Downton is Coming to a Theatre Near You

The new year has started off with a bang, not literally of course. But figuratively, with political fireworks and bad weather coming together in potent combination that leaves one feeling that the best move would be to stay in bed, under the covers, for the duration of the colder months—or until Trump and Nancy Pelosi come together to end the government shutdown. You know, whichever comes first.

Just kidding. The real reason to get out of bed will come later this year, when the Downton Abbey movie comes out, at a yet-to-be-determined date. See the nothingburger trailer here:

In this sneak peak we see that the Abbey still stands, the sweeping lawns as green as ever, and that the Downtonians still drive really nice cars and sleep in freshly-made beds. Other than that, we are adrift. No plot points or even a glimpse of Stone Cold Mary’s marble face is given to us, the proletariat who so enjoy staring at rich people using their fancy things and sitting upright on very beautiful couches.

BUT! All is not lost, at least for those of you with Amazon Prime video subscriptions. Jeff Bezos has provided access to a lovely series, featuring the legendary British baker Mary Berry. The show is called Mary Berry’s Country House Secrets and the first stop is Highclere Castle, where much of Downton Abbey was filmed. This new show offers ogling, voyeuristic viewers the chance to experience the world of Downton Abbey without having to hide a dead body, or have a secret baby, or glare at one’s enemy across the servant’s table while vigorously darning socks.

I thoroughly enjoyed having Mary Berry as my tour guide through Highclere Castle. It was as if The Great British Baking Show and Downton Abbey came together to produce television offspring of the loveliest sort, and for a brief, gentle hour, I forgot the political blizzard raging all around me on the internet and I forgot my ice-covered front stoop, the one that gives me pause when I consider leaving my house. I could stay home and watch Mary Berry’s Country House Secrets on my screen and rest easy, knowing that somewhere out there, civilization still exists.

 

 

Downton Abbey, Season 6, Episode 5: Night of the Living Dead

Wow.

I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but Episode 5 of the The Final Season contained so much verbal and visual juice it was hard to contain myself. I’m not even sure how to begin to dig into this one, exactly, but I think I’ll take my cue from Julian Fellowes himself in this regard. When in doubt, start with the pigs.

We Need to Talk about the Pigs

Or so Mary says, referring to a talk she simply must have with Farmer Mason. The pigs were mentioned right away in the episode, much to my delight, as I have resigned myself to the importance of pigs.

The show opens with Mary and Tom chatting while tromping through a field with a lovely view of Downton. Tom tells Mary he hopes she is alright with the decision to move Farmer Mason into her esteemed former Pigman’s house. Mary reassures Tom that she’s basically okay with it, especially since “pigs are Mr. Mason’s speciality”. This is news to all of us, and perhaps, even, to Farmer Mason. But it is crucial to determine his skill level in pigmanship, as Downton’s flock of 15 pigs rank just below Daisy’s educational pursuits and well above Edith’s happiness in securing Downton’s future, and should be treated accordingly.

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Downton Abbey, Season 6, Episode 4: Mary (re)Meets a Mate

I’m late to the recapping party this week, and am squeezing this one in just under the wire, since a new episode airs tonight. To the seven people who read these recaps: I apologize for the delay.

Mary Begins the Mating Dance

One thing you can count on about Downton, where there’s an unexpected guest, chances are that this guest will be an eligible bachelor, perfect for Iron Mary. There may only be half a dozen young men of marriageable age left in all of England after the wholesale slaughter of the Great War, yet Mary has managed to find and discard at least three of them. But she’s a lucky one, that girl, so it is no surprise.

It turns out that Mary has already met — and been intrigued by — this particular bachelor back at Lord Sindeby’s shooting party, the one where there were not enough duck blinds to go around. His name is Lord RaceCarNoMoney, and it looks as though he is a real match for Mary. I can only hope he is the Love of her Life #2, as I am feeling much more charitable towards her, since she was, in general, a more decent human being in this episode.

My favorite moment of Mary’s dinner date with Lord RaceCarNoMoney came when he asked her what her “enthusiasms” were, and she delicately dabbed her mouth with her napkin and said, “My work”. Lord RCNM nodded and acknowledged Mary’s fantastic career, before gently prompting her to mention her son. It was almost as if he had expected that Mary would have answered “George, my darling son.” when asked about her enthusiasms, and in fairness, Mary would have, if only she had remembered that she had a son. But she rallied and said that she was working to save the estate for George, who would inherit Downton Abbey not through her, but through her cousin Matthew, to whom the estate was entailed. Matthew also happened to be her late husband and George’s father, and — oh nevermind, the point is it is all very “neat and tidy”, as Mary said, and Downton will be saved, which is great.

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Downton Abbey: Season 5, Ep. 8: “What a Palaver!”

What a palaver! Tom says during a momentary lull at the latest ruined dinner party. This particular one is destroyed by Rose’s mum, Sour Sue, who, in the midst of her divorce from ol’ Squishy, has missed out on so many recent terrible dinners. Sour Sue decided that if no one else was going to say awful things at the table, then it might as well be her, since no one likes her anyway.

