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Inquiring readers: A poll I placed on this blog a few days earlier showed that people were generally more pleased with Episode One over Episode Two, but the votes were close between excellent or merely O.K. for both. As for my coverage, 80% of you like my irreverent recaps, and 20% did not, with %5 wanting me to give it up and 15% wishing I was more serious. Having considered the results, expect more tongue in cheek coverage. Warning: Spoilers! Do not proceed if you have not watched this episode.

Charlie and Elsie and their Upcoming Nuptials

Mrs. Hughes is miffed, not sounding like a bride on the brink of wedded bliss. Good old Elsie wants a sit-down wedding breakfast at the school house with a groaning table filled with heart attack foods, but that’s not how posh people like Lady Mary do it. These days those skinny aristos stand around a room, delicately chewing on nibbly bits with zero calories.

“Well, I for one,” opined Charlie Carson bravely, “want to do it like the family wants to do it.”

Elsie shoots him a look that would fell a maddened bull.

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Elsie shows off her sensible dress.

Later she shows Mrs. Patmore and Anna her sensible, ordinary old day dress with long sleeves and a high neck and a hem that sweeps down to her ankles. “That’ll do for a bride, don’t you think? Clean and tidy and it’ll cover all my nibbly bits.”

Even Mrs. Patmore knows better than this and gives Anna a sly look. When Elsie leaves, Mrs. P. pulls out a catalogue, a sort of Forever21.com or BridesOnline.com on paper (for you millenials), and shows her a dress at half price, plus a coupon for another 20% off, and free return postage by horse guaranteed. “I want to order this for her as a surprise bride’s gift at an impressive discount.”

Anna’s not so sure, seeing that the image is black and white and grainy, but, hey, her wedding dress was nothing to shout about either.

Mary Spies a Bump

When next we see Anna with her Mistress, that eagle eyed ice lady senses a change.

“You’re not!”

“Too early to tell, my lady, but my morning porridge is tasting somewhat off.”

“Now we know the problem isn’t Mr. Bates,” blurts Mary, pleased as punch that Anna’s completely at fault.

Anna blushes. “If I were to repeat the things you say downstairs…” (‘And talk about the dead men we carry from room to room in the dark of the night… or your sampling session with Viscount Gillingham in Liverpool..’.)

“Should you be working?” Lady Mary interrupts Anna’s thoughts. “I can put Baxter on double duty for 1/4 the pay…”

“No, I don’t want to tell Mr. Bates until I can no longer see my feet. He’ll never notice, what with this loose frock and all.”

Mary claps her hands with glee. “At the end of the third month we’ll whiz up to London to see Dr. Price and have that miracle-working stitch stitched in. Then we can go shopping. Oh, how exciting!”

“S’cuse me, my lady,” says Anna, covering her mouth, “but I’ve got to find the nearest loo.”

Thomas Reads the Paper

Meanwhile, Thomas Barrow is in the servant’s hall looking at adverts before his inevitable heave-ho, after having finished reading an article on Exit Counseling.

“Very thoughtful of you,” says Mr. Carson. “Your finding a job should avoid any unpleasantness on my part, though don’t go thinking that my giving you the pink slip shall ruin my honeymoon in any way whatsoever.”

“So nice of you to say,” says Thomas, spying a promising ad for a position of trust in a prominent household, thinking a position of trust is right up his alley.

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Cora talks to Elsie and Charlie about their nuptials.

Lady Cora Finally Gets A Story Line, Sort Of

Lady Cora, having talked with Mrs. Patmore and gotten wind of Lady Mary’s steamrolling the wedding reception at the house and Mrs. Hughes’ unhappiness with the situation, invites all interested parties, including Isobel, to dinner. When they assemble in the drawing room after a divine meal of fig and stilton salad with port wine dressing, venison tenderloin with madeira green peppercorn sauce, and floating islands with lemon scented custard sauce, she summons Mrs. Hughes. Epicurious http://www.epicurious.com/archive/entertaining/partiesevents/tv-dinners-downton-abbey

“Mrs. Hughes,” she begins, I’m sorry to put you on the spot, but I believe you have been rather railroaded into holding your reception in the hall by my imperious and spoiled daughter. I understand you don’t want to be married from this house.”

