since the beginning and this is something we’ve known, but somewhere along the way it’s all become a little confused. It’s down to Lavinia, and the unclear role that she has to play. From the day she was introduced it seemed obvious that Matthew loved her. But given that we know he loves Mary we wonder what exactly this means. Come on Matthew, don’t leave us in the dark here, what do you want?

Well he’s a capricious one alright, just like his once intended father-in-law. One minute it seems that he regards his feelings towards Lavinia as obligatory – that he is marrying her out of duty and not out of love (even though originally he was going to marry her out of love). The next he says there’s no point in living without her, claiming ‘I can’t be happy without you’. Um, yes you can.

I suppose you can argue that he felt he probably should say that, with her being on her (convenient) death bed and all, but the fact remains that Matthew has become an enigma, and not a good one, of the kind that a willing reader loves to crack. No. He has become enigmatic because the writing of his character has slipped dramatically from the standard at which it used to be. He loves Lavinia here because it serves the plot for him to do so (i.e. in those scenes where Mary might be thinking of rekindling something) and he loves Mary where it serves the plot elsewhere. It has never struck me that the man is genuinely torn between two competing love interests. I’m not even sure if this is what Fellowes intended, that’s how bad he’s gone about it if it is.

On top of all I’ve said already, the script, which has been terrible lately, entered a new low last night until it reached the point where every single line had me moaning softly in my little corner. ‘She died of a broken heart and we killed her’ says Matthew to Mary after the (convenient) death of his fiance. Come on! What he is even saying there? That they can’t be together because otherwise there would be no 3rd Series? Probably. What a dreadfully contrived development. “We’re cursed, you and I.” Oh be quiet Matthew. Circumstances have not – as before – conspired against you. Nothing remotely intelligent is taking place. You are being an idiot. That is all.

When a show like Downton doesn’t get it right the result is really quite terrible. You have the music in the background (that ‘dung ding, dung ding’) telling you either that you should be sad, or that you should be loving Bates and Anna, but all you want to do is laugh / throw up your spaghetti bolognese all over the television. It has forgotten what it is supposed to be and the consequences are dire.

Don’t let me get started about the ending – Bates led through the ranks like an unconquered hero – Maximus, first a general, then a gladiator, always lord of all he surveys. A dismal sight to finish a dismal series of what used to be a beautiful show.

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Downton Abbey Series 2, Episode 7 – A review

Once there was a tingling – a fretful shivering like the onset of some orgasmic thrill. Sunday night in front of Downton Abbey – a wild ecstasy of unlimited possibility. At least that’s how things used to be. My loyal readers will recall my last post on this subject as being a rather happy affair. I am afraid this post is not in the same vein at all.

I can’t be the only one thinking it; last night’s episode was rubbish. The script, in places, was truly awful; every Branson and Sybil scene was exactly the same (although to be fair this is not that surprising, given that they have been the same since the start of the series); Matthew’s great rise was so woefully dealt with that I spent much of the remainder of the episode cowering behind the sofa, unable to watch the undignified demise of a show I once held so dear in my heart.

"I have dreamed a dream but now that dream has gone from me." Morpheus, figurehead of the resistance and an ardent Downton Abbey fan, makes known his disgust with the show's direction.

The main source of my discontent was the ridiculous exchange between Lord Grantham and that random housemaid. Although deep down we all knew it was coming, I, for one, was reluctant to believe that Fellowes would actually go through with it.  After all, I muttered to myself in the shower on Saturday night, he couldn’t be that desperate, could he? Apparently he could.

Rather disturbingly I have found several sources eulogising about the fateful kiss as if it were an outstanding move on the part of Fellowes. They described him, (translating their dialogue into my own words) as a slippery genius; a mastermind whose skill for manipulation admits to no bounds. To these people, who seem to regard surprise in itself as clever writing, I say this: surprise is a good thing, nonsensical surprise is not.

The simple fact of the matter is that, as far as I am concerned, Lord Grantham is not the kind of man to take his marital responsibilities lightly. Plot should come from character, you cannot play God with your world and pair people off at your command. Making Grantham act erroneously to himself in order to cause a surprise ruins the reality of the whole thing and turns what used to be a fine programme into nothing more than a soap, best aired at 7.30pm so that it might be watched with microwaved meal on lap, instead of at a later, more dignified, hour, with hounds at feet and large glass of red wine in hand, in front of crackling fire.

Aha! – you say – haven’t you been paying attention? Lord Grantham has not been himself lately you idiot. There’s a war on, in case you hadn’t noticed, and he’s changed. Well it is difficult to argue with this, especially when Grantham himself voices a similar view, hitting his thoroughly unsuspecting wife with this little truth: “Before the war I felt my life had value, I wish to feel that again.”

So this is what I’m supposed to take as the reason for his less than honourable antics. But wait, I’m still confused. Don’t get me wrong it is an epic line, of that there’s no doubt, but I still have no idea what on earth he is talking about. Nothing I have witnessed has happened to him in order to render that statement in any way meaningful. You tell me he has changed, and I see that, but I am still unsure of why. I thought that Grantham was the kind of man who would never do anything untoward to his wife, whatever the reason, and now you say that something so drastic has happened to him that he doesn’t give a fig for any of that anymore, but plays away from home like a drunken frat boy on Spring Break. Well, all I can say is that it’s a good thing he didn’t get to fight, because if he’s capable of slipping into an existential crisis over nothing at all, imagine what might have happened to him in the mire of the trenches!

I can see why they wanted to do something with Grantham. He was getting stale – reduced, as he was, to a few remarks clearly seen by the writers as typical of his class, e.g. ‘my dear fellow” & “my good man” – but given how carefully his character has been constructed, Fellowes really needed to take the time to deconstruct him, if his interaction with his housemaid was to be convincing. Sadly he did not and so our jaws did not drop with surprise, but rather clenched with bitter disappointment.

My girlfriend asked me whether Fellowes measures his success in terms of the amount of couples he can get together. I do not know the answer to that question, but what I do know is that he has run out of ideas. I would expect an episode of this poor quality to pop up near the end of season 12, at a time when everything else has been covered. To find it in season 2 is deeply upsetting. I hope, for Fellow’s sake, he gets out now, or else I’m afraid that all his good work might be forgotten altogether. I will watch next week’s episode, of course I will, but I shall do so with a heavy heart, for I fear now that all that was good about life at Downton has been entirely lost upon the wind.


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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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