Apparently the British are only repressed when two or fewer people are in the room. A proper Brit refuses to even look at her husband in private, as that would be too indiscreet. No, the best thing to do is wait until you’re gathered around the table with the entire family, a complement of servants, and several near-strangers, then — one or two courses into an elaborate meal that cost 150 pounds a head factoring in food and labor — announce to all and sundry that you never did like your husband much. Or Jews for that matter. And did I mention? The host, as a person, pretty much makes me want to puke in my soup here. And his politics! His politics make me positively want to rip the hand-sewn beads right off my dress and scatter them around the room just before poking him in the eye with my oyster fork. Okay now, back to the soup, everybody! Nothing to see here! What a palaver!

Sour Sue preparing remarks for the dinner table. Topics for discussion  include anti-semitism, divorce, blackmail, poverty, and my intense dislike for my daughter.

Sour Sue preparing remarks for the dinner table. Topics for discussion include, but are not limited to: anti-semitism, divorce, blackmail, poverty, and intense dislike for one’s own child.

Love is in the Air

The show opens with the household in a flurry over the upcoming nuptials of Rose and Atticus. I had no idea what was happening for roughly the first twenty minutes, since the last we saw R & A they were ancillary to the real action, which took place at the last disastrous dinner party with Larry and Gary Merton. But here is Rose, suddenly taking center stage with a minimum of pre-wedding plot lines — stories which I fully expected to go on for years and years. So you can imagine my confusion (or maybe you don’t have to imagine it) when this episode opens with everyone running around the kitchen getting ready for a wedding. Whose wedding? I thought. But then I was distracted by the visual splendor of the elaborate wedding cake being made with great care by Daisy, who is not only a scholar, a budding farmer-socialist and a first-rate Undercook, but a sort of genius artist when it comes to sculpting roses made of icing. This particular cake is so special, it needs to be made over several days. It can only be crafted at Downton, where Mrs. Patmore and Daisy Undercook keep the family’s collection of giant cake pans, after which it will be transported down to London in an open-air motor car with limited shock absorbency, a hot, shaky, coal-smoke bellowing train for several hours, then another motor car, placed in the gentle hands of a taxi driver — watch the delicate icing roses, sir! — then hurried down to the bowels of the London house to clog up kitchen counter space for several more days in anticipation of a wedding reception, which will take place at some point in the future. The cake will taste like cardboard and the roses will have been crushed several times over, but at least it is there, on the table, towering over the proceedings like the 21st century anomaly it is. Continue reading

Downton Abbey: When Bates Cried, We All Cried

A better episode, but the series will never be back to form. And I must accept this and move on with my life. Which includes the show, because I’ll keep watching until the last husband dies, the last engagement is broken and we figure out what is going on with Thomas and the new lady’s maid.

The Characters

Mr. Carson & Mr. Molesley. Mr. Carson. What a snob. But then, we knew that. And poor Molesley has done it again, managing to make the most of his downward mobility. Carson will never forgive him now. As an aside, I’ve noticed that Molesley and Gil Gundersen from The Simpsons have a lot in common; receding hairlines and a long string of employment woes are just a few of the ways in which they are alike. Each character turns up in an episode just long enough to get kicked around for a few minutes before slinking out a side door. And each character is a cartoon.

Ol' Gil from The Simpsons and Molesley from Downton Abbey: brothers with no mothers.
Ol’ Gil from The Simpsons and Molesley from Downton Abbey: brothers with no mothers.

Mrs. Hughes. She told Bates! Thank God, she told Bates! I’m not sure I could stand the tension of watching everyone suffer and Mrs. Hughes bite her lip, trying to figure out which secrets to keep and which ones to tell.

Bates-n-Anna. They hugged! When Anna cried talking to Bates, I cried too. And when Bates cried after he stepped out of the room, I cried even harder. Really, these actors deserve a lot of credit for ringing real pathos out of this melodrama. I was so happy they finally came together and reaffirmed their love that I hardly cared about the murderous gleam in Bates-es eye. Even the music playing ominously as he stomped away in spite of his limp couldn’t fully undermine my happiness. But I did observe that Mrs. Hughes looked genuinely frightened by Bates-es rage, which bodes ill. If Mrs. Hughes is scared, I should probably be scared too.

Lady Grantham. Lady G. had a big task this week: she had to inform Mrs. Patmore that a refrigerator is on its way. This job was so exhausting that she was unable to accomplish anything else. It was just too much for Lady G. to both inform Mrs. Patmore that, yes, it’s really true that times are changing AND decide whether or not to throw a birthday party for Robert. More on that birthday party in the next episode, after Lady G. has had a week to recover from her conversation with Mrs. Patmore.