The Earl – ” What?” Lady Mary – “Why ever not?” Carson – “My lady, we are both privileged ….”

“No!…I want to hear from Mrs. Hughes.” The outraged chorus stops. Isobel smiles with glee.

Mrs. Hughes, eyes averted from her beloved, seizes the moment – “I don’t want to sound ungrateful -this is a fine house – it would be an honor to hold our party here…”

“But it’s not what you want.”

“Precisely! None of us is on a diet, my lady. We need energy to work, whereas you and your lordship and Lady Mary must watch your waistlines from sitting around all day. At my reception I want to serve a solid meal at proper tables, with plenty of calories and carbohydrates, so that we may go about our duties later with vim, vigor and gusto.”

“Does anyone have a sit down wedding breakfast anymore?” Mary snorts, wishing to have a word in.

Mrs. Hughes turns to her. “A great many people my lady. And then I’d like to feel we can ask all sorts, everyone who’s been part of our lives here, our friends, and even our betters, such as yourselves, should you deign to join us. And I’ve planned for music later on, with dancing and whooping and hollering, none of which would be suitable in the great hall.”

“It would not,” intones Carson, who is feeling nauseous just thinking about having to kick up his heels a few scant hours before PERFORMING in bed. ‘Will he have the stamina,’ he wonders. ‘Will Elsie?’

“There you are, were only agreeing,” says Elsie, not knowing what is on her Charlie’s mind.

Mary attempts one more time to hold the reception in a proper place. “Mrs. Hughes, doesn’t Carson deserve a wedding in this house?”

“It’s about Charles Carlson and Elsie Hughes, just us, Lady Mary. Not you and Carson, which I find a bit odd, truth be told. Pardon me, but may I be excused?”

Not if Lady Mary could help it, but Cora was done with the subject. “I understand your reasons, Mrs. Hughes. I hope we will be invited.”
‘Didn’t I just say?’ Mrs. Hughes thinks to herself, wondering if Lady Cora has early onset of Alzheimer’s.

Some Mother and Daughter Bonding Time

Mary

Snob!

The moment Elsie and Charlie leave the room, Lady Mary and her momma express their opinions.

“You’re a bully. I should have given you a spanking when you were young. Or at least twenty lashes with a wet noodle,” Cora says to her beloved eldest.

Mary rounds on her momma: “You think I’M a bully, I think YOU’RE a snob. You just don’t want the bother of hosting the servants’ wedding in the hall!”

Lady Cora yanks on the bell pull to order 10 wet noodles. She’s had enough of her daughter’s insufferable case of affluenza.

Denker and Sprat

The viewer is then treated to Denker making Mr. Sprat’s life miserable once again. A visitor arrives at the back door in the dark of night and Denker insists on knowing who it is.

“Nothing, nobody, that is, it was a visitor, but he came to the wrong house.” Sprat’s evasiveness doesn’t faze Denker one bit. She approaches Violet with false concern, wanting to know about Sprat’s friends.

“I know he has many relations who seem to get married and buried with numbing regularity, usually on inconvenient days…” our favorite dowager says, wondering why Denker is always interrupting her with silly nonsense.

The local constable visits the servant’s hall and asks Sprat if he’s seen Wally, his sister’s son, just absconded from prison and currently on the run.

“Has the cretin made any contact, Mr. Sprat?”

Sprat, his eyes dilated, shakes his head no, unable to speak.

When the constable leaves, Denker is at her oiliest. “What an interesting family you have, Mr. Sprat. Mine are dull compared to yours. After you put that criminal up in the potting shed, did he get away safely? Don’t worry, Mr. Sprat, I can keep secrets if I want to. Will you want me to?”

‘I’m sunk,’ thinks Sprat, ‘and well and truly stuck with the bitch for the rest of my working life.’

