Downton Abbey the movie not just for fans

At the end of every Downton TV Season, there’s a two-hour Finale. Downton Abbey the movie feels like one of those grand finish. If there’s any TV series that can move to the big screen with just a TV script, Downton Abbey will be it. The iconic Jacobean styled mansion, superb cast, beautiful costumes and set design, not to mention creator/writer Julian Fellowes’ screenplay are its assets. Nothing close to the caliber of Gosford Park (2001) which brought Fellowes a Best Writing Oscar, but this will do. Nothing deep and poignant as some of the TV episodes, but for two hours of viewing time in the theatre, there are a lot to see and savour.

Downton.jpg

Just by listening to the rhythmic rumbling bringing out the single melody line of the theme music can send vibes of excitement. The majestic aerial shots in the setting sun (or is it rising sun?) establishing the grand manor Downton Abbey’s stature on the big screen is a thrilling experience for fans. In the theatre I was in, almost full house with fans obviously, laughing out loud at all the jokes and witty lines, embracing the film with a celebratory mood. After 6 Seasons, 3 Golden Globes and another 54 wins and 219 nominations (according to IMDb) plus three years of absence, a Downton movie is something worth celebrating.

But this isn’t just for fans. For those who come to Downton the first time, they might have missed six Seasons and 52 episodes of backstory, the movie could be an appetizer whetting their appetite for the full feast that’s offered in the PBS Masterpiece series. The estate that they must have heard in recent years called Downton Abbey, possibly wondering if it’s a cloister for monks or nuns, is now magnified on the big screen with stunning establishing shots. No medieval garbs or habits but 1920’s, Gatsby-styled fashion and hairdo. Inviting cinematography both exterior and interior familiarize them with the setting, albeit fans might find watching in a theatre is more dim with the cinematic mode, less vibrant than via their home TV which they can adjust the brightness.

Those not comfortable with the priggish social system of the past (and present to be sure, and not only limited to England) can look deeper into the series for some revelatory themes. While The Crawley’s are originally contented with their status quo and privilege, and some rejecting all forms of modernity, like Violet’s complaint about the ‘blinding’ electric lights or Mr. Carson’s fear of the telephone, the Great War (1914-1918) changes everything. Lady Sybil goes into nursing to contribute to the war effort, the whole Downton is turned into a convalescent hospital for the wounded (a historic fact of Highclere Castle), heir Matthew Crawley and footman William fight side-by-side in the trenches, and later Lady Edith venturing out on her own to start a journalism career. The most significant is probably Lady Sybil marrying Tom Branson, the driver of Downton who’s on the ‘wrong’ side of politics, Irish republican. In this movie, he reiterates his stand: “You can love people you disagree with.”

Director Michael Engler picks up from Season 6 Finale and set the time to a year later, 1927. The movie starts with a reminiscence of the very first episode in the first Season with a train pulling into the station and a telegram delivered to Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville). No Titanic bad news this time but earth-shattering nonetheless, King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) will be coming to Downton Abbey  and stay for one night while on route to the Yorkshire area.

The household is in warp speed mode preparing for the royal visit in just two weeks. Before the arrival, the royal management team plus chef come to set up their commanding post, brushing away the Downton stalwarts downstairs. A coup is planned subsequently to offset such an invasion. Thus the movie diverge from its realist styling to a bit of a comedic/fantasy mode. That storyline lasts for the first hour. Then the subplots begin, allowing more interesting development.

Why Downton hasn’t lost its appeal through the years is highly due to the characters and how the actors slip into their skin so perfectly. Every character has his/her own back story, idiosyncrasy, viewpoint, and despite the class system that seems to segregate upstairs from downstairs, they are relatively free individuals who can and usually speak their minds. Take Daisy (Sophie McShera), for example, a kitchen maid, expresses her view against royalties, while Tom (Allen Leech), despite his stance for a republic Ireland, chooses to support his father-in-law Lord Grantham nonetheless. Just reflects the complexity of each individual character, a key asset of the TV series which a two-hour movie is impossible to delve into.

Thanks to scribe Fellowes, there are more duels of dialogues between Dowager Countess Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) and Isobel Merton (Penelope Wilton), two darlings of opposing views. Here are some samples from the movie:

(Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen the movie, you might want to skip these lines so you can experience them first hand.)

______________________

When talking about the coming royal visit, Violet and Isobel have the following exchange.

Violet:  Will you have enough clichés to get you through the visit?
Isabel:  If not, I’ll come to you. (Not missing a beat.)

Or here, as the family talk about a relative who’ll be coming with the royalties:

Isobel:  You’re plotting something. I see a Machiavellian look in your eye.
Violet:  Machiavelli is frequently underrated. He had many qualities.
Isobel:  So did Caligula — not all of them charming.

_________________________

As with the finale of the last Downton Season, we see romantic pairings and the movie picks up where it left off.  Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Bertie (Harry Hadden-Paton) are happily married, so are Isobel and Lord Merton (Douglas Reith); Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and John Bates (Brendan Coyle) finally living in bliss, Tom meets a comparable mate, and that dancing scene outdoor with the two of them in silhouette is nicely shot. Downstairs Andy (Michael Fox) makes his intention known to Daisy, and Barrow (Robert James-Collier) finds a friend. While Molesley (Kevin Doyle) isn’t seen with Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy), he has the time of his life serving the King and Queen.

New members to the cast include Imelda Staunton (spouse of real-life Mr. Carson, Jim Carter) as the Queen’s lady-in-waiting Lady Bagshaw and Tuppence Middleton playing her maid Lucy Smith, a pleasant addition and a character with some significance. The short vignettes of Princess Mary’s (Kate Phillips) unhappy marriage to Henry Lascelles (Andrew Havill) has historic basis and it’s side stories like these that make the movie more interesting. Surprisingly, Tom Branson is the thread that weaves these characters together, and saves the day too.

An important conversation between Violet and granddaughter Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) towards the end may have dropped a hint for the future. And what of Mary’s new hubby Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode)? He appears like a flash and cameo. I just wonder if Dan Stevens (Mary’s first love Matthew Crawley) ever regretted leaving Downton so soon.

Beautifully shot, classy costumes, and as always, top performance from a great cast, while not delving into deeper stories, the movie overall can satisfy fans’ longing and make a good introduction to pique the interest of first timers, hopefully prodding them to binge on the full-fledged episodes.

 

~ ~ ~ Ripples

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I’ve a write-up for every episode beginning with Season 3 of Downton Abbey here on Ripple. The following post has the links to all of them plus some other related topics:

Quotable Quotes from Downton Abbey

 

Serendipity on Route 7

My drive continued south from Bennington, Vermont, via RT 7 to Williamstown, Massachusetts. There I stayed for the night. I knew Williams College was located there. But while exploring the town, I came to this building and saw the huge banner. Upon further investigation, I was excited to discover the campus of Shakespeare & Company:

The Miller BldgDSC_0337 (1)Later I found out that the actor Christopher Reeve met his future wife Dana in Williamstown where they later married. Reeve began as an apprentice at age 15 with the Wiliamstown Theater Festival right in those venues and eventually performed there for fourteen more seasons.

I had the chance to talk to a woman who was working on the grounds and learned that, lo and behold, she was born in Alberta, Canada, my home province! Imagine a chance encounter with an Alberta born American thousands of miles away.