Lord Grantham. Lord G. showed a bit more grit this week, even if it meant sneaking around to do it. But at least he followed his own conscience and paid a tenant’s debt while avoiding gambling with any of the family fortune, so things are looking up. And the prospect of Tom leaving for America actually had him pacing around in his dressing gown, nearly breaking a sweat. He seemed genuinely distressed, and it was very exciting to see him move at a relatively rapid pace.

Tom. Yay Tom! He actually remembered that he used to be a socialist! But oh no! Now he wants to run off to America to give his daughter a better life. He wants her to have a shot at being a real socialist, as he knows it’s too late for him now. The family has ruined him with their fancy expectations, all their demands that he wear scratchy-looking brown wool suits and work every day running the farm. I hope he doesn’t go, because I would miss him and the meandering quality he brings to his character nearly as much as Lord Grantham would.

The Dowager & Mrs. Crawley. These two are back in fighting form as the mourning period, which involved a lot of unnatural mutual admiration, has come to an end. The Doctor is once more meddling with Mrs. Crawley in the most boring way possible, giving her all sorts of stuff to do that involves taking up causes, like finding a job for Young Peg. And why is Mrs. Crawley so insistent that Young Peg (or whatever his name is) the Under-Gardener Plant Waterer is an upstanding fellow, the finest fellow in all of Yorkshire, the very best of England? She doesn’t know him from Adam and there she is in the Dowager’s living room/parlour/front room/sitting room demanding that he be hired in the name of all that is holy. Over the last several episodes I really enjoyed the break we had from the excesses of Mrs. Crawley, but I guess it’s business as usual now, and the Dowager will have to fend off Isobel’s goodness with her sharp tongue. Or maybe her walking stick, if it comes to that. Which we would all support. Maybe a good wack across the head would make Isobel wonder why it is that the doctor is always hanging around drinking tea and offering unsolicited advice.

Mary. Mary picked up her child this week and actually held him in her lap! There he was, Li’l George, propped up on Mary’s bony knees like a stuffed monkey while she looked like she was at yet another funeral. But at least she was there. For ten minutes anyway — all the time she had until the dinner gong sounded. And it was nice to see Mary breezing into the nursery like she’s actually familiar with the place, so she must be making regular visits, though the viewers wouldn’t know. Another fun discovery offered up in this scene: apparently there is an actual Nanny on the premises, though again, the viewers have no way to verify this. But someone must be taking care of those kids in between dinner gongs because they look hale and hearty, if a little stupefied. It was hard to believe that Sibby was actually playing “hurrakin” with her dad, or playing much of anything. Tom just made that up in an effort to avoid having a conversation with Mary about how awful and barren an English childhood is. In other Mary news, she smiled at Napier! Her face actually contorted into an expression of delight, which was delightful for all of us. Also, equally as surprising, she seemed thrilled at her father’s loan to the tenant, allowing him to stay on the farm. I don’t know what this is all adding up to, but the prospect of Mary being a decent human being is very exciting. Of course she still yelled at Edith, but being nice to Edith is apparently a bridge too far and more than we can ever expect from Mary, no matter how many times Napier comes to tea.

Edith. There’s really nothing to say here, except to acknowledge the disappointment and tragedy just over the horizon, and to wonder: why hasn’t anyone in the family figured out that what’s-his-name, her fella, is already married? Would such a thing have been a secret?

Rose. Rose who? Oh yes, that girl. The one who hangs around on the couch in the library and shows up at dinner every night. Rose’s assignment for this week’s episode was to repeatedly bring up the birthday plans for Lord G. which, it just so happens, she has a smashing idea for. I’m no soothsayer, but something tells me that this idea involves hiring a dance band. A dance band with a leader who croons like a little girl. Hiring this band will be of the utmost importance to Rose, and her birthday gift to Lord G. will be to keep him busy watching her act crazy at his party.

Jimmy-Daisy-Alfred-Ivy: Alfred didn’t make the cut in the French sous chef’s cooking competition (was anyone else surprised by how un-Gallic and un-terrorizing that chef was? I expected him to destroy Alfred and serve him up cold in a bowl of vichyssoise, but instead the chef asks him all sorts of sympathetic questions about his hopes and dreams, like a therapist). So Alfred heads back to Downton so that Daisy can stare longingly at the side of his face for years to come. And while he remains about a foot too tall for the kitchen, or anywhere in the house really, he is still the best cook and Daisy still cares but does Jimmy care for Ivy and what exactly does he have in mind for her and why is he such a boring villain? Is Jimmy even a villain?

Thomas and the new maid: Whoa. Finally, we have a story line that doesn’t fully foreshadow its own ending the way every other story line on this show does. Thomas is back to being the same crafty downstairs man we love to hate, but this time he’s playing the long game with an unknown quantity, the new Lady’s maid whose name escapes me. Where did she come from, exactly. In what way does she owe Thomas something? Will he be the puppet master he has strived to be for so long? And will Lady G. catch on that something’s amiss with this maid? We doubt it. The way to Lady G.’s heart is simple. Pour her some orange juice and pat her hairpins in place and she’s yours forever.