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Archive for the ‘PBS Movie Adaptation’ Category

If you’ve been reading my thoughts on DA, inquiring readers, you know I’ve lumped scenes together for review and not recapped each episode as it progressed. For the sake of space, I’ve ignored some story threads altogether. This week, viewers were treated to dinners upstairs and downstairs, and to more of Lady Violet’s witticisms.  (Spoiler Alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched this episode.)

Dining with the Crawleys

Although the viewers couldn’t care less, the boring saga of the hospitals continues. When Violet discovers that Mr. Neville Chamberlain Minister of Health, is going on an inspection tour of the North, she demands that her son invite him to dine at the Abbey.

DA_Violet_Son

Lady Violet in persuasion mode.

 

He’s a busy man,” the earl tells his fond mama. “What makes you think he will come?’

“Because your late papa, the 6th Earl of Grantham, was his wife’s godfather!”

End of argument. Bested by Lady Violet once again, the earl invites Mr. Chamberlain, and, much to Robert’s surprise, the health minister agrees to come. Cora, knowing all about Violet’s scheming ways, invites Dickie Merton, Isobel, and Dr. Clarkson, the old sawbones (and her new ally), to dine as well.

The earl is already dreading the affair. He’s sure there will be hell to pay. All through Season 6 and going back as far as Season 5, he has suffered from indigestion. Unconcerned, he has gone about his business, ignoring the symptoms. Just before dinner with the health minister, he clutches his abdomen again. He decides to take this new burning sensation on the stomach like a man and make an appearance at dinner, knowing that his mama would march up the stairs and drag him out of bed if he failed to attend.

DA Chamberlain

Mr. Chamberlain is having the most unforgettable dinner of his life. Photographer, Nick Briggs.

So kind of you to respond to my mother-in-law’s summons, Mr. Chamberlain,” says Cora in greeting, before Lady Violet pushes her aside and reminds him of their long past history.

“Oh, I recall you when you were so young and so carefree and I was young and gay, and so I say, let’s let the past stay in the past, like the hospital.”

Tom quickly rescues Mr. Chamberlain before he responds, as Lady Cora invites everyone in to dine, even before the servants are finished setting the table.

“She can’t protect him in the dining room,” announces Lady Violet, unconcerned. “I was trained in a hard school and I FIGHT accordingly!”

But things do not go the dowager’s way, for just as she’s working up to prove that change for change’s sake will ruin power, her son erupts like a breaching whale from his chair, clutching his belly, and violently spews blood on the table until the dining room resembles a Roman vomitorium.

blood bath

Cora receives a blood bath

Everyone is worried – Cora that she will lose her husband, Violet that she will lose her train of thought from the shock, and Mr. Carson that the blood-spattered tablecloth will defy cleaning. But Mr. Chamberlain only feels relief, the earl having found a way to save him from a battle royal. He will always be grateful to Robert’s bursting ulcer for its impeccable timing.

As he’s trundled off to the Downton hospital, Robert manages to tell his Cora how much he loves her. At this declaration, all our hearts go aflutter.

Dinner with the Carsons

DA_dinner_carsons

Elsie and Charlie at home. Photographer, Nick Briggs.

Mr. Carson suggested we might have dinner in the cottage tonight, says Elsie to Mrs. Patmore, wanting her advice. “It won’t be a regular thing, just once in a while.”

When did you last cook?” asks Mrs. Patmore. She can’t decide between helping Elsie make two juicy lamb chops or  the more complicated Turducken (turkey stuffed with chicken, stuffed with duck, stuffed with quail).

“Oh, I’ve done the odd thing every five years or so. Still, I WOULD be grateful for the basket.”

‘Chops it is, then,’ thinks Mrs. Patmore.

Later that day, the Carson’s cozy cottage smells of home cooking.

My compliments to the chef,” says an eager Carson, settling in for an evening feast at his own dining room table.

“That would be Mrs. Patmore, not me,” Elsie says complacently. “Are you ready?” She places the chops on the table.

“Are these done enough?” he asks, testing the meat. ” Oh, the plate is cold, that’s a pity.”

She gives him a look that would freeze a Florida swamp as she slides another platter on the table.

“What’s this?”

“Bubble and squeak.”

“With lamb?”

“I LIKE it with lamb.” Elsie is beginning to realize that her groom is easier to please between the sheets than at the dinner table.

“Well, we musn’t let it get cold,” he says in a sing song voice that grown-ups adopt with toddlers. He saws away at the lamb. “Ah, this knife could do with sharpening.”

Elsie slaps a portion of bubble and squeak on his plate with the force of a pig farmer wrestling a sow, which is when Carson realizes he shouldn’t have told his bride that her cooking doesn’t hold a candle to his mother’s.

‘Uh, oh.’ From the look on her face, he understands he’s not getting any nookie tonight either.

A few days later, having forgotten his love’s reaction to his constructive criticism, he approaches Mrs. Patmore.

I wonder if you would you be willing to help my bride catch up with her pantry pans. It’s been a while since she’s played with them. ”

He turns to Mrs. Carson, er, Mrs. Hughes, er, Elsie. “You’d be very glad of the help, wouldn’t you my dove?”

“Sure. Why not. It’s time to get our coats,” she says, thinking that if she out paces him to their cottage, she could get the couch made up in a trice for his bed.

A Loving Sisterly Exchange

sisterly love

I’ll be in London on Wednesday,” announces Edith at breakfast.

Her papa looks around the table and says proudly, “Edith has a date.”

“Not really,” says she.

“Of course not,” says Mary.

“What do you mean, of course not?” retorts Edith, wanting to scratch her sibling’s eyes out for the gazillionth time.

A Visit to Mr Mason’s New Pig Abode

When Lady Mary learns that pigs are his speciality, she allows Mr. Mason to move to Yew Tree Farm in a trice.

DA Mary_Tom

Mary and Tom in inspection mode. Photographer, Nick Briggs.

I want to look in on, Mason,” she says to her papa, “He’s moving in today.”

“You may go where you like, as long as the pigs are settled.”

“I am concerned,” says she. “I’ve asked him to take over, but pig keeping needs strength, come to think of it.”