The Berkshires region is beautiful and cultural. I made a mental note to come back to Williamstown for its annual Theater Festival.

My original plan was just to drive south on RT 7 from Williamstown to Lenox to see the Edith Wharton House at The Mount, when another serendipitous find came upon me: Tanglewood Music Center. So here I was at the famous summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra on my way to Edith Wharton House.

The Koussevitzky Music Shed was named after the Russian-born conductor, composer and double-bassist, long-time music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1924 to 1949:

TanglewoodI lingered at Tanglewood for quite some time, for the grounds were beautiful and offered magnificent views. Another mental note: I must come back for the Tanglewood Festival in the summer. :

viewAcross the road from Tanglewood, fall foliage began to emerge. That was October 7. I can imagine how beautiful it is now:

across from TanglewoodAnd finally, to The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home from 1902 – 1911. I knew she was a prolific novelist and short-story writer, the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize (The Age of Innocence, 1921); later I learned too that she had been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature three times.

So I was a little surprised to find out from the tour guide at The Mount that she was also a house and landscape designer in her own right. Her book The Decoration of Houses is still used today by architects and designers.

Built as a writers retreat, The Mount reflects Wharton’s fondness of symmetry:

SymmetryWhat happened to the left side of the building? That makes it not symmetrical, you might ask. That’s the servants quarter which Wharton was willing to compromise her design principle.

Here’s another view why it’s called The Mount:

The MountI took a tour of both the inside as well as her gardens. Here’s one wall of her library:

One wallWell read in several languages since she was young, Wharton left these books behind  when she moved away to live in Paris the latter part of her life after the demise of her marriage. Her husband Edward had fallen into a state of dementia after lengthy bouts of depression and mental illness. The writer’s years at The Mount had not been as happy as its surroundings could offer her.

The Drawing Room:

The Drawing RoomDining Room, where Henry James was one of several usual guests:

Dining RoomBut where did she write? Not in the library, or at the desk in her room, but right in her bed. She had an assistant who would take her handwritten pages and type them up after her six hours of continuous writing every morning before she got out of bed. I’m sure Wharton would love to have a laptop:

Writing bed (1)And these other items I found interesting. Downton images conjured up in my mind. Typewriter, telephone, telegram:

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An original 1902 ice box, Daisy would love it but maybe not Mrs. Patmore. Give her some time to warm up:

Ice Box
A luggage lift. Definitely would be a fave among the footmen:

Luggage lift

And only after the tour did I find out, The Mount had given a Life Time Achievement Award to Julian Fellowes. The Downton creator had attributed Wharton as a major influence on his works, first Gosford Park (Oscar Best Original Screenplay, 2002) and then Downton Abbey. Speaking upon receiving the Award at the Harvard Club, Fellowes noted that he was particularly inspired by Wharton’s “… ability to judge without feeling the need to condemn.”

I bought the book The Custom of the Country in the gift shop and only just now did I learn that it is being adapted into a TV mini-series, with Scarlett Johansson playing the anti-heroine, Undine Spragg. This will mark Johansson’s first TV role.

As for Julian Fellowes’ new work? I eagerly await. After visiting The Mount, I can see what a natural shift it is for him to create an American version of Downton. The Gilded Age should be a smooth sequel.

From Lenox, I began the last leg of my New England Road Trip. I headed east on I90, a breezy 2.5 hrs. drive back to Wayland, the suburb outside Boston, thus completing the loop and a memorable journey. An item checked off my bucket list.

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Follow my New England series:

Another Year, Another Downton: Season 5 Finale

For the past five years, Downton Abbey kicks off the new year for us North American viewers. For nine Sunday evenings in January and February, I’ve been prodded to get back home in time, or simply stay home so not to miss a Downton episode. Now that I can record the series on my HDTV, I can freely watch The Oscars without dilemma.

Last night’s Finale “A Moorland Holiday” has finally picked up rhythm and grabbed my attention for a too short 1.5 hours.

The time is Autumn of 1924. Rose’s father-in-law, Lord Sinderby, has rented the beautiful Brancaster Castle in Northumberland and invited the Crawley family to a grouse shooting party, a marvellous setting to end the Season. But why would the grumpy and disagreeable in-law want to do that? Probably because every Finale ends with an outing, the best setting for turns in the road, and we’re treated to an exciting ride. It is also the annual Christmas episode for the UK viewers, so we can see how that blessed Festival can join hearts in the Finale.

Last night’s extended Episode has once again confirmed why this annual major TV event is worth all the wait and staying in on Sunday evenings. Why don’t I just buy the DVD’s so not be constrained? No, watching Downton one week at a time together with all the millions of PBS viewers makes this Finale all the more gratifying.

This Episode has redeemed itself from a relatively uneventful Season, which begs the question, why didn’t Mr. Fellowes unleash his ingenuity more often instead of having us wait eight weeks to arrive at this gratifying end? No matter, we are a patient lot. Let’s face it, the Finale is well worth the wait; it rewards us with justifiable twists and turns, ties up all loose ends and gives us a major surprise. It has once again recharged my enthusiasm for the show and even moved me to tears at the rare spot.

If every episode this Season was as rich and juicy as the Finale, Downton could have easily doubled its weekly viewers.

Downton S5 Finale

Kudos to director Minkie Spiro who has brought to life Julian Fellowes’ dense and captivating script. She has woven multiple story lines simultaneously, delivered the tensions, characters and conflicts at a flowing pace seamlessly without missing a beat. Both Fellowes and Spiro understand so well our collective psyche, that we in our hearts yearn for poetic justice: embarrassing the nasty, rewarding the good, reconciling the distant, and uniting the lovers… and I’m not just saying Rose and Atticus.

The father-daughter heart-to-heart in which Robert acknowledges Marigold, Edith’s child out of wedlock with Michael Gregson, is most endearing. How often do you hear a father utter these words: “I’m sure I need your forgiveness as much as you need mine.” And yes, he does have his secret of which even Cora is unaware.

Fellowes also ingeniously puts the skills and instincts of Downton’s trademark schemer, their very own Thomas Barrows to good use by letting him meet his equal in Stowell, and let them loose to wrestle and butt heads and finally to have Barrows come up on top, scoring for the visitors. The satisfying gesture is that he is winning the game for his employers and for Tom Branson, a worthy gentleman indeed, giving him his long due respect. Fellowes once again has proven that he is a master of tension at the formal dining table.

As for Anna and Bates, how many more trials and tribulations can a couple go through without having their marriage totally ruined? Fellowes knows when to stop; he is the ultimate puppeteer in the fates of the wrongly accused, but we thank him for leading them through thick and thin and bringing them out unharmed. And we enjoy the vicarious ride.

Rose too has redeemed herself. Looking back to her manipulative scheme in her earlier days, the fling on the town with jazz singer Jack Ross in Season 4 just to spite her mother, to Season 5 helping out the Russian refugees to finding and giving true love. We have seen Rose mature and proven herself considerate, trustworthy and resourceful, gaining favour from a very harsh father-in-law Lord Sinderby. BTW, recognize the man? He’s Uncle Geoffrey in Bridget Jones’s Diary.

