Imperfect as it may be, Downton Abbey continues to be the only British series that has excited me to the extent that Julian Fellowes soapy Edwardian drama has. Filled with beloved characters, the Christmas installment was equally lovely but will crush anyone who has been disciplined enough to tune out spoilers.
Lord and Lady Grantham (Hugh Bonnville, Elizabeth McGovern) are preparing to holiday with the cousins of Lord Grantham in Scotland over the Christmas season. Expecting their first child, Mary (Michelle Dockery) is determined to be a part of the family’s traveling party against the objections of her husband, Matthew (Dan Stevens) who thinks his stubborn wife ought to remain behind. Along with Edith (Laura Charmichael), their Grandmother, Countess Grantham (Maggie Smith) and a small party of servants, including Anna and Bates (Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle), the group leaves by train for their journey. Upon arrival in Scotland, the Crawley’s are met again with the wild, forward-thinking Rose (Lily James) who is clashing with her mother to the point of disrupting the trip. Things become complicated when Edith again meets up with the editor who loves her but is caught in circumstances that prevent him from marrying.
Back home in England, Tom Branson (Tom Leech) is looking after the care of the estate along with the assistance of Carson (Jim Carter) and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) who also stayed behind to keep the estate running. Branson finds himself still mourning the death of his beloved wife though he is finally feeling more at ease in the family until his old doubts and awkward feelings rise again with the upset a new member of the household staff causes.
There is something “comforting” in hearing the first strains of Downton Abbey’s theme song. Before even seeing anyone, I was excited at the prospect of the world I was about to be lost to for the next ninety minutes. Then Branson and Baby Sybil appear along with the adorable antics of Mary and Matthew which sets up a terrific show. Opening a year later may seem like another mistake given how determined this series seems to be to pass by milestone moments however knowing all the tears we shed in middle of this season, it seemed appropriate to have a lapse in time. It made the difference in Tom’s character credible and allowed the audience one last moment of beautiful happiness for a character whose world is about to be upended. Settling in for the duration of this review and without further ado, here are my jumbled but fixed thoughts on the episode that put everyone in a bad mood and shook up the very foundation of Downton’s secure existence. Let me tell you, it’s a long way away from that final happy image of the family frolicking on the lawn. (That’s all I’ll say!)
When first I read about the Crawley’s holiday involving travel, I thought that it sounded like a grand time. And it was! How lovely to see them outside of their usual surroundings and meet some of their extended family. If there is a flaw in having to cover two locations (Scotland and the family home), it’d be the edits. It’s not always as smooth a transition as it should be in cutting from one place to the next. It seemed most awkward in the instances when scenes are cut that we then return to. Other than that, this installment was perfect – or the production was. The costuming is again stunning. Cora looks classy as ever, young Rose brings a new look to the fashion and then there is Edith, who looks quite snazzy and seems to be coming into her own. At least, in fashion – the reason for this may be as a result of her editor’s “fortuitous” arrival. If I may divert from the “proper review,” may I just say: Like her or not, Mary has this dude pegged exactly! Anyone with even the slightest bit of intuition would have guessed this and hooray for Matthew getting that dig in about his dress “tails.” Yes, indeed, for once, Edith, you should trust Mary: Gregson is out to “ruin” you, my dear.
Seeing Thomas and Jimmy agree to be “friends” was the low point of the series, leading up to what could be a twisted, immoral subplot that would be the series’ most blatant “icky” move yet. My fingers are crossed that it won’t as it cheapens the integrity of the show. Delights that make up for this is the adorableness of Mr. and Mrs. Bates! It’s so evident how much Bates loves his Anna but never more so than in their impromptu picnic and later, her gift to him is equally poignant. Likewise, there is a tender scene between Robert and Cora ten minutes prior to the end. It’s important to note that there is a sad ending here – what is good and well wasn’t soured for my family since we knew over a month prior to watching it so I had already had my “rant” and disappointment out of my system. Now, I am actually curious to find out what series four will bring. The theme is going to focus on one character according to Fellowes. If it is possible to be upset and satisfied by the direction a script goes in, then I definitely am! Much as I detest what we’ve gone through, the highs and lows of the emotions, this is a gem of a special kind and a program special added to a series that has already so much to praise. From a dramatic standpoint, I understand the writing. The heartbreaks could open up something that we otherwise would never have imagined and for that, I cannot be too harsh on the show. Yet.
(Parental Concerns: Minor flirtations between a married couple is present as is the implication that a married man may carry on a relationship with another woman. One character is seen bleeding out, crushed beneath a car, another takes a harsh beating. Other minor homosexual implications crop up.)