“Very sensible. Pigs can be dangerous. Mason’s scrawny. He needs more meat on his bones. ”

“Perhaps we can ask Mrs. Patmore to help in that department.”

In sync with Lady Mary’s thoughts, Mrs. Patmore has laden an abundant basket with fattening goodies as a welcome present. Mr. Mason is the first new bachelor of a certain age with a good job to move within 50 miles of the vicinity this past decade and Mrs. Patmore is old enough to know when OPPORTUNITY comes a’knocking.

DA_Mason_Patmore

Mr. Mason and Mrs. Patmore: a new romance in the making? Or a possible spin-off to be titled: ‘Of Pigs and Men.’ Photographer: Nick Briggs

Mr. Mason admires her strong ample figure and thinks it a sight for sore eyes.

Does me good to see a woman bustling around my kitchen.”

“I’ve got goodies galore for you,” she says, “and a snack for later on.”

“You’re an angle of mercy.”

“Do you mean me?” asks Lady Mary without irony, stepping into the kitchen with Tom. “Am I interrupting?”

“Not a bit, my lady, You’re welcome here.” ‘Drat,’ he thinks, ‘just when Mrs. P and I were getting to know each other…’

“We wanted to discuss the pigs.”

“I’m top at pigs.”

Tom steps forward. “Lady Mary is worried about the physical side of it. Prizing a boar off a sow…”

“Heeheehee,” giggles Mrs. Patmore.

“Or taking the piglets off their mother.”

“Boohoohoo,” cries Mrs. Patmore.

DA_Andy

Andy offers his services. Photographer, Nick Briggs.

As Tom and Mary discuss Mr. Mason’s feeble strength and the absence of a farm hand, Andy, who has volunteered his services in moving to gain favor with Daisy,  steps forward to offer his strong arms to help with pig maintenance.

Can you do it?” asks Tom.

“Sure,” says Andy, promising the stars, the sun, and the moon, as well as seven years servitude. He wants to learn as much as he can about farming, just as long as there ain’t no book learnin’ involved.

Daisy is all agog. ‘Could this be the man of her dreams? A footman plus a pig farmer rolled neatly into one?’

I’ll lend you some books about pig farming and breeding,” offers Mr. Mason to Andy.

“Books?” Charlie utters.

“You need to know the theory of it. Makes it more logical.”

“I’m up shit’s creek,” thinks Andy, visions of pigs and Daisy fading away, since he can’t make heads or tails of a ‘p’ or an ‘i’ or a ‘g,’ much less their capitalized versions.

Later on, downstairs in the Abbey, Mrs. Patmore practically glows from having worked her knuckles raw helping Mr. Mason set up his house and larder. “What a lovely chap.”

‘Wait a moment,’ thinks Daisy, glaring at Mrs. Patmore. ‘Mr. Mason’s MY lovely chap. I found him first!’

daisyhiss_5

Daisy in hissing mode

 

He must be lonely,” Mrs. P. concludes, thinking of how fine the contents of her Hope Chest would look in Mr. Mason’s cottage.

Daisy hisses,” He’sss not lonely! He’ss MY precioussss. He’s been living alone for yearss.”

‘And working himself scrawny, so he needs help with the rutting pigs,’ thinks Mrs. Patmore, knowing she could fatten him up in no time flat and build up his muscles.

He seemed to enjoy the company…” she ventures.

“He was only being polite! He was longing for you, er, us, to go.”

“Pfff.”

Mrs. Patmore huffs off, thinking, ‘Let’s see if I give that ungrateful chit any helpful advice from now on.’

Lady Violet, Denker, and Septimus Sprat

During a village stroll, Denker encounters Dr. Clarkson and rounds on him for being a traitor and scoundrel to the Dowager Countess. His dignity offended, he sends Lady Violet a letter describing Denker’s INSULT and her impertinence. Clutching the letter to her heaving bosom, Violet summons her disagreeable lady’s maid.

Lady Violet

Photographer, Nick Briggs. You read too many novels, Denker!

Denker arrives, thinking she’s about to receive a raise for loyalty.

Is it true you called Dr. Clarkson a traitor?”

“I just thought he behaved very badly.”

“It’s not your place to have opinions of my acquaintances, let alone express them! If I withdrew my friendship from everyone who’s ever spoken ill of me, my address book would be EMPTY! For a lady’s maid to insult a physician!… You’ve read too many novels, Denker. You’ve seen too many moving pictures. You’ve skulked around too many hallways.”

“I was sticking up for you.”

“And for that I shall write a tepid character. From this house you must go forthwith.”

“But my lady, what am I to do? Where am I to go?”

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. When we unleash the dogs of war, we must go where they take us.”

Knowing Lady Violet will not change her mind, Denker approaches Sprat to help save her job.

How’d it happen?” he asks, secretly delighted with the turn of events. “Were you drunk?”

“Of course not! Am I to blame if I have a very passionate nature?”

Sprat makes a face. “Any more of that talk and I won’t be able to sleep.”

The more Denker pleads with Sprat, the happier he gets, ’till he’s humming from sheer joy, but, alas, his happiness is short lived.

“Are you packed?” he asks her the following morning. “Are you gonna help her dress, get your reference, and then head off, never to darken my life again?”

“No, and I’ll tell you why, you insignificant worm. Did they catch your nephew. The one you hid?”

SpratSprat stops humming. “Wha…?”

“Septimus Sprat, if I go down, I am taking you down with me. Capiche?”

“What can I say to …”

“You’d better think of something. And you better hope it works, Mr. Sprat. You better hope that I don’t ever need to mention your nephew ever again.”

Sprat walks away from the conversation thinking that daily torture in a dark dungeon would be preferable to being stuck with this woman for the rest of his benighted life. He wonders if he should apply for a position at Gosford Park before it is too late.

Love Does Not Conquer All

As Lady Mary and Tom drive to the track to watch Henry Talbot, he turns to her. “Do you like him?

He’s attractive and nice and reminds me I’m a youngish woman again, but that’s all. I don’t mean to sound snobbish, but I won’t marry down. I don’t want to be grander than my husband or richer, but he needs to bring something to my substantial table.”