Thomas on the Hunt for a Job and Some Respectability

Thomas_job interview_3

Thomas at a job interview

Wearing his best Sunday bowler hat, St. Thomas à Barrow, his transformation into a nice person almost complete, approaches a grand but moldering house in Dryden Park in York. As the elderly owner takes him through the largely empty but dusty mansion, he says without irony, “We’ve rather let things slide since my wife died. Our previous housekeeper worked for a Miss Havisham, who seemed to be the gloomy, untidy sort.” He talks about the old days when his wife was a lady in waiting to some grand duchess and when the house was used for entertaining, and then observes that his two sons never came back from the war. Thomas, commiserating, mentions his service in Flanders.

The old man perks up. “This is what I need, someone who knows what it like to fight for his king and his country.”

‘I wouldn’t know, really,’ Thomas thinks, flexing his bad hand and recalling how he made it BAD in order to escape combat. “How many staff do you have?” he asks, cutting to the chase.

“Mrs. Tomkins comes in 3 days a week, and a man outside every now and then. When the good times return and they all come back, we must be ready…we can’t let standards slip.”

It becomes clear to Thomas that while serving in the house as it was twenty years before would have been perfect, the job wasn’t right for him now. ‘More’s the pity,’ he thinks, as he bids the old man goodbye, and returns to the Abbey, where Molesley looks to Daisy’s education and Daisy, who’s champin’ at the bit for worry about Mr. Mason, corrals Lady Cora every chance she gets to put a good word in for her papa-in-law.

Edith, Wonder Woman

Having rather a drama on her hands with her male editor, Edith scurries to London. There, she hooks up with Bertie Pelham, land agent. He’s someone she’s met before, a detail that most viewers have already forgotten.

“I own the magazine, you know,” she says, “and I’m off to fire my editor.”

“How modern!” he says, with admiration.

“Yes. I miss Marigold, my ward, er, our ward,” she says to the man who has no clue as to how modern she really is.

“Would you care to have a drink later on?” he asks.

“As long as it’s near the office. I must lead a purposeful life.”

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Edith, Wonder woman. Credit: Courtesy of (C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE

But after she fires her editor, Edith realizes that the proofs are due at the printers in 9 hours and that her ghastly ex-editor had done nothing worth sending over. Crikey! A four a.m. deadline! That’s way past her bed time, but she refuses to be defeated. She runs through Covent Garden, and races against time, like Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, to break her date with Bertie. (Cue Chariots of Fire music.)

In Bertie’s mind, the exercise has given Lady Edith’s skin a sexy glow. Overcome by her sweateous beauty, he offers to tag along and cook, clean, sew, and look after babies to help her meet her deadline. Edith, having never done anything more than sit on a tractor, give her sister a rough time, pen a story or two, and pine after Marigold, becomes an instant expert on magazine layout and design. Working their well-manicured fingers to the bone, she and her team meet the deadline with seconds to spare. Whew! Lady Edith turns to Bertie, “Want to go for that drink now?” He’d like to go for something more, but decides to bide his time.

And Now, Back to the Wedding Preparations

When the catalogue dress arrives, Mrs. P. is crestfallen. “Lordy, lordy, this is awful! It’s gray. It’s plain! It’s just like Elsie’s other dress! It seemed so nice in the picture! It seemed like such a bargain. Now she’s got two ugly dresses.” (As you can see, gentle readers, false advertising reared its ugly head as early as 1925.)

This upsets Anna so much that, when she tends to Lady Mary’s toilette, Lady Mary wonders if Anna’s having a miscarriage again. “Oh, no, not yet, m’lady. It’s so much worse. Mrs. Hughes has the ugliest two dresses in creation in which to marry her Prince Charming!”

Lady Mary, wanting her revenge on her mama and wishing to play the grande dame, says, “Well, we can’t have that! Let’s have you, Mrs. Patmore, and Mrs. Hughes rifle through Mama’s closet for a nice designer coat that is worth 10 years of your combined salaries. I’m sure Mama won’t mind.”

