Tag Archives: DowntonAbbey

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Downton Abbey Christmas Special: The London Season

“I suppose it came to me that these balls and presentations and comings out are not aristocratic folderol, but the traditions by which members of this family mark their progress through life.” -Isobel Crawley 

This was the reason to tune in to the Christmas Special. Downton’s recreation of the Coming Out ceremony that started the aristocratic social season. This was an aristocratic tradition that ran from the 17th century until Queen Elizabeth abolished it in 1958. For us Americans, the episode was a glimpse into a world of status and wealth that never was successfully recreated here (though not for lack of trying.) It was all there–the young ladies in debutante white, the ostrich feathers, the standing on ceremony. (Though the Dowager is poked a little fun at for wanting to present Rose, the moment makes it clear that it is the older generation who have not accepted modernity who truly relish the pomp and circumstance.) George V was in the house. We only see him and Queen Mary for a moment, as they are “not admirers of the new world.” If only the Prince of Wales was so smart about keeping out of it, the whole plot of the episode could have been avoided. It may not be as obvious to an American audience, but part of the what we are supposed to know as the Granthams make all the fuss over keeping Prince of Wales’ affair with his mistress private, is that it won’t do much good in the end. For those not up on their Royal History, the Price of Wales we met this episode was the future Edward VIII. In fifteen year’s time when his father dies, he’ll abdicate the throne to marry Wallis Simpson. There’s irony in the mistress (the historically accurate Freda Dudley-Ward) calling him a faithful little chap.

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But of course, there had to be a story, and it starts with Mrs. Dudley-Ward foolishly giggling over a love letter the Prince of Wales sent her with Rose. Why exactly a mistress would be so reckless is beyond me, but I suppose the idea is that as modernity crept along and the old ways vanished, so too did the necessary discreetness in sleeping with their heir to the throne.

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Downton Abbey Series 4: A Bazaar Wrap Up

Downton likes to close their final episode of the regular series in much the same way every year–in the summer. Fellowes loves these pastoral images of green lawns and summer whites and the whole village turning out in the sunshine while smiling. The Granthams are the are shown to be hard working overseers, bring entertainment and markets to the masses in the form of the Church Bazaar, the farmers and townspeople wander around looking happy, the children have potato sack races and ice cream. Ice cream solves everything, no?

This being the end of this series, the show also decided to wrap u as many story lines as they could–such as they are. Not everything, of course. The cast were not just signed for Series Four last year, but Series Four and Five, and plenty of stories were obviously left to be resolved next fall when the show returns.

Take Edith and her pregnancy. Of course, she’s only second trimester, and magically not showing yet. But she is acting out of character, like walking out with Branson and Mary to look at the new pigs. Since when has she cared a whit for the running of Downton? No, she’s only along so she can see the new Pig Man get hired, who you all may remember a few episodes ago as “That Farmer Lord Grantham Made The Loan To.” He is ever so grateful, as is his wont. His gratefulness is taking on Grantham Problems gives Edith the grand notion to give him her baby to raise while he’s at it. After all, it’s no harder than a pig! But before she can go through with this, Rosalind shows up and Downton and then practically moves in under the pretext of helping with the Bazaar. Her suggestion–which is not a suggestion, but a fait accompli–to do the traditional thing and go abroad. Proof no one cares about Edith–Cora doesn’t even question this sudden and bizarre choice, let alone the timing, which screams “hiding a pregnancy.” At least the Dowager is not so easily fooled, or at least cares enough to notice and bankroll it. Not that Edith is happy with this, but at least goes along with not saddling the Pig man with her spawn, as this means she won’t have to tell mummy and daddy. 

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Downton Abbey Series 4: Pigs, Eggs and Toast

This week we opened with a reminder that though technology has advanced, it hasn’t advanced that much. Telegrams still rule the day for Transatlantic communication. Yet at the same time, some things have changed. The telegram arrives at the house by motorbike.

Just like that, Robert is off to New York City to bail out Cora’s brother Harold. He has gotten himself involved in an Oil scheme and now has to testify before Congress about it. (In 1922, this is most likely related to–if not actually supposed to be–the Teapot Dome scandal.) This leaves Mary to cope with Downton just as their latest investment in pigs has arrived. Blake and Napier are still living out of the house as they write their report on failing estates. Though Napier is supposedly the “sympathetic one” and Blake is the “socialist” who doesn’t care much about whether these places survive, everyone manages to talk about the estates is semi-sympathetic terms. Over and over it is emphasized that it is the refusal of the aristocrats that is causing these places to go under, rather than the changing social order. Blake himself states that it is a matter of refusing to adjust, and Napier suggests his lack of sympathy stems from his being angry with these places for not modernizing the way Downton is. All he wants is for people to modernize! it’s not class bitterness, no! Once he sees Mary is willing to modernize (and ruin an expensive dress in the mud to take care of her pigs) his whole view changes on her, and suddenly we go from just having boring Gillingham as a suitor to having Gillingham, Napier and Blake as all potential love interests. At least Blake has the benefit of being interesting.

For the record, I do believe Mary would ruin her dress for the pigs–she’s too determined to make Downton survive. I don’t believe she would know how to scramble eggs though.

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Downton Abbey Series 4: Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!

This week’s episode was all about surprises. Good, bad and scandalous.