“Happiness doesn’t have much with money or position. Sybil and I had a marriage of equals. I brought the copper, she brought the gold. I brought the dust, she brought the duster. I…”

“I get it,” says Lady Mary, not amused.

Tom and mary

Tom and Mary at the track.

‘Tom’s not getting the point,’ thinks a frustrated Mary. She needs to stay grander than Edith so that she can always lord it over her and her unfortunate choices of doddering old suitors and mere land agents.

And so, having discussed her elevated norm for marital love, Tom and Mary arrive at the racetrack, where Henry and his best friend, Charlie, are driving recklessly around the track at around, oh, 60 – 65 mph.

Just look at him. Working hard but getting nowhere,” says Mary, adding, “He’s just going around in useless circles.”

As Henry and Charlie race around the track a few hundred times, I begin to make my weekly grocery list and check my work schedule. These overly long scenes are best distinguished by the background music, which resembles a soundtrack from an Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon Beach Muscle Blanket Bikini Bingo movie.

As Henry finishes his practice turns and strides towards them, Tom tells Mary, “You don’t have to marry him, but you do have to let him enjoy this moment.”

‘Enjoy, yes,’ Mary thinks, ‘but I won’t let anything as puny as love get in the way of sensible thought.’

Bates and Anna Discuss Lady Mary and Lady Luck

happy

Oh, happy days.

“I want Lady Mary to be happy, like I am happy,” says Bates to his wife as they walk towards the Abbey after breakfast in their cozy cottage for two. “I want everyone to be happy.”

“Are you really happy? says Anna, clutching her rabbit’s foot.

“I am so happy that happy is my middle name. I’m, you know, happy.”

“No, I don’t know. But if you’re happy then I’m happy.”

“I’m happy.”

“Bad Harvest,” says Anna, not wanting to spoil her good luck.

Edith happy

Lady Edith happy.

Outing the Secret

At the end of dinner and in the heat of the moment, as the earl and his bleeding ulcer are carted off to Downton Hospital, Lady Cora prevents Lady Violet from talking any more nonsense about the hospital. “No more secrets from now on!”

mary overhears

Uh, oh. Edith should have said ‘bad harvest’ too.

“You mean, like Marigold?” says Lady Violet, not seeing Lady Mary standing behind them.

From Lady Mary’s expression, we know she’s come to an ah-hah moment. Cue ominous music, please.

What a fine episode, gentle readers. While, for the sake of brevity, I did not discuss Baxter’s plight, Thomas’s offer to help Andy read, or Edith’s trip to London and the start of a budding romance, I give this episode four and a half stars out of five. What say you?

Informal poll: Which did you think was grosser?

The bloody carnage at

  • the earl’s table in this episode.
  • the red wedding in Game of Thrones.
  • the remains of Hannibal Lechter’s lunch.

 

My other Downton Abbey Season 6 Reviews:

 

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Alicia Silverstone as Cher in Clueless, a modern adaptation of Emma

Alicia Silverstone as Cher in Clueless, a modern adaptation of Emma. This film still leaves me laughing, and I suspect JA would have approved of its modern Beverley Hills setting.

Do you have an account with Netflix for instant videos? How about an Amazon prime account, which offers amazing discounts as well as free postage and handling for all your prime purchases? At less than $80 per year, Prime has proven to be my best investment in entertainment.

Here are a few Jane Austen film titles that have become available for instant streaming. These keep changing every six months or so, and I am always on the look out. In the instance of From Prada to Nada, which is a nada good send off of Sense and Sensibility, I cannot tell you how lucky I felt that I watched the film for free.

Netflix Streaming Video – instantly available with your instant video membership

  • Pride and Prejudice 1980
  • From Prada to Nada
  • Aisha
  • Clueless
  • Emma 1996
  • Mansfield Park 1983
The 1995 film adaptation of Persuasion with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds is incomparable.

The 1995 film adaptation of Persuasion with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds is incomparable.

Amazon Prime, Instant videos free, for rent, or for purchase

  • Persuasion 1995 (free with Prime)
  • Pride and Prejudice 1940 (free with Prime)
  • Pride and Prejudice 1980 (free with Prime)
  • Emma 2009 (free with Prime)
  • Other Jane Austen film adaptations are available for rent or purchase at Amazon.
I find the 1940 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice excreble. While the actors are fabulous, this story has been changed and Hollywoodized to the point where the lines are laughable (Every hottentot can dance, instead of every savage can dance) and the ending is downright criminal (Lady CdeB acts as a willing instrument to get Elizabeth and Darcy together. I have a running hate-hate debate with a reader, who is apoplectic with the idea that I don't love this film. She keeps coming back to heap insults. Heap away! You cannot persuade me to like this film. Although I will honor anyone's positive opinion about it.

I find the 1940 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice execrable. While many of the supporting actors are fabulous, even brilliant in parts, this story has been changed and Hollywoodized to the point where the lines are laughable (every “hottentot can dance”, instead of “every savage can dance”), and the ending is downright criminal. I have a running almost 2-year debate with a sometime visitor to this blog who is apoplectic at the idea that I don’t love or respect this film. She keeps coming back every once in a while to inform me that I don’t know sh*t from Shinola when it comes to the fine art of 1940s  film making, and that I wouldn’t be able to discern a donkey’s ass from that of a thoroughbred’s. (My terminology, not hers, but you get the idea.) Insult away, my dear! You cannot persuade me to like this film. Although I will respect anyone’s positive opinion about P&P 1940, it simply isn’t mine.

My rant about P&P 1940 brings to mind some of the worst moments in Jane Austen film adaptations. Here they are in no particular order:

The incomparable Edna Mae Oliver as Lady CdeB, co-conspirator and romantic at heart

The stellar Edna Mae Oliver as Lady CdeB, a softie romantic at heart

1.) Pride and Prejudice 1940: Laurence Olivier (not yet a Sir) as Darcy persuades the incomparable Edna Mae Oliver as Lady CdeB to become his accomplice in winning Elizabeth Bennet over. In other words, Lady CdeB turns out to be crotchety but NICE. The writers and producers of this film should have been made to apologize to every student who watched this film to write a book report and who received an F for getting the ending so dreadfully wrong. They subverted the students’ rights to NOT read the book and opt for a C or a D by watching the movie instead. In addition, 35-year-old Greer Garson was closer to Mrs. Bennet’s age of 41 or so than Elizabeth’s age of 19. And throughout the film good old Larry O resembled a wood mannequin in posture and facial expressions. In my humble opinion, our pinch-faced Larry and his near geriatric Greer had almost no chemistry between them. Let’s not even discuss the costumes.