And Atticus, don’t you just love that name? He is a good match with the totally transformed Rose. But with their move to America, we are sending them off with this Finale.

The ultimate union though belongs to Carson and Mrs. Hughes, Julian Fellowes once again knows what his viewers want and generously give them what their hearts desire. And Mrs. Hughes, being utterly surprised and most kind to demand Carson do it properly as Matthew and Atticus had done, kneel down and propose. Now that would have been a total shocker.

What falls short is the courtship between Isobel Crawley and Lord Merton, and that’s a shame, for they’d make a lovely pair. Violet Crawley can rest assure that her companion is still around to sharpen the iron in her, for it is not easy to find an equal like Isobel who is ever so ready to counteract her views. The reappearance of Prince Kuragin in her life turns out to be just a fleeting romantic interlude, gratifying still for an octogenarian.

Matthew Goode as Henry Talbot is an excellent prospect for Mary Crawley, why, they get to know each other by confrontations, however mildly put, not unlike Mary’s first encounters with Matthew. Hopefully this introduction would usher in Goode’s full-time presence in the upcoming Season, for here’s one that can make a worthy suitor for Mary. But what’s uncanny is, he’s into cars. And we all know what that passion can lead a man to, as Matthew’s tragic end is still vivid in our collective memory. I’m sure in Mary’s as well.

The heartbreaking event of course is Tom moving from Downton and England with young Sybbie to Massachusetts to help his brother with his auto-business. Again, the automobile seems to be the invention that brings mixed blessings. The most moving scene is the joining of hands of Tom, Mary, and finally Edith, to remember Sybil for a short moment, and Tom soaking in his last presence, storing memory of the room, or is it Fellowes’ way to let us do that, imprinting Allen Leech in our collective memory.

“We’re the three who should have grown old with her… and who knows when we’ll be together again.” I admit, this really hit me, the value of growing up and growing old together, the treasure of one’s peers. I’m not one who easily succumb to emotion, but this scene did it, not just for missing Tom in the future Season, but for all the family to miss seeing little Sybbie grow up.

Tom and Sibey

And now, another year’s wait… You know, Julian, we don’t mind waiting. Let’s have a few more.

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More Downton Ripples

Two years ago, some time after Downton Abbey Season 2 had finished airing on PBS, I wrote my first “Downton Ripples” post. I subtitled it “How I Overcome Downton Abbey Withdrawal Syndrome”. In that post, I’d listed some books and movies/TV productions that relate to the setting similar to Downton Abbey, for I was fascinated by the Great War period after watching Downton.

Some of the authors I read included Robert Graves, Hemingway, Evelyn Waugh, and watched Brideshead Revisited, A Handful of Dust, Easy Virtue and discovered Lost Empires, the TV series with a young Colin Firth together with Laurence Olivier, amazing.

This time, after Season 4, the withdrawal syndrome seems to have numbed a bit, but the ripples continue to spread. Again, Downton has prodded me to seek out the literature around the time between WW1 and WW2 Europe. While there are many present day authors writing about that era, I’d like to hear more authentic voices. I went looking for writers actually living in that period of history to hear their stories.

The following is a list of titles I’ve gone through this time, some I have finished, some still on my ‘To be’ agenda:

Parade’s End (2012, BBC/HBO co-production)

Parade's End Blu-Ray Cover

This series complements Downton Abbey perfectly. While Downton is light and heart-warming, soapy in its feel, Parade’s End is cerebral and literary, its social commentary of the time harsher and more incisive. I think the difference is, Julian Fellowes creates as a contemporary screenwriter, and knowing what modern day viewers want, he caters to their desire. Yes, he has offered us charming entertainment, and for the stars and the show, opportunities for Emmy and Golden Globe noms and wins.

Parade’s End is another story. Playwright Tom Stoppard (Emmy and BAFTA nom for this) adapts from Ford Madox Ford, a writer during WWI period, contemporary of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, the Lost Generation after The Great War, and witness to the destruction of the old world order and individual lives. Sure social barriers were dismantled, but together with such collapse came the shattering of long-held values and beliefs. Through the protagonist Christopher Tietjens, we can feel the intense struggles and poignancy of a man caught in such desolation.

I first saw Parade’s End on HBO when there was a window of free viewing. After watching one episode, I knew I must subscribe to continue with the rest of the series, and so I did. Effective advertising indeed. That was last year, and I recently just finished re-watching Parade’s End on Blu-Ray.

Parade’s End is the first time I watch Benedict Cumberbatch in a leading role (Emmy nom), an impressive performance as Christopher Tietjens, one of the last remaining honourable men struggling to stay afloat in the drowning waves of social change and ideals. Rebecca Hall (BAFTA nom) is effective as the scheming and seductive wife Sylvia. The young, almost ethereal Adelaide Clemens as suffragette Valentine Wannop is perfect. She makes me think of Carey Mulligan. And what a wonderful connection — Mulligan will be the star of the new film Suffragette, which I highly anticipate.

Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford

Parade's End BBC Book Cover copy

This will be my major challenge in TBR books this year. Image here is the BBC Book edition I bought in a book sale a few years back. It has 906 pages, and is made up of four novels — Some Do Not, No More Parades, A Man Could Stand Up, and The Last Post. A more recent edition is the reissue of Penguin Modern Classic, with a new introduction written by Booker Prize winner Julian Barnes (The Sense of an Ending). You can read the intro here.

Parade’s End by Tom Stoppard

Parade's End Script by Tom Stoppard

I enjoy reading the scripts of productions I like. It’s a kind of deconstruction, if you will, demythisizing of sort. I’m fascinated by the skills of a screenwriter who uses words to elicit images for the director to execute, translating the literary into the visual using words. To write for the screen almost sounds like an oxymoron. I’ve read Julian Fellowe’s Downton Abbey scripts and found it most interesting. I’d like to explore Tom Stoppard’s journey of adaptation. But first, I need to tackle Ford Madox Ford’s original texts.

T. S. EliotT. S. Eliot — After Downton and Parade’s End, I’m all geared up to explore deeper into the the psyche and spirituality of the time. Why, after all, what had lost in a generation was not just the physical bodies or social structures, but the internal, the destruction of a value and belief system. I’d like to read and reread Eliot’s works, delve into a time that prompted the poet to see hollow men, and women come and go, talking of Michelangelo. What’s underneath the façade of human progress?

The Europeans by Henry JamesThe Europeans by Henry James — A voice from the dawn of the 20th Century. I have finished listening to the amusing auidiobook of The Europeans. Yes, unlike many readers’ impression of James’ works, The Europeans is a delightful read (listen). It is like a medley of E. M. Forster and Jane Austen. Humorous depiction of the different POV’s between a pair of European sister/brother coming to visit their American cousins residing in the outskirt of Boston. With some LOL moments. My next James read is The Ambassadors.

The Collected Stories of Stefan ZweigStefan Zweig — While Lady Edith’s love Michael Gregson headed to Germany and mysteriously gone missing, the then famous (real life) writer Stefan Zweig in Austria was lamenting the spread of anti-semitism in the continent. It’s interesting that Downton has led me to connect, at least in historical timeline, with an author I’ve just recently discovered, thanks to Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, to which he has credited the works of Stefan Zweig. I’ve recently read Zweig’s Chess Story, and now delving into his short stories.