In one of the better story lines (because everything and anything involving Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton is better) the dowager fires the gardener she only hired in the first place to shut Isobel up. Isobel is back to her old self, running, as the Dowager puts it, on indignation. She flips at the accusation, knowing that the kid being fired means he’ll probably starve on the street. “Things, things things!” she yells at the Dowager. The problem is, no one will buy the argument we should care so little about things that we hire thieves into our homes. So of course, surprise! He’s not a thief. One of the pieces turns up in a maid’s apron and the other is found by Isobel after she sneaks in to search for it. In any other case this would be much ado about nothing. With Smith vs Wilton, its delicious to watch as Isobel comes back to confront her and rehire him, only to learn the Dowager gave him his job back and asked for forgiveness already without being browbeaten into it. You could knock Isobel over with a feather. In the words of Dr. Clarkson, this is game set and match to Lady Grantham.

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Downton Abbey Series 4: Bates Goes A Little Mad Sometimes

After a mostly upstairs episode last week, it’s time for a mostly downstairs episode this.

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The main focus was the continuing drama of the Bates’ marriage. I would pity poor Bates, living all alone in their once shared cottage, but let’s be honest. He’s just getting private time to stew up a good murder. Whatever patience he had with the arrangement of Anna living upstairs is at an end, since the new Lady’s Maid for Cora–known as Baxter–has arrived. The excuse Anna had was that she was attending to both. Now she’s not, so there’s no reason for her not to move back in. (Even Mary’s noticed.) Bates is as sharp as he is deadly. He knows Mrs. Hughes knows, and he will force her to tell. Not that he’ll threaten her physically. Our Bates is far too smart for that. After all, outside of Anna, these people (for whatever foolish reason) do not understand he is a killer. His “good husband” is all an act, and the emotional blackmail on Mrs. Hughes is elegantly done. Poor Mrs Hughes, so ready to see the good in everyone, is clearly terrified when Bates learns the truth and the Killer Inside spread across his face. She’s scared enough not to even want to look at him. (As she should be! Killers will kill again! Anna knew it to be true!) She and Anna lie badly as to who the culprit is, but Bates knows it’s Green Even if it wasn’t Green, Bates would still be certain it was Green. Because Anna may have been the one raped, but, to our PsychoKiller, that rape is All About Bates. He has what he wants for now. Anna will move back in her killer husband and (to the outside world) all will be well. But do not be fooled.

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Downton Abbey Series 4: The Morning After

Last week, the Rape of Anna was so violent, so startling, so out of left field if you hadn’t read the spoilers, that I forgot to mention that there was a second rape.

Yes, there was. Tom Branson was raped.

Now, his rape was not like Anna’s. If anything, it was the more realistic of the two. Statistically, rape doesn’t happen from a stranger, or a visiting valet. Rape happens from someone you know, someone you have close contact with, someone who lives under the same roof as you. That is what happened in Tom’s case.

Now don’t give me “Branson’s a man, he can’t be raped.” Rape happens to men. We know this. We also know that the patriarchal double standard that makes women either vixens or victims and shames them for their sexuality also sets up a double standard for men. Men aren’t allowed to be vulnerable, or admit they were taken advantage of sexually. Men who are taken advantage of usually get a chuckle and a sly wink. Edna not only took advantage of him by getting him blottedly drunk and slipped into his bedroom. She also used that double standard to her advantage–no one would believe he didn’t seduce her without it being highly embarrassing for him and emasculating. (It would also destroy the relationships he building, including with Mary against Lord Grantham.) She raped and threatened him just as assuredly as Green raped Anna. No, Branson didn’t have spectacular bruises all over his face or hysterical scenes sobbing in corners. But note his behavior all through the episode–a match for Anna’s. When push came to having to trust someone with his story, he and Anna even both went to the same person: Mrs. Hughes.

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Downton Abbey Series 4: Party to a Rape

It’s been a while since we’ve seen the Granthams throw a proper House Party. I believe the last one I can remember was in series one, before the war. Back when they had three eligible daughters and enough eligible men about to foist them off on.

With Matthew’s death we’re back to having eligible daughters….but the landscape has changed some. The number of staff they travel with is down for one. As for the entertainment, no one knows exactly what one does with an Australian opera singer apparently.  “Do you fear the corrupting influence of opera?” Carson is asked. No, but the corrupting present certainly worries him, as the invisible gramophone turns up with jazz records for people to dance to.

But Lady Grantham is right, it is  good to see young men in the house again. Even if the one chasing the younger daughter is married, and one of the ones brought along for the elder daughter is only here to play poker and divest those foolish enough to play him of their money. As for those who did bring valets….Let’s just say our most eligible suitor for Lady Mary, one Lord Gillingham, brought the least eligible valet to fit in with the household.

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Downton Abbey Series 4: For All Intents and Purposes

Dan Stevens doing his best impression of David Caruso‘s career may just turn out to be the best thing that happened to Downton.

The character upon which hinged the whole of that first never to be matched again season is gone.  After all, how interesting is it to watch people live generally happily ever after? It’s not. Fellowes may have killed Matthew off in a clear fit of pique, but he’s also been handed the reset button. It’s a new show, new opening and all.

The characters haven’t changed. Mary is still dislikable. She’s this angry black wraith floating through the house, staring down those who dare to be living on in front of her. She has no interest in her child, getting dressed, or doing much of anything. Much like earlier seasons, the solution to her unhappiness is the theme of the purpose inspired life. (Surprisingly puritanical.) Sybil was unhappy until she found herself a job and a purpose. Edith was unhappy until she found a job and a purpose. Now Mary is unhappy, and as long as her father continues to insist everyone leave her packed away on a shelf in cotton wool, she’ll stay miserable. There is an effort by Branson and the Dowager to pull her back to the living. Branson even enlisted Carson to overstep the bounds of propriety and show himself to be the father Lord Grantham is not. Lady Mary doesn’t need to be babied. She needs to be told she is strong, that she can step up to a job and a purpose.

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