Billie Piper as Fanny Price as Fanny Hill

Billie Piper as Fanny Price as Fanny Hill.

2. ) Mansfield Park 2007: Billie Piper as Fannie Price. *Hahahahah*. Fanny exhibiting ample cleavage in her day gown. *Loud guffaws*. Fanny athletic and running around with wild hair. *Snorts and sniggers*. Lady Bertram rising from her couch in the last scenes and showing spirit and gumption in uniting Fanny with Edmund. *WTF!?* An energized Lady Bertram is as egregious a change in character as a nice Lady CdeB. The reviews for this film in Rotten Tomatoes are so tepid that it has yet to acquire a ratings score. One wonders why the folks at ITV bothered to adapt this very thick JA novel and compress its tale to a bare 90 minutes. Might as well read a comic book version of MP.  ‘Nuff said.

The gorgeous Frances O'Conner as retiring and shyly pretty FP.

Tall, gorgeous, statuesque Frances O’Connor as Fanny Price.

3.) Mansfield Park 1999: In this adaptation, Frances O’Connor as Fanny is more beautiful and intriguing than Embeth Davidtz as Mary Crawford. In fact, one begins to wonder why Edmund is so drawn to Mary when the lovely, worshiping and nubile Fanny is his for the taking. I won’t go into detail about director and writer Patricia Rozema’s social stance on slavery and British empire exploitation in this film, since my observations in this post are meant to be tongue in cheek and light-hearted. Let’s just say that 1999 audiences were surprised to learn that somehow our dear departed Jane had quite clearly expressed her strong feelings on the topic to Patricia.

Gasping for breath and suffering a headache from that severe, unflattering updo, poor Anne hies after her man.

Gasping for breath and suffering a headache from that severe, unflattering updo, Annie goes after her man.

4.) Persuasion 2007: (Set to the theme of Rocky.) How I pitied poor Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot. I hope that she only had to run through Bath for a few takes. Imagine if the director hadn’t been  pleased with her stride, or if a jet’s drone ruined the scene, or if … whatever. It could not have been easy for her to race over stone sidewalks and streets in those delicate slipper and in full Regency regalia, with her hair pulled back so tightly that her ears and cheeks practically met in the back of her head. Jane Austen’s Anne Elliot would NEVER have run through town like a hoyden and debased herself for a man, not even the delectable Captain W. To quote Jeremy Northam in 1996s Emma when she made a joke at poor Miss Bates’s expense, “badly done.” Badly done, indeed.

Barefoot Lizzie swinging above the muck

Barefoot Lizzie swinging above the muck

5.) Pride and Prejudice 2005: Or the muddy hem edition. Good old Joe Wright wanted to put a different spin on P&P, so he set Longbourn House in the middle of a mud field, surrounded by a moat, and overrun by pigs, geese, and all manner of dirty, smelly farm animals. Then there’s Mr. Bennet (played by 70-something Donald Sutherland) rutting after Mrs. Bennet even though his respect for her intellect is less than zero. And who can forget the film’s breathy, candle lit American ending? – “Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Darcy, Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Darcy.” I don’t know which altered ending was worse – the one in which the co-conspirator in happiness and harmony is  Lady CdeB, or all that post-coital face licking at the end of this adaptation. This film should have been titled: Pride and Prejudice: back to nature.

P Firth is no Colin.

P Firth is no Colin.

6.) Northanger Abbey 1986: Visually, this JA adaptation is quite lovely and interesting. But the music…Gawdalmity! It is so awful that this film should be seen with the sound muted. During the 70s and 80s, the male actor flavor du jour was Peter Firth. He played Angel in Tess and Henry Tilney in NA. Why? Just because he was good in Equus and for two milliseconds, when very young, looked somewhat leading mannish? I found him so off putting as Angel and Henry that P Firth single-handedly ruined those films for me. He could have played a Mr. Collins, Mr. Elton, or John Thorpe quite excellently. As he aged, P Firth began to portray villains, which is how I always saw him. But what I can least forgive this film for are those horrid gothic scenes (which the 2007 NA adaptation picked up.) I read NA and reread it, but, other than telling us about Catherine’s lively imagination and penchant for reading Gothic novels, JA included none of those scenes. To this day, I am still waiting for a decent Northanger Abbey (and Mansfield Park) film adaptation.

Can you recall scenes in JA films that made you cringe? Do share. As always, feel free to disagree with my humble opinions, but politely, please.

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Note: Plot spoilers if you have not seen the 2nd episode! PBS is streaming each episode for a number of weeks one day after the air date. Click here to view online videos.

Review: Downton Abbey, S3, Episode Two: Being tested only makes you stronger, or platitudes don’t help when your heart is breaking.

The second episode was largely devoted to Edith, her wedding and aftermath, Matthew’s dithering about Swire’s money, Mrs. Hughes’ health, and the further deterioration of ThomasanO’brien’s relationship

Lady Edith and the wedding that wasn’t

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

For once Edith is happy and the viewer is led to believe that his time it’s Edith’s turn to shine. But woe betide the middle child, especially one who is plainer than her sisters and who so openly longs for the same good fortune and happiness as were bestowed on those prettier creatures. Poor Edith. It is pathetic to see how much she yearns for equality. “Something happening in this house is actually about me”,  she states naively.

She gazes at Sir Anthony in worship, seeing freedom from Downton Abbey and the chance to be mistress of her own house, whereas her affianced is beginning to acquire a hunted look. No wonder. Hounded at first by the earl and then by Violet, he is starting to feel as second class as Edith. I have watched this episode three times and still cannot quite understand the earl’s and dowager countess’s objections. Even today, hardly anyone blinks when a Hugh Hefner or a Donald Trump marries a woman young enough to be their daughter or granddaughter. Has anyone taken a gander at Ronnie Wood’s latest bride? Hello! She’s younger than a Beaujolais Nouveau. The age gap has always favored the man, not the woman. Therefore I’ll ask it again: What is so objectionable about Sir Anthony?