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Downton Abbey Season 4 Episode 8: The London Season

This final two-hour ending reminds me of the beginning two-hour opener of Season 4, fast paced, short scenes, too busy to dwell deep. But here we have a plethora of characters and grander moments, the Prince of Wales with his parents King George V and Queen Mary joining the cast? A bit surreal I feel.

Rose meets King & Queen

Interesting too that despite the spectacular scenes, these final two hours are relatively uneventful, not many threads leading to new story ideas. Mary will keep on being pursued. Now that she has found out Charles Blake is a much more eligible bachelor than she first thought, will that make a difference to her? That heart-to-heart talk between Mary and Tony, with her hand gently placed on his arm, welcoming whatever future life might bring is one of my favourite moments.

And Rose, after her débutante ball, will pursue even more.

Bates’s status quo will remain the same too. He won’t be investigated further as far as Mary is concerned. Mrs. Hughes has already released him. Bates’ loyalty to The Crawley family has exchanged a pardon from Mary, whereby she burns the train ticket, evidence proving his presence in London on the day Green was accidentally killed. So far of course. All things are in the hands of the powerful Julian Fellowes, who BTW, has thrown us a case of debatable ethics.

Bates has proven himself to be more resourceful than we first thought. Why am I not surprised? Now… that makes me think of Michael Gregson winning back all the poker money from Sampson in one night. Sampson should have learned his lesson by now. The Crawley household is his nemesis, even their guests and servants .

Eight months after Edith has gone to Switzerland and come home more tired than ever, she begins to have second thoughts. Having given birth to a baby girl and weaning her, she has put her up for adoption in Geneva with the Schroeders upon the persuasion of Aunt Rosamund. Back home, Edith misses her daughter and revives her initial idea of asking the tenant farmer Mr. Drewe to raise the baby incognito, to which Drewe agrees. But why would he agree though, and to keep it a secret just between the two of them? Now this could be the beginning of a dramatic storyline in Season 5.

Michael Gregson is still nowhere to be found, although we know what has taken place before his disappearance. And that just makes me tip my hat and raise a little respect for him. Although in Rosamund’s eyes, he’s just plain stupid. Why, to ‘take exception’ to what some men are saying, men wearing ‘brown shirts’? If he had known they were, exactly, ‘The Brownshirts’ (Sturmabteilung), Nazi goons, would he have shown his opposition so readily? But I say, kudos to him. Another case of debatable ethics thrown to us by Julian Fellowes.

Sarah Bunting turns out to be much more annoying. Her insistence to visit the Crawley home in their absence and going upstairs is more than a little imprudent. She sure has made a huge leap from Elizabeth Bennet in terms of social courtesy. Remember how uncomfortable Lizzy is in visiting Pemberley in the absence of its host. I sure hope Tom can stand his ground with this gal. Her seemingly innocent and assertive demeanour just may hide a more malicious intent. After all, Downton represents the aristocracy that she loathes.

London Season

The main attraction of this finale is of course Martha Levinson and his son Harold sailing the ocean blue to Downton Abbey. I first had high expectations for Paul Giamatti. MacLaine we had seen her in Season 3, so she keeps the critical face towards the British aristocracy, that’s consistent. Hers and Violet’s harsh and honest exchanges against each other add colours to the gentility that has prevailed the night of the ball.  

But I must say, Giamatti’s constipated (can’t think of another word) performance is a surprise and disappointment. I had expected a much more animated screen presence. Even Daisy saying: ‘I’m never excited’ is funnier. BTW, that’s got to be one of my favourite lines in this episode. Back to Harold, he and his initial qualm with Madeleine Asslop is fine, having many fathers ‘shoving their daughters’ at him. But falling for her right after? Julian Fellowes is a master matchmaker, but we all hope to see compatibility, at least just in appearance.

Like, ah… Isobel and Lord Merton. Isobel is not interested, at this stage. When he asks her to dance and she says “I’m really not much of a dancer,” I like his prompt reply: “O all right. So we’re a perfect match.”

The most cinematic scene has to be the seaside relaxation for the staff. There are very few scenes in all Downton Seasons that are just composed of the downstairs characters alone in the great outdoor. Here by the seaside, mood changes. We love to see them enjoy themselves for a change, like Mrs. Patmore buying an ice cream cone, Molesley playing football, Anna and Bates finally taking a relaxing stroll (love their hats), and Baxter becoming brave. Daisy is sweet even when she turns down Levinson (ok, Ethan Slade); Ivy is excited to have the chance to go to America. But the final scene belongs to Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson:

“We can afford to live a little.”

At the seaside

Season 5: Something to look forward to. Just another year, that’s all.

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Downton Abbey Season 4 Recaps:

Episode 7

Episode 6

Episode 5

Episode 4

Episode 3

Episode 2

Opening 2-hour Special

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Downton Abbey Season 4: Episode 7 (PBS)

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this captivating episode. All its conflicts seem to have derived from the notion of ‘truth’: truth telling, truth hiding, truth seeking. I’m beginning to sense that Julian Fellowes is telling us that, Happiness is … not having had to hide any secrets and having no reasons to. But then, where’s the drama?

But first, the race to Mary’s heart is clearly a tight one between two rivals, Tony Gillingham and Charles Blake, the pig expert. You can add in Napier, standing afar and looking aloof, only sending out helpless vibes. Bravo to Mary for being true to her feelings, at least for now, as she declares in no obscure terms: ‘I’m not on the market, Tony. I’m not free.’ And later to Charles with a similar message in the bazaar. Didn’t you hear, guys? Sure, but they are not the type to give up easily, ‘not without a fight’.

I like the changed man Molesley has become. He’s not afraid to show his fondness for Baxter, who remains aloof and full of secret past and present agendas. But Molesley is, well, Molesley, oblivious, self-deprecating, ‘felt fragile his whole life’, but true. In response to Baxter declining his offer of a cup of coffee, his reply is one of the lines that made me LOL in this episode:

“It’s just coffee. You won’t have to surrender any of your independence.”

Molesley could well pull Baxter out of Thomas’s grasp: “I wish you’d give us credits for making our own minds about you.” Well done.

Serendipity is the word for Tom and Sarah Bunting with their accidental encounters. So now he finds out she’s a school teacher, and, quite a progressive and opinionated woman too, definitely not a fan of the aristocracy. But Tom revealing his past life as a chauffeur and now fixing her stranded car on a country road add a lot of credits, a true spokesman for the Crawleys. And for a line like this one, you have to give the man extra kudos, speaking like a fine political candidate: ‘I don’t believe in types. I believe in people.’ Will they be a good match? That fully depends on matchmaker Julian Fellowes.

Rosamund is so supportive of Edith. Is this even within her nature? Going to Switzerland to learn French as a guise, bringing Edith with her for a few months so she can give the baby up for adoption after its birth. Violet is always on top of things. Even she has to agree with Rosamund this time, giving her approval after finding out the plan.

Julian Fellowes is busy with another prospective match-making, and that’s Isobel and Lord Merton. I’m most amused by Violet’s surprised glances back and forth following the fond conversations between the two. They take a stroll after the luncheon. Conversation goes well until Lord Merton asks about Matthew unaware. Now that only gives him opportunity to send flowers the next day to amend his ‘tactlessness’.