But when Lady Cora returns to the Abbey from a meeting about the hospitals, where Violet and Isobel honked for hours like two fighting geese, she is in no frame of mind to think about frocks and coats and weddings, so Lady Mary remains mum when Mum heads straight up the stairs.

When Mama enters her inner sanctum she hits the roof. She sees Elsie in one of her best coats, with other clothes tossed helter skelter on the sacred Crawley bed, and Mrs. P. and Anna attending her as if Elsie was the countess!

“What the ….?!” Lady Cora screeches. “Out of my chambers!”

The servants scurry away, leaving Lady Cora’s coats in a heap and Mrs. Hughes feeling like a naughty child in need of a smack. Lady Cora is livid for this awful business. Lady Mary is livid with her Mama and reminds her that she, Mary, is not the only one suffering from affluenza. This makes Cora feel dreadful for being so churlish to those sweet servants who have worked the sweat off their brows since puberty for practically no pay morning, noon, and night.

Eating humble pie, Cora descends to the servants quarters with a beautiful embroidered coat for Elsie. “My abject apologies,” Mrs. Hughes. “Here’s a coat that cost the earth. Please wear it, keep it, and remember my largesse for the rest of your life.”

Elsie has no words to thank her properly, knowing that she, at 5′ 4,” will never fit into a coat created for a skinny 5′ 8″ aristo, unless Baxter is willing to stay up for the rest of the night to tailor it.

T’was the Night Before the Wedding

Carson, eager to see his bride-to-be, takes a peek into Mrs. Hughes’ parlor.

“Ack! We musn’t see each other tonight!” Mrs. Hughes protests, holding a thick blanket up to her high- necked flannel jammies. She needs another night to adjust to the idea of seeing her lothario naked, and of he seeing her naked, and … oh, goodness, she’s lost her train of thought.

She falls into a fitful sleep, until…

Reception Interruptus

Knock! Knock! “We’ve come to dress the bride!” Baxter and Anna tra-la as they waltz in.

“Well, that a sentence I never thought I’d hear,” says Elsie.

The wedding ceremony is sweet. Everyone is teary eyed, including the viewers.

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Mr. & Mrs. Carson aka Charlie and Elsie. Credit: Courtesy of (C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE

Mrs. Hughes plain gray dress is beautifully enhanced by Lady Cora’s coat.

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Elsie and Charlie’s wedding. Credit: Courtesy of (C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE

The wedding is sweet, the school house is decorated with white paper flags, and the guests are pleased as punch for all of 5 minutes, when Tom and Sybbie arrive to toast the bride and groom. Everyone abandons Charlie and Elsie to rush over to Tom. “I had to go to Boston to figure something out. I learned that Downton is my home and that you are my family.”

tom sybie_3

Tom and Sybbie join the festivities

Yeah, well, what a great way to take the spotlight off Elsie and Charlie at their reception, Tom. Harrumph and welcome back.

Music crescendoes. End of Episode 3, which I give 4 out of 5 stars.

My Recaps and Reviews of Season 6

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Courtesy of Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE

Curious readers. I present to you a poll. Please vote. Please be honest. Curious minds want to know what American audiences think about this last season!

Click on the choices below to take the poll. You may vote for 3 categories: Season 1 plus Season 2 plus Vic.

 

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Dowton Abbey Season 4 image, courtesy PBS

After Matthew’s shocking death, we couldn’t wait for Dowton Abbey Season 4 to begin, certain that we would be grieving alongside his widow and family at the funeral. As we now know, this did not happen. The action, as it were, began six months after the tragedy. Enough of sorrow. So many reviews of DA now exist, that I thought I’d turn the table a bit. I’d love your reactions to my tongue in cheek observations for Epis 1 & 2:

1. Lady Mary’s wooden with grief, or Lady Mary’s always wooden.

2. Edith’s a hussy; her public passion (in a restaurant, of all places) went beyond the boundaries of good taste, or Edith’s finally getting some – good for her.