The second episode starts well enough, with a Violet quipping over the wedding arrangements: “At my age one must ration one’s excitement.” That was just about the last time I liked her in this episode. I must backtrack on my last post in which I called Violet inviolate, for I despise her behavior towards the blissful couple, calling Sir Anthony a “broken down old crock” and observing,. “Edith is beginning her life as an old man’s drudge.” What strange things for granny to say in a post war world where practically any whole young man left standing couldn’t serve in the war to begin with. And Daddy Crawley is no better, although one gets the sense that he is starting to put a good face on the situation, saying to his prospective son-in-law: “I’m happy Edith is happy, I’m happy you mean to keep her happy. That is quite enough happiness to be getting on with.” Damned with faint praise, but at least he gave it.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

And so Edith’s big day arrives It is pathetic to see how radiant she is. “All of us married. All of us happy,” she declares. How plaintive. How naïve.

Knowing how Papa and Granny Crawley feel and based on Edith’s past track record, the viewer can sense that trouble is brewing. Even the minister seems to have swallowed a sour candy as he commiserated with the still bleating Violet, who, upon seeing Sir Anthony in the pew, says: “He looks as if he’s waiting for a beating from the head master.”

She’s some sore loser and won’t quit until she’s had the last word. This trait has been charming thus far, but there is a time and a place for everything. Violet’s like a python. Once she starts twisting and choking her victim, she’s unable to let go.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Poor Edith, looking quite beautiful walking down the aisle. Her mother and sisters are genuinely happy for her. And then Sir Anthony drops the bomb, hyperventilating and backtracking faster than the speed of light, saying: “I can’t do it. Bye, bye y’all. Take care of my little Edie” as he hightails it out of the church.

Grannie restrains Edith from going after her man, urging her: “Let him go. Don’t stop him. Don’t drag it out. Wish him well.” But if crazy glue had been invented back then, Edith would have poured some all over herself and Sir Anthony and clung to him until they were stuck for life.

A good friend of mine pointed out an implausibility. It was clear that Sir Anthony was fond of Edith and even loved her. Would he have waited until the last-minute to cry off, or would he have sought a less public, less humiliating forum? Like the night before, for instance? Or arranged to meet Daddy Crawley that morning before everyone tramped off towards the church? Or asked that someone stop Edith from walking down the aisle so that he did not have to jilt her in front of kith and kin?

The real Sir Anthony would have done anything but humiliate Edith. This plot development smacks of “deliberate melodrama” syndrome, in which, given the choice to proceed logically or throw viewers off track, the writers chose the path that promises the most gasps and cries of outrage. I almost threw my glass of Merlot at the screen, but then thought of my liver and its enjoyment.

Laura Carmichael truly shines in these scenes, going from radiant to disbelief to grief of the rawest kind, tearing off her veil as she runs to the privacy of her room, flinging aside her tiara, and then, unable to stand the sight of her two lucky sisters, wailing: “ Look at them both with their husbands … Sybil pregnant … Mary probably pregnant.”

Hers was a raw, naked emotion and a cry of longing for a husband, her own house, a family. Now, all of it gone.

No one can console her, not even her mother.

Only a day later Anna enters Edith’s room and asks her: “What would you like me to get you?” and Edith responds, “A different life.”

My heart broke for her just a little. But what placed me firmly in Edith’s camp was this resigned yet stoic quip to Anna’s question: “Can I bring you up some breakfast?”

“No, I’m a useless spinster, good at helping out. That is my role. And spinsters get up for breakfast.

Edith’s made of stern stuff and she’s going to land on top. Mark my words. Grannie Violet takes one more post wedding dig when Carson offers to take the wedding food to the poor. “If the poor don’t want it, you can bring it over to me.” The woman who admonished Sybil with “vulgarity is no substitute for wit,” certainly could have used a dose of her own medicine.

The rest of Downton Abbey’s cast:

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Thomas and O’Brien

ThomasanObrien’s dislike for each other is taking a serious turn. Thomas uses Moseley to create trouble for O’Brien with Cora. The valet informs Cora that since O’brien was leaving the Crawley’s service, could he nominate his niece for the post instead? Cora, who doesn’t like surprises, expresses her disappointment to her maid. (Cora’s shown her steely side before when it comes to servants, such as expressing her disbelief that Bates could fully perform his duties as valet when he first arrived in Season One.)

We also get a clear sense of Robert’s lack of fondness for O’Brien and his lack of support for her. O’Brien confronts Moseley, who reveals Thomas’s role in starting the rumor. In one of the better scenes in episode 2,  O’Brien promises the footman that if he wants a fight, he ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Daisy

Daisy is the unlikely heroine in Mary’s quest to save Downton Abbey from bankruptcy and ruin, confirming that she sent the letter for a dying Lavinia to her daddy, a letter that Matthew was certain had been counterfeited. Daisy’s been angry at Mrs. Patmore for not honoring her promotion to cook’s assistant, not knowing that the Crawleys at this point have less money than William’s farmer papa. I find her anger to be cute but petulant, like a kitten not getting its way. C’mon, Daise! The tarot cards and Ouija board say that you are going to inherit a rich yeoman farmer’s assets some day. Stay the course, girl, and you’ll be able to rent Downton Place in the near future.

Lavinia Swire’s Daddy’s Money

Chemistry twixt Matthew and Mary

Chemistry twixt Matthew and Mary

Lavinia Swire’s daddy’s fortune causes a heap of troubles twixt newly wed Mary and Matthew. Am I the only one who thinks their scenes in this episode are stiffer than starch and have about as much chemistry as two brooms in a closet?

It was Robert and Matthew who provided the real romance in this episode, or, more correctly, a splendid bromance moment. When Matthew offers to fork over his inheritance to Robert, the earl rejoined teary-eyed: “Don’t be silly you’re not going to give me any money. What I will allow is for you to invest in the place.” Matthew’s scenes with Robert and Tom, with whom he plays pool, were more passionate than his with Mary. (She hasn’t been able to give off smoldering hot looks since Pamuk’s arrival in Season 1 at the hunt.)