And then there’s the mirage of Rose and Ross, about to set an engagement date. Mary aptly steps in to stop a ‘guess-who’s-coming-to-dinner’ prank Rose has intended maliciously on her mother. So this is not so much about equality or free love, but using the race card for one’s private end. Jack Ross’s mother suspects her motive too. She apparently has raised a good son, who for consideration of Rose, decides to end the relationship. However, ‘in a better world’, the card Rose plays just might be a joker, with no face value… in a better world. Maybe it’s Rose who needs to go to Switzerland to learn French, or about herself, anything.

The Daisy-Ivy-Alfred conflict comes to a very moving conclusion. Kudos to Julian Fellowes. Alfred proposes to Ivy, who courteously declines. Daisy comes to realization upon the wise counsel of Mr. Mason, good man, and brings a basket of gift to Alfred to say goodbye and wish him well. They part as ‘friends forever’. One reason I’m drawn to Downton is that it seeks to portray something that might have slowly become archaic nowadays, but definitely needs to preserve: True friendship without romantic mash-up. Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson in a previous episode, and now Daisy and Alfred. I don’t know what the future holds, but for now, they are perfect as they are.

A touching reunion copy 1I love these Downton outdoor events, the tea party, cricket game, and now the bazaar. Cora can manage full well in Robert’s absence. It is a success and fun to watch. Important events take place, such as Robert and Thomas’ unannounced return, a huge surprise and delight, and a most touching reunion of Robert and Cora, thanks to the timely cue of the warm Downton music.

The most important twist is Tony Gillingham coming to the bazaar to tell Mary of the news that his valet Green has died in a traffic accident in Piccadilly, just one day after Mary asks him to sack Green. Accident? or Bates’s revenge? Again, we’re kept in the dark, knowing only that Bates has taken a day’s leave ‘to York’ while Anna goes to London with Mary. Can’t read any clue from his face either, unlike his stabbing look at Green in Episode 6. His answer to Anna’s query is both puzzling and chilling: ‘You know me, when I do a thing, I like to have a very good reason for doing it.’ Again, the suspense lies in the fact that we don’t know the truth, at least, not yet.

But that sharp stare from the last episode is replaced by three curious and fond gazes here in Episode 7. In the last scene, Isobel, Edith, and Rose together lean forward to watch Mary walk away with her two suitors Tony and Charles. Well synchronized, girls. What a fun closing shot.

As we come near to the end of another Season, I eagerly want to find out the final resolutions of the story lines, yet at the same time, I’m beginning to feel a parting sadness. You too?

***

PREVIOUSLY ON DOWNTON ABBEY Season 4:

Episode 6

Episode 5

Episode 4

Episode 3

Episode 2

Opening Special

***

Downton Abbey Season 4 Episode 6 (PBS)

The opening reminds me of the very first scene of Season 1 Episode 1, where the Western Union telegraph machine rhythmically tapping, leading us into this whole new world called Downton Abbey, and the rest is history. That first telegram was news about the Titanic sinking. Now Lord Grantham sets off to America in response to a telegram from Cora’s mother Martha (we all remember Shirley MacLaine’s American entry into Downton) just to help her son look good in front of a Senate Committee.

Robert may well be doing this more for Cora’s bidding than Martha’s. A sweet farewell follows. Crossing the raging seas, leaving the comfort of Downton on such a short notice, Lord Grantham would have wished he could just do a video conferencing. That would be more futuristic than the science fiction of his time, considering the telephone was just introduced to the household not too long ago.

Come to think of it, going to America just to help out a brother-in-law? Or was it to take time off to shoot The Monuments Men? Or, a subtle promo of the next best thing, The Gilded Age Julian Fellowes will be writing for NBC after Downton? Just thinking…

Downton S4E6 Robert goes to America

So now the secret is out, to Mary at least, and to the suspicion of several others. They would want to find out why Thomas is going to America with Lord Grantham and not Mr. Bates. Baxter is commissioned to hand in a report on exactly that when Thomas returns.

The pig farming business is off to a blossoming start… romantically that is. Getting dirty to save the pigs looks quite contrived a scene. Blake has to do much more than getting his white shirt and tux muddy to win me over. I’m not as easy as Mary. Or, is she just trying to prove she’s not so aloof after all. So they both enjoy their ‘night of discovery’. Why, Mary Crawley can make scrambled eggs. How marvellous!

Tom also seems to have met a potential companion in a political lecture in Ripon. Will this revive an idealistic young heart he once possessed?

Violet falls ill and Isobel nurses her back to health. Even in her delirious state Violet still takes a swing at Isobel, this ‘mad woman’, have her replaced, for she ‘talks too much, like a drunken vicar.’ Whatever we can’t say out loud in our right mind can be said in our delirium. How convenient.

Alfred’s brief return rousing further animosity between Ivy and Daisy. Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore come up with the flu as a reason to keep him off, and Mr. Carson is willing to go along even to the point of paying for a hotel stay. That sounds a bit far-fetching. A little jealous bickering adds spice of life downstairs. No need to avoid that like the plague.

A storyline that has far greater consequence is Edith going to London to have an abortion. Her secret is out as she breaks down when Lady Rosamund mentions about Michael Gregson. Aunt Rosamund looks an unlikely sympathizer, reassuring her “I will support you whatever you decide, just as Cora will—and Robert.” Edith doubts her sincerity and says “That sounds like a speech from The Second Mrs. Tanqueray”, alluding to the 1893 play by Arthur Wing Pinero about ‘a woman with a past’. Rosamund shows her support by accompanying her to the clinic. At the last minute, Edith changes her mind and chooses to keep the baby. I’m glad to see that a humane storyline branching out from there.

While in London with Edith, Rose runs her errand. Yes, that means meeting up secretly with the Jazz singer Jack Ross. Rose just wants some temporal fun, while Ross looks a bit hesitant but is fast convinced by her enthusiasm.

The most gripping scene again belongs to Bates and Anna. Lord Gillingham is back (but why?) and with him comes his valet Green, a blow to Anna as she steps into the servants’ dining room and sees her attacker. She composes herself quickly, but not before the reporter Baxter notices. Mrs. Hughes doesn’t lose any time to give him a severe warning, “If you value your life, I should stop playing the joker and keep to the shadows.”

At the dining table Green is as sociable as ever, greeting everyone, talking naturally. Baxter mentions how much she admires Nellie Melba, the opera singer, obviously with an agenda. Green says he can’t stand the ‘screaming and screeching’. The Sherlock in Baxter then asks, “So what did you do?” Green takes the bait, “So I came down here for some peace and quiet.” The look Bates pins on Green after that should send chills up your spine. And there, the episode ends. Baxter has more than a report to write, that’s a lead into a juicy story, Stephen King style.

***

PREVIOUSLY ON DOWNTON ABBEY SEASON 4:

Episode 5

Episode 4

Episode 3

Episode 2

Opening Special

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Downton Abbey Season 4 Episode 5 (PBS)

A relatively light-hearted episode, but the cheeriness depends on your point of view, quite like the Super Bowl, celebratory depends on which side you’re rooting for. But overall, a delightful and engrossing hour.

First off, a little surprise, Alfred is leaving. I thought the foursome is going to have some more entanglement. Alfred is accepted to the training course after all at the Ritz Hotel, London. That’s a significant leap from the servants’ hall in Downton, deserving celebration, but only depends on which side you’re on. Daisy is heartbroken. Eventually she’s sweet to make peace with Alfred and herself, wishing him luck as he leaves.

Violet and Isobel’s battles resume, evidence that Isobel has recovered from her mourning. She’s a social activist fighting for justice, and Violet, the established aristocracy, therefore legitimate target of her indignation. When Violet wrongly accuses and fires young Pegg for stealing her things, yes, things, Isobel rediscovers her calling. Things are what Violet cares about, so materialistic, so unjust. The ivory curio is soon found, misplaced.

Some interesting dialogues ensue…

Isobel: “Aren’t you going to say you’re sorry?”

Violet: “Certainly not.”

Isobel: “How you hate to be wrong.”

Violet: “I wouldn’t know. I’m not familiar with the sensation.”

The Sherlock in Isobel does some personal digging and recovers the valuable missing letter opener. What develops is like a parable. Isobel makes the same mistake of which she accuses Violet when she misjudges Pegg too soon and unwilling to face up to her wrongs, not knowing Violet after discovering her own mistake has already apologized to young Pegg, asked for his forgiveness, and rehired him back. Nobody monopolizes justice after all.

Napier and Blake turn out to be unwelcome guests. Not that I’m not sympathetic to farmers or food production, but these two men just prove they are the entitled ones, especially Blake, biting the hand that feeds him. Why, which guest would sit beside his host and call her “a sentimentalist who cannot face the truth.” Now where does that come from?

Rose has proven to be quite an event planner. Lord Grantham’s birthday party is a success, the secret is a big surprise, as she has intended. Jack Ross has done the unprecedented, bringing a night club jazz band into Downton, and he himself can go down history as the first black person to set foot in that aristocratic estate. Time has changed, or at least started to. Despite his shock, Mr. Carson is quick to point out that “we led the world in the fight against slavery,” but not before embarrassing himself by asking Ross: “Have you never thought of visiting Africa?”

While everyone is having some light-hearted turns, the heavy news or lack thereof falls like lead on Edith. She found out she’s pregnant, and Michael Gregson has “vanished into thin air.” At this stage, she doesn’t suspect anything except to worry about him. But this just may prove to be another dark chapter in her failed romantic narratives.

A date in the shadowBates and Anna’s seemingly reconciled relationship is another dark shadow in an otherwise bright episode. I like these contrasts as far as plot is concerned, light and shadow. The intriguing development is with Cora overhearing their conversation in the hotel dining room, and later, Baxter overhearing Cora talk with Mary about her concern. Even though she’s warned not to leak out what she has heard, Baxter has her assignment, the ‘condition’ as Thomas reminds her.

That hotel dining scene is oh so gratifying. Anna has phoned earlier to make a reservation. When actually there, the Maître d’ takes a top-to-bottom glance at their attire, decides there’s no reservation under the name of Bates. Julian Fellowes’ another social justice moment. Lady Grantham, Cora, comes to the rescue, ever so graciously. Isobel would have made a scene.

As for the Maître d’, a perfect casting would be Rowan Atkinson, aka Mr. Bean. Just a thought.

But my favourite scene is when Isobel, Mary, and Tom are in a room waiting to see the little ones being brought in by their nanny. These three are all widowed, survivors of tragedies when their loved ones were unexpectedly taken away from them. Mary is honest with her feelings: “I’m just not quite ready to be happy.” Then, Isobel starts sharing and reminisces on her engagement with her husband Reginald; Tom joins in with his love for Sybil; Mary recalls Matthew’s proposal to her while standing in the snow, not feeling a bit cold. Each recharged by the memory of love. Isobel cheerfully concludes at the end: “Well, aren’t we the lucky ones.”

Your favourite scene?

***

Previously on Downton Abbey Season 4:

Episode 4

Episode 3

Episode 2

2 Hour Opening Special

***

Downton Abbey Season 4: Episode 3 (PBS)

Here’s a Downton episode that shows why it keeps gathering fans. That’s when every plot is captivating, and every other line uttered by the characters is a quotable quote, plus, two strong female characters saving the day: Violet Crawley upstairs, and Mrs. Hughes downstairs. Thanks to them, the good regain their zest for life (Mary and Isobel), and the bad are banished (Edna Braithwaite).

The most important storyline of course is Anna and Bates. And Mrs. Hughes is the only one to know about the rape. I have been successful so far to block out spoilers for future episodes but I hope Mrs. Hughes is wise and strong enough to make sure the right steps are taken in this heart wrenching case. After the most controversial tragedy befalls a faultless character, we’re all eager to see the aftermath.

Anna is thrice victimized. First raped, then silenced, and ultimately guilt-laden. I’m sure such a scenario is real even for today. “I must have made it happen. I feel dirty. I can’t let him touch me because I’m soiled.” A gap has developed so quickly like the ground has parted suddenly between a once loving couple. Now Anna and Bates are standing on opposite sides of a deep chasm. Mrs. Hughes urges her to go to the police to report, and tell Bates about the assault. She can see how hurtful it is for him to suffer from not knowing. But Anna sees the possible reality for Bates. “Better a broken heart than a broken neck.”

Several people have noticed Anna’s recent silence. Who wouldn’t? But not many would ask Bates directly except of course Lord Grantham himself. Julian Fellowes has written him some good lines. I just want to quote the whole thing here:

“There is no such thing as a marriage between two intelligent people that does not sometimes have to negotiate thin ice. I know. You must wait until things become clear. And they will. The damage cannot be irreparable when a man and a woman love each other as much as you do.”

But as always, the punchline comes after a pause:

“My goodness that was strong talk for an Englishman.”

Downton Abbey S4E3

On a slightly more pleasant note, Lady Mary’s dilemma regarding Lord Gillingham and his lightning speed of a marriage proposal. Michelle Dockery has put forth some very fine acting in this episode, especially the scene when they are walking on the green grounds of Downton, when Gillingham asks her a very short question: “Will you marry me?” The setting is romantic, the cinematography gorgeous, but this is what I’m most gratified to hear from Lady Mary:

“I can’t. I’m not free of him. Yesterday, you said I fill your brain. Well, Matthew fills mine. Still. And I don’t want to be without him, not yet.”

After all, it’s only about seven months after Matthew’s death. Further, if Tony Gillingham can discard a previously engaged relationship so readily, what kind of a lover will he be to Mary? Again, I don’t know about any future story development, but in my heart, I wish Mary would wait a while longer. But, she gives him a warm kiss though. What a conflicting heart. Did she say later that she’d done something she might regret?

Same with Edith. Have you seen anyone signing away a document without giving it even just a skim over? Julian Fellowes knows exactly where to grab our attention… when the character is least attentive. This is a document prepared by her very sincere-looking love interest, the man admittedly had had a ‘dubious, misspent youth’, and who had won back everyone’s poker losses from a crook within the same night. Oh but love conquers all fears for Edith. Lady Rosamund reminds her she’s “gambling with her future”. So Gregson leaves for Munich the next day. Interesting.