Isobel and Ethel

Isobel Crawley remains a peripheral figure, always looking for something worthwhile to do, in this instance converting ho’s into respectable underpaid working women. Poor Ethel is in a very bad way and trapped in a downward spiral. Fallen women without a family had few choices back then, which was to starve,  sell their bodies, or enter a workhouse. Shame prevents Ethel from seeking help, yet desperation forces her to come out of hiding to ask for aid from Isobel. I wish Matthew’s mama were given a meatier role, as in Season 1. Lately she’s come off as an irritant and, frankly, I miss her stand-offs with Violet.

Downton Place

Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

The poor Crawleys. The specter of having to live in a luxurious house instead of a mansion and having to let all but 8 servants go puts the lot of them in a bad mood. Off they go a-picnicking to view the grounds of their new abode and surprise the current tenant, who probably thought he had a 90-year lease. Only Cora can see the positive side of things, which makes me wonder all the more about her back story and what makes her tick. In this scene Violet is given a couple of zingers, my favorite of which is a rejoinder to her son, who tries to find room for all the family (talk about boomerang kids!)

Violet: What about me? Where am I supposed to go?
Robert: Well we still own most of the village.
Violet: Perhaps I can open up a shop?

Mrs Hughes, Mrs. Patmore, and Mr. Carson

DA3_1_2

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Without these three upper servants, Downton Abbey, the series, wouldn’t be the same. Mrs. Hughes’ worry about cancer, Mrs. Patmore’s sincere concern for her friend, and Mr. Carson’s astute reading of the situation were a joy to watch. Many worry lines were lifted off Mrs. Hughes’s brow when Cora promised the housekeeper that she would always have a place at Downton and that she would be taken care of.

But my favorite scene was the last one, in which Mrs. Hughes observed Carson singing a little ditty after learning that her tumor was benign. In the first season, Carson declared that the servants were his family. This viewer wonders: is a romance brewing between Carson and Mrs. Hughes? Stay tuned, readers.

For those who have seen the full season, please feel free to comment, but, please, no plot spoilers.

More on the topic:

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I’ll admit it: The only thing that Jane Austen and Sherlock have in common, aside from their Britishness, is PBS and the BBC, who co-produce the many excellent film series and costume dramas that Jane Austen fans enjoy. That is my main excuse for reviewing a mystery set in the modern age. After watching Season One of Sherlock,  I eagerly looked forward to Season 2. I was not disappointed with the first episode, A Scandal in Belgravia. A number of viewers in the U.K., however, were outraged.

Lara Pulver as Irene Adler, dominatrix

Parents who watched the Belgravia episode with their young children wrote to the BBC complaining about the plot – which revolved around a dominatrix – and the nudity. While no female parts were anatomically shown, a great deal of bare flesh was displayed for about 2-3 minutes. I seriously doubt that young children are able to understand the double entendres spoken by Sherlock and Irene Adler (Lara Pulver), the woman whose craftiness and intelligence equals his. Much like a championship tennis game or chess match, it is great fun to watch these two characters connive, spar, tease and flirt in a game of mental and verbal one upmanship. And so, I surmise, that the irate parents were concerned about nudity, not subtext. Frankly, I’d be more angry about the explicit violence their children are exposed to in film and on television and try to put a halt to that, but what do I know?

Irene talks nonchalantly as the two men try not to react.

The plot in the first Season 2 episode is really is not so much about solving the mystery as about Sherlock finding himself  in thrall of Ms. Adler’s devious mind. A dominatrix who possesses incriminating photos of her sexual involvement with a British royal, she is able to do mental battle with Sherlock and hold her own. Upon first meeting her, Sherlock cannot make a “read” on her, for she reveals no clues about herself. How could she? She’s naked.  And so he finds her irresistibly intriguing.

Sherlock and Dr. Watson in Buckingham Palace. Unwilling to come, he refused to dress, a fact that barely surprised his roommie.

Some critics yawned at the plot, but I think they missed the point. This episode is all about Irene Adler tempting Sherlock out of his celibacy and distracting him with sexual thoughts. The episode was purportedly written to deflect any thoughts about Sherlock and Dr. Watson engaging in a homosexual relationship. I never had such a thought, but apparently many did.

Tit for tat. Cumberbatch gets to do a partial nude scene.

Once again Benedict Cumberbatch has done an outstanding job in portraying a man who, aside from his brilliant mind, is completely off his rocker. To me he is the definitive Sherlock. No other actor, past or present (even Robert Downey Jr) can match him in my eyes. By now, Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman), has grown accustomed to his strange roommie, and can anticipate how Sherlock will react at any given moment. The two odd friends have solidified into a smooth-working team.

Sherlock refuses to visit the crime scene, but is willing to study the site via WiFi. In this scene he is lecturing the inspector for suspecting the suspect.

Guest star, Lara Pulver, is one brave actress. Not only did she perform an important scene entirely in the nude, she was convincing as the woman who could outsmart Sherlock. I was highly captivated by their interplay.

Sherlock and Irene Adler discuss the crime in her sitting room. The camera zooms in on the actual scene as the two are solving the mystery. It’s these original touches that make this series so visually exciting.

If , after reading my take on the first episode, you still think the topic of A Scandal in Belgravia is too mature for your children, I suggest that you rent a movie for your offspring, trundle them off to a different room, then sit back and enjoy one of the more weirdly satisfying and witty mystery series on TV.

Sherlock will air tonight and on May 13th and May 20th for 1 1/2 hours at 9 PM EST (or check your local listing.) PBS has also arranged a twitter party during these events. Hash tag #SherlockPBS.

The episodes will stream online at PBSs website one day after the initial air date. Click here. 

Read my reviews of Sherlock Season One here.

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Tonight PBS Masterpiece Classic presents the last installment of its homage to Charles Dickens in honor of his 200th year anniversary. The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a 120 minute special about an opium-addled choirmaster, John Jasper, who believes his nephew, Edwin, stands between him and the woman he fancies, 17-year-old Rosa Bud.