While in London, we’re introduced to the first black character in Downton Abbey, the jazz singer Jack Ross, who leaves a fine impression on Lady Rose, launching another interesting plot line.

And don’t you just love Mrs. Hughes even more, a bulwark of discernment and authority? Tom is wise enough to come downstairs to seek her advice as Edna blackmails him to marry her for a fake, just-in-case kind of pregnancy. Even Thomas (it’s Mr. Barrows now) the schemer isn’t a bit sympathetic.

And it’s Mrs. Hughes again who is so kind, and sweet, to restore a loving memory for Mr. Carson, framing up his once, young love. Can you imagine Mrs. Hughes taking time off Downton to go to town to shop for a nice picture frame? Anyway, it’s good to know these characters have heart, and are not afraid to show it. Very well done here. And no, I don’t particularly wish that Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson would become late romantics. They are just fine now. It’s much rarer to see genuine friendship than romantic love.

Mr. Carson gets the best quote here in Season 4 Episode 3:

“The business of life is the acquisition of memories. In the end that’s all there is.”

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Season 4 Episode 2

Season 4 Opening Special

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Downton Abbey Season 4 Episode 2 (PBS)

CLICK HERE to Season 4 Episode 3 (Jan. 19, PBS)

After an uneventful two-hour opener last week, Downton has gone Gosford Park on us here in Episode 2 (E2 on PBS. In UK aired Sept, 2013 this is E3). Don’t forget, Julian Fellowes wrote the Oscar winning screenplay of that Altman directed movie Gosford Park. And so we’re warned from the start. ‘Viewers Discretion Advised’, as scenes may not be bearable for everyone.

Before we move on to discuss that tragic scene, I think there are several good things in this episode. First is, good for plot development, Mary finally has stepped out of mourning. She reconnects with her childhood acquaintance Anthony Gillingham at a weekend house party in Downton. That’s seven months after Mathew’s death, too early? Isobel Crawley may think so. While this is the first time Tom hears Mary laugh, Isobel sadly replies, ‘I find it hard to join in the merry-making.’ Lord Gillingham seems like a decent prospect, but here’s the rub: he’s engaged. Of course, under the pen of Julian Fellowes, that isn’t too big an obstacle.

During that party, Tom feels absolutely out of place. Edna is quick to console. Troubles brewing.

Kiri te Kanawa in Downton

A moving scene is Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, the real-life diva herself, appearing as a guest star in this Episode as the real-life Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba upon the invitation from Cora. She sings several arias to entertain the guests. One of them is her favourite, O mio babbino caro, which she dedicates to love and lovers. Kiri Te Kanawa’s mesmerizing voice singing this Puccini aria has made an indelible mark in my movie memory from the Merchant Ivory adaptation of E. M. Forster’s A Room With A View (1985). Maggie Smith (Violet Crawley) must have felt an affiliation with this piece since she herself had starred in that legendary film. (Click here to listen and view a short clip.)

Edith has brought Gregson to the party but Robert avoids talking to him, until money is involved. Gregson has done some heroic poker playing to gain back lost ground for Robert who thanks him for ‘saving his bacon.’ Gregson winning back ‘fair and square’ from the dubious poker player Terence Sampson just might have revealed a bit of his past, schemes he learned in his ‘misspent youth’. This person remains a mystery still. Should Edith be more cautious?

As Dame Nellie Melba sings the love aria upstairs, good-natured Anna encounters evil embodied in Gillingham’s butler Green downstairs. I’m afraid from this point on, she will be a changed person. Green strikes Anna hard on the face and drags her into a room. The subsequent rape is hidden from our sight, thankfully, but we can see the aftermath. The charming voice of a diva singing a love aria upstairs is juxtaposed with the unheeded screams from Anna downstairs makes a powerful and ironic dramatic device. Anna has been the bulwark, a pillar of quiet strength and principle in the Series up to now, I can understand the outcries from fans.

Is this too harsh a dealing from Julian Fellowes? I don’t feel this scene is gratuitous or sensationalized. Why, Mr. Bates has been imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, William dies from a war wound, Lavinia a casualty of scarlet fever, Ethel has to resort to prostitution and give up her son, Sybil meets her end after childbirth, Matthew crashes out, it’s not the first time tragedy happens to Downton characters. No, I wouldn’t want to see Anna suffer either. But if that is the twist in the plot, I’m eager to see what will happen next. This drastic turn will bring some tension between Anna and Bates as she tries to hide the fact of her wounds, worrying that if Bates knows about it, he will likely do something to Green that will send him back to prison or even hanged. Further, the social stigma of being a rape victim would lead to even more detrimental consequences.

Julian Fellowes has just reminded us that Downton Abbey is more than fashion and parties, etiquettes and zeitgeist of the roaring twenties. It is foremost a world inhabited by humans, with all their tragedies and ugliness.

I’m adding this note in. Some of you have provided stats on sexual assaults and a link to an interview with Joanne Froggatt, all point to the unfortunate social reality that crimes against women are still happening today, and, tragically, the stigma of being a rape victim is just as acute as in the past, while reporting only threatens them even more. Like Anna, they are twice victimized; first being raped, and after, silenced.

Yes, Mr. Carson, this is a topsy turvy world you’ve come to.

***

Fresh off the press: Season 4 Episode 3 (Jan. 19 PBS)

Downton Abbey Season 4 Opening 2 hour Special

Downton Abbey Season 4 Opening Special

That we use a TV series to mark the beginning of a new year speaks volumes about our contemporary life. However, we are products of our time and culture, and our annual waiting has run its course of patience training. So, let the games begin.

There are so many characters to reintroduce to us that I can understand Julian Fellowes has to write a fast-paced opening. In the first hour, almost all the scenes are like vignettes, spanning 30, 60, or 90 seconds. That means, if you don’t much care for one plot line, like Mrs. Patmore’s ambivalent encounter with an electric mixer, you can just count a few more seconds, you’ll see another character with another dilemma.

Downton Abbey S4  copy

Is it an apt opening? I must say, as with that of Season 3, I am a bit underwhelmed. But I’m sure, as the episodes roll out, I’ll get warmed up real soon. After all, there are so many characters and plot lines, there must be one that I like.

Season 4 opens six months after Matthew Crawley’s very untimely death, 50 years too early according to his widow. Mary’s sorrow has shrouded the first hour of this two-hour special, subtitled ‘House of the Walking Dead.’ So we just hope that Mary will soon take her grandmother’s advice, choose life over death. Violet Crawley remains one of my favourite characters, she beseeches effectively at the right moment, and despite her old age, is more lucid than her son.

We see Robert Crawley’s less than amiable self once again, trying to take charge of grandson George’s share of Downton by sidestepping Mary, all in the cover of protecting her fragile emotions. No malicious intent there but merely convenience over principle. Violet Crawley has once again shown that mother knows best. This has got to be my favourite line of the whole episode, an eighty-something Violet Crawley talking to her sixty-something son Lord Grantham:

When you talk like that I’m tempted to ring for Nanny and have you put to bed with no supper.

So it is a rewarding scene as we see Mary finally decides to come out of the land of the dead, crying over the shoulder of not her parents’ but Mr. Carson’s, who has seen her grow up and always has a soft spot for her. That’s one of the few moving scenes in this special.

Mary could have gotten closer to her mother-in-law Isobel Crawley who on her own has to deal with the loss of an only son. Mrs. Hughes has done a kind act, drawing her out of mourning by appealing to her benevolent spirit, while at the same time helping Charles Grigg, Mr. Carson’s former showbiz partner, to get back on his feet. To kill two birds with one stone, or invasion of privacy? Depends on who you ask. Nevertheless, I’m sure at the end of the day, Mr. Carson would thank Mrs. Hughes for intruding into his past so he can find some reconciliation with Grigg.

A character that seems to have turned into a lively spark of the household, hoisting the flag of modernism, other than the obvious, ever bubbly Rose, is Lady Edith. She has taken hold of her life, venturing out to seek her own fortune, or misfortune, in career and in love, disregarding her father’s safe standards. In the London social scenes we see some fresh, Gatsby-eques fashion and set designs. Her love interest, Michael Gregson, is willing to take up German citizenship in order that he can divorce his lunatic wife and marry Edith. There in the 1920’s turning to Germany? I can expect the plot to thicken quite a bit later.

O’Brien’s midnight move is an efficient way to handle actors not renewing their contracts. Now this one is easier to swallow than killing them off. With no obvious villain left to be his partner or rival, Tom Barrow has to shoulder the whole realm of evil plotting against the innocents. But with Nanny West, he just hits it by luck. So now he’s in favour with Cora Crawley. Who’s going to be his next victim?

Mr. Bates has been quiet, while Anna has some adventure as chaperone of Lady Rose to a working-class dance hall. I have not watched any of the upcoming episodes, but I feel Bates and Anna can be given more story and screen time. Let’s say, their strong relationship can withstand some slings and arrows Julian Fellowes wishes to hurl their way.

So what do you think of Downton Abbey S4 E1? Favourite scene and characters? Quotable quotes?

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Related Posts:

Downton Abbey Season 4: Episode 2

Downton Abbey Season 3

Quotable Quotes from Downton Abbey Seasons 1 & 2

Quotable Quotes from Downton Abbey Season 3

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Downton Abbey, The Complete Scripts: Season One

I had once talked with someone who avoided watching the ‘making of’ special feature that comes with a DVD. His reason? He did not want to see his favorite movies demythicized. Well, if you’re that sort of a viewer, then this book is not for you.

Downton Abbey The Complete Scripts Season One

But, if you’ve enjoyed the phenomenon called Downton Abbey, and are curious to learn about the creative writing process that kicked it off, then I’d say, this is an absolute must-read. And for those who keep going online to find quotable quotes from the series, here you have them all, and some more.

As someone interested in screenwriting, I would look for the scripts of movies I like, usually online. So it’s a wonderful discovery for me to see this book at the bookstore. Julian Fellowes has dispelled the magic and shared with us the scripts of all episodes for Seasons One and Two, most importantly, with his own annotations. Consider this the literary version of the ‘making of’ in your special features, more accurately, the screenwriter’s commentary.

In his Foreword, Fellowes introduces the book as ‘the complete scripts of the first series as they were when they went forward into production.’ So here we have the whole idea before cutting and editing, including deleted scenes and dialogues, plus Fellowes’ own explanations for the deletions. He walks us through the whole series, literally, and offers helpful background on the social history of the time, and many more tidbits.

You can also see why the collection is such a useful tool as an exemplar of a successful writing process, in particular, the editing phase. The main reasons for deletion is redundancy, and with a TV production, time. Another is for keeping the integrity and consistency of the characterization and the story. It’s intriguing to see the final version is the outcome of well-pruned and collaborated efforts.

An example of a deleted scene where Matthew answers Robert’s bewildered query about how he would manage to commute and continue to work as a lawyer while being heir of Downton.

Robert: How will you manage it?
Matthew: Like many others, I shall bicycle to the station, take a train there and back, and bicycle home.

Here’s the screenwriter’s commentary:

Here we have Matthew talking about bicycling to the station which is quite unnecessary as we see him do it. When you’re writing something you often forget that it’s going to be told visually, and so there are things that don’t need to be said.

With eighteen characters in the story, the writer has done a superb job in keeping them well developed, and eliciting our interest in each one of them. First I notice how short each scene is, something that just flashed by when watching, but reading it can even be more obvious. I’ve counted most of the scenes to be less than 60 sec. on screen. Each therefore needs to be succinct to make the most of the time. Makes me think of another way to apply that famous Hemingway quest, always aim for that one true scene.

To manage the long list of characters, here’s the brilliant way, something that’s so obvious when Fellowes explains, but then so subliminal while we’re watching them on screen, foils and parallels:

I love Mrs. Patmore. I think Lesley Nicol’s performance is fantastic. She is the kitchen Violet. Maggie Smith delivers the cryptic comments upstairs, Lesley has the barbed tongue downstairs. In a sense they balance each other, as Robert and Bates, or Anna and Mary, balance each other.

And here I add, other pairs we can see upstairs Violet and Isobel, or down, Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes. Great performance comes when an actor is given the chance to play against an equal, in character and caliber.

Further, Fellowes reminds us that it’s the actors that give life to mere words on the page. As the actors interpret, take off with and develop the characters on their own, the screenwriter continues with that development and write accordingly in the upcoming episodes. Isn’t this a most fascinating creative process? Writer and actors inspiring each other.

It’s always interesting to see what the screenwriter thinks of the final production. And Fellowes is candid in sharing his views, which reminds me of the fact that it’s all a collaboration, team work, and not just one person’s monopolized brainchild. The writer writes, the actors interpret and live out the words, the director sets the tone, the direction, the cuts, plus numerous others who work on the sets to play their roles.

I most appreciate and am somewhat surprised to find Fellowes uses many of his own experiences, stories he has heard, or memories of his own family, to create the scenes. Some interesting tidbits he shares include the scene in the kitchen rescuing the chicken from the cat before taking it upstairs, that comes from an embarrassing real life episode. Or Violet Crawley’s subtle dominance in the annual flower show, which he adapts from memories of his mother. Or his commentary on Sybil’s covering up of her political expeditions to Ripon, a parenting point:

Once children conceal their purposes or their social engagements or their plans for the weekend, that is the beginning of their move away from the parental set of values. Before that, God knows they may be rude or challenging, but they don’t usually have a private life, a secret agenda. And this is where it begins for Sybil.

It’s commentaries like this that you’d feel Fellowes is candid and open, just talking to you in a down-to-earth manner. Like everyone of us, he’d go online to do his research when he writes, such as the history of cataract surgery when writing about Mrs. Patmore’s.  Or admitting faults in certain scenes, and sharing about his own childhood experience and family dynamics, enlightening us with the norms and etiquettes of the time and the social history behind the scenes.

Demythicize? Definitely, with the effect that you’ll appreciate the production and the writing even more.

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

Downton Abbey The Complete Scripts Season One by Julian Fellowes, Harper Collins Publishers, 2012, 396 pages.

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Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: Facts that give rise to Fiction

Quotable Quotes from Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey Season 3: Episodes 1

Season 3: Episodes 2 & 3

Season 3: Episodes 4 & 5

Season 3: Episodes 6 & 7 Finale

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