Mathew Rhys as John Jasper, Tamzin Merchant as Rosa Bud, and Freddie Fox as Edwin Drood

Gwyneth Hughes wrote the ending to this adaptation. Charles Dickens died half way through writing the novel, leaving The Mystery of Edwin Drood and the question of his disappearance hanging in the air. This Dickens tales is one of the few that I don’t like, no matter how hard I try, for I simply could not care for the characters or relate to John Jasper in any way. Of course, my opinion of the book colors my lukewarm reaction to the film.

Tamzin as Georgiana

Jane Austen film fans will recognize Tamzin Merchant as young Georgiana Darcy in Pride and Prejudice 2005. In a curious coincidence, Freddie Fox (Edwin) is the real life younger brother of Amelia Fox, who played Georgiana in Pride and Prejudice 1995.

Sacha Shawan plays Neville Landless

Your thoughts?

The Mystery of Edwin Drood will air at 9 p.m. Eastern and Pacific, 8 p.m. Central and Mountain. Check your local listings to be sure. Watch the special online starting April 16th.

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Lady Almina

Lady Almina, the Countess of Carnarvon, who lived at Highclere Castle during the turn of the century and through World War 1, had many qualities in common with the fictional Cora, Countes of Grantham in Downton Abbey. Upon Lady Almina’s marriage, her fortune staved off financial ruin for the 5th Earl of Carnarvon and helped to renovate the mansion.

Like Lady Cora, she allowed her house to be turned into a hospital for wounded soldiers, running it at her own expense.

WW1 soldier recuperating at Highclere Castle

On her orders, each wounded officer had the luxury of his own room, with down pillows and linen sheets. She  made beds and dressed wounds” (The Daily Mail).

Lady Almina put together a skilled orthopedic operation at Highclere Castle and she had very good nursing skills, so good that she was often sent some of the hardest cases.

Soldiers were nursed back to health on fresh linen sheets, propped up on fat down pillows so they could gaze out over a beautiful country park. Silver service dinners were followed by a game of cards in the library while sipping a glass of beer, naturally from the house’s very own brewery. A butler was even on hand to pour the convalescents a nip of whisky before dinner. – The Real Downton Abbey: How Highclere Castle Became a World War 1 Hospital (includes a video).

Playing games at Highclere Castle and enjoying home brewed beer

In this matter, Almina showed one of her kinder sides, for she was reportedly a terrible mother and lived largely a selfish and extravagant life until her fortune ran out. The war touched all lives and all class stratas, and not a family was left standing at its end that did not experience a loss:

“All their young men are gone,” lamented the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens of the sons of  Mells Manor, one super-romantic house in Somerset. That was in 1919 when he went to help choose the site of the village war memorial – a figure of St George on a column. The pain of the Horner family at the loss of their son Edward, the last of the male line, can be seen from his monument in the church: a moving statue of the young cavalry officer by Munnings. – The Telegraph, What Next For Downton Abbey?

For several centuries during wars and conflict, great country houses had been conscripted for medical services. One of the earliest country houses to be used as a hospital was Greenwich Palace, which was converted to a navel hospital in 1694.

During World War One:

A genuine sense of wanting to help led to many owners voluntarily turning over their houses as hospitals including the Earl of Harewood offering Harewood House, Lord Howard of Glossop Carlton Towers, Lady Baillie lent Leeds Castle and the 4th Marquess of Salisbury offering Hatfield House as he had done during WWI. – Houses as Hospital: the country house in medical service

The numbers of wounded soldiers who were returned from the battlefields of northern France and Belgium were unprecedented. It was enormously difficulty to remove wounded men from battlefields riddled with shell pocks and guarded by staggered rows of  barbed wire barriers that were miles long. Scores of soldiers who could have survived under immediate medical attention were left to die unattended.  Medics practiced triage, making instant decisions and leaving behind those who stood little chance of surviving or who could not withstand the rigors of being carried to safety. Even when soldiers were successfully brought back to camp, many had to suffer a long wait, for doctors and nurses were overwhelmed, supplies were short, and field hospital conditions were ghastly. A large number died behind the front waiting to be transported.

The soldiers who were brought back to England overwhelmed the hospitals and medical staff that were available. Auxiliary hospitals exploded around England,  many of them the country homes of aristocrats. These houses were not ideally suited for their new positions. During the late 19th century, Florence Nightingale influenced the design of hospitals, noting the importance of separating unsanitary scullery sinks from patient beds, for example, and improving cleanliness and introducing hygiene. While country houses did not provide antiseptic conditions, they became ideal havens for convalescents and for those who suffered from tuberculosis, for these patients required clean country air.

In the second episode of Series 2, the less seriously wounded soldiers or those whose injuries were healing and who needed convalescence were sent to Downton Abbey.  In real life, hospitals and convalescent houses were staffed by a commandant in charge, a quartermaster in charge of provisions, a matron in charge of the nursing staff, and the local voluntary aids, who were trained in first aid and home nursing.

To accommodate the soldiers, family members were confined and restricted to certain rooms in their own home. One would assume this would not be a hardship, since the houses were so large, but the labor shortage and the need for injured soldiers to be housed in large rooms without going up the stairs would most likely necessitate some appropriation of a family’s favorite rooms.  Lord Grantham’s library was divided, so that most of the room became a recreational space and a small section was left to him. Downton Abbey’s central hall became a dining area. Such changes must have grated on the privileged class, who, while wanting to perform their patriotic duty, could not escape encountering the hoi polloi in their daily routine.

With so many men serving as soldiers, servants were stretched thin and forced to perform duties that normally were outside of their scope and that stepped over the boundaries of etiquette. Anna helped to serve at dinner, which would have been totally unacceptable during peace time. Carson, in an effort to maintain the status quo, ruins his health and thus worsens the situation when he is laid low in bed.

Due to the war and its many effects, society was in turmoil. Social change happened on many fronts and class barriers began to blur. As men fought and died in France, women, including those who formerly worked as servants, filled their positions in factories, corporations, and farms. Great houses began to feel the pinch of being short staffed, and genteel ladies who were accustomed to being served had to cook and sew for themselves.

To feed the army, country estates converted their flower gardens to grow fruits and vegetables. At Hatfield House, the Cecil family’s “fields and private golf course were filled with trenches and a man-made swamp to create a maneuvering ground for an experimental weapon under development, the tank.”*

Isobel Crawley, once a working middle class wife – until her son, Matthew, was suddenly propelled into the position of heir to the Earl of Grantham –  finds her true calling in ministering to injured soldiers. She was trained as a nurse and had performed charity work in caring for the sick. The need for her professional services made her feel like a valued woman again. Isobel’s zealousness in converting Downton Abbey into a convalescent home placed her in direct conflict with Cora, Lady Grantham, and continued her battle of wills with Violet, the dowager Countess. Isobel’s situation was not unusual, for during this war many people of the working classes who were professionally trained found themselves in positions of superiority over gently bred women who volunteered as nurses aids.  One Indian soldier remarked with some awe that a noble British lady had ministered to his wounds and treated him as an equal.*

It was only because of the war that a former footman like Thomas would dare enter through the front door or that a doctor could serve as head of the hospital and make decisions that overrode those of the owners of the house. Lady Sybil, whose support of the suffragettes was revealed in the first series, became a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment Nurse), for there simply weren’t enough professional nurses to go around.

VAD Poster

In many cases, women in the neighbourhood volunteered on a part-time basis, although they often needed to supplement voluntary work with paid labour, such as in the case of cooks. Medical attendance was provided locally and voluntarily, despite the extra strain that the medical profession was already under at that time. – History of British Red Cross

VADs were trained for only a few weeks before working under professional nurses.

Only the middle and upper classes could afford to work for free, and to pay for the courses and exams that were required to become a VAD. Growing up with servants, many of these young women had never had to wash a plate or boil an egg. One girl related how amusing it was to serve tea at the hospital and then return home to have her own tea served by the parlour maid. – The Great War As You May Not Know It

VADs changed linens, sterilized equipment, and served meals, but many were also exposed to the rawer side of war and at times, when the influx of casualties overwhelmed the staff, VADs were expected to perform the duties of a professional nurse.

Red Cross VADs

VADs were generally from genteel, sheltered, and chaperoned backgrounds. Some were aristocrats, like Lady Diana Manners – the “Princess Di” of her day – reputedly the most beautiful woman in England and expected to marry the Prince of Wales. Her mother was very much against Diana becoming a VAD, as Diana states in her memoir, The Rainbow Comes and Goes. “She explained in words suitable to my innocent ears that wounded soldiers, so long starved of women, inflamed with wine and battle, ravish and leave half-dead the young nurses who wish only to tend them,” The Duchess gave in, but “… knew, as I did, that my emancipation was at hand,” Diana says, and goes on to admit, “I seemed to have done nothing practical in all my twenty years.” Nursing plunged her and other young women into a life-altering adventure. – The Great War As You May Not Know It

Serving as a VAD changes Lady Sybil, giving her a direction and purpose. Lady Edith, too, finds new meaning in an otherwise predictable life consisting of dinners, parties, and long stretches of boredom. Lady Sybil advised her sister to find her talent and pursue it, which Edith did. One wonders if Lady Mary will  find a similar passion before she throws her life away and marries a man she does not love or (we suspect) respects.

The strength of Downton Abbey’s plot threads this year is how they incorporate the roiling changes in class structure during a complex political time in which the necessities of war, the dissatisfaction of the working classes, and the continued growth of the women’s movement influenced the lives of the series’ characters. More on this topic later.

If you missed Episodes 1 & 2, they can be viewed on PBS’s site through March, 2012 at this link: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/watch/index.html

Please note: You can watch Downton Abbey Season 1 on Netflix as a DVD or streaming.

Other links and references:

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For those who were so unfortunate as to miss Upstairs Downstairs, PBS has made the series available online one day after the initial airing. Click here to watch Episode One.

Ten points to ponder as you contemplate the first episode of Upstairs Downstairs:

1. Rose is back. She is the bridge between the old series and the new. (Jean Marsh was one of the original creators of the show.) Time has not been kind to Rose. Although only six years have passed since the Bellamys left 165 Eaton Place, the poor maid turned housekeeper seems to have aged three decades.

Rose now runs her own business

2. Co-creator Eileen Atkins was committed to another project when filming of the original series began, but she was available for this series. Her turn as Lady Maude Holland, the dowager mama does not quite rival Maggie Smith’s Violet in Downton Abbey, but unlike Maggie, Eileen was given a most interesting, very capable, quite mysterious and handsome secretary – Mr. Amanjit Singh.

Maude dictates her memoirs to her secretary

3.  Few series feature a monkey or a fledgling in a nest. This one has both.

Mr. Amanjit Sing (Art Malik) and Johnny (Nico Mirallegro) place the egg in a linen closet

4. Agnes and Hallam are passionately in love. I wonder if her bitchiness when talking to the servants turns him on, or is it her thriftiness?

Passion in Eaton Place (Keeley Hawes and Ed Stoppard)

5. Like Downton Abbey, there seems to be a foreshadowing of a relationship between the chauffeur and his young mistress, in this instance, Agnes’s sister, Lady Persie, a rebellious though uneducated minx.

Harry (Neil Jackson) and Lady Persie (Claire Foy)

6. What self-respecting viewer can resist a series that features both the family jewels and a home renovation?

The Holland Jewels

7.  We are given one more reason to despise Wallis Simpson.

Instead of the King, Wallis brings Her Ribbentrop (Edward Baker-Duly) to the party

8. A mystery is afoot. Will Johnny the footman, whose passion for the nubile (but very underage Ivy) has put him in the clinker, be able to highfoot it back to Eaton Place?

Ivy (Ellie Kendrick) turns out to be a tease.

9. Will we ever warm up to Pritchard and Mrs. Thackeray? Or will our fond memories of Mr. Hudson and Mrs. Bridges stand in the way? And where was Georgina (Lesley Ann Downe)?


10. Shall Episodes 2 & 3 firmly answer the question: Which series is better, Downton or UpDown? Inquiring minds want to know. Vote here.

Ivy meets Lady Holland

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