3. Mrs. Patmore and Robert Crawley, Lord Grantham, have so much in common – they could stand to lose a tad of weight, or they’re so old-fashioned, their heads are screwed on backwards.

 4. Violet’s quips are becoming predictable, or the dowager duchess will never wear thin. The Abbey simply isn’t the Abbey without her.

5. Lady Cora showed some feistiness in firing that awful nanny, or Lady Cora has the worst taste in ladies maids.

6. John Bates and his Anna will produce a Batesy Jr., or (after Green’s awful assault) we don’t know what will happen to Bates and his Anna.

7.  Tom Cullen as Lord Anthony Gillingham will make a splendid suitor for Mary, or Tom Cullen holds no candle to Matthew (Dan Stevens.) Alternate observation: It’s a bit too soon, isn’t it, to hint of a new guy for Mary? or it’s about time that Lady Mary’s knickers get twisted.

8. Alfred and Jimmy will come to fisticuffs over Ivy, or Daisy and Ivy will  have a major food fight over Jimmy.

9. Molesley will prefer ditch digging over working as a footman, or he will trip Carson on the stairs and ascend to the title of Butler.

10. I miss O’Brien, or I’m glad she’s gone.

 Please let me know your thoughts or provide a few observations of your own.

Note: In past years, I spent hours pulling images from the review DVDs that PBS sent us. Last year, parent company Universal frowned on another blogger’s similar actions (I am not sure she wants me to reveal her blog), taking the punitive step of notifying Google, which blackballed the blog and drove numbers precipitously down. I have spent arduous hours deleting my pulled images from the many Downton Abbey posts on this blog and from the web.  I will no longer pull images on my own and will use only materials released for publicity. PBS has been nothing but supportive of me, and I thank the organization for including me in those heady early years.  – Vic

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The Downton Abbey of seasons past is back, warts and all. Last night viewers were treated to a 120-minute episode of pure Downton Abbey-isms, with Violet spewing her wisdom left and right, character development galore, only an occasional plot twist that stretched the story line into unbelievable territory, Tom Branson as super hero, and even a glimmer of passion ‘tween the sheets twixt Mary and Matthew. So let’s dive in, shall we?

All bow down and hail Bates’s release from prison!

Thank you Julian Fellowes for putting an end to our misery. I had reached a point where I didn’t care if Bates rotted in prison for the rest of his life. This week we were treated to Bates and his Anna sitting side by side, walking side by side, and painting side by side. Their tepid kisses told me that they should stop taking lessons from Mary and Matthew and embark on another steamy honeymoon night.

Ethel and her miasmic scarlet letter washed clean

It’s becoming clear to Violet that: “Ethel is notorious in the village.”
“I don’t think so”, replies Isobel, who will counter her nemesis any time, any where, even at the price of being wrong. Violet always has the upper hand: “I know so. You have touched this house by a miasma of scandal … “

In this episode the two battle axes are at it in full force. Violet shows no quarter, even to the hapless Ethel, who ventures to brag after receiving a compliment about her cooking from Isobel: “These days a working woman must have a skill.”

To which Violet replies:  “But you seem to have so many.”

Our dowager does have a heart and even keener powers of observation. Noticing Ethel’s extreme unhappiness at her treatment in the village, she joins forces with Mrs. Hughes and Isobel to remove the fallen woman from her scene of social crime to another position in another village. Violet places an advertisement in Ethel’s name “to wash her clean.” But the only appealing offer comes from a Mrs. Watson near Cheadle, a village tantalizingly near her son, Charlie, and the Bryans. who are raising him. This is when Violet comes to the rescue!

She invites Mrs. Bryan, who, in defiance of her meany of a husband, encourages Ethel to accept the position, for she feels “uncomfortable keeping a mother separated from her son.” With Ethel working nearby, she can see how Charlie is getting on, and later, much later, reveal that she is his mother.

Lady Rose’s nubility vs the Downton nobility

Let’s see. Lady Rose’s mama is Violet’s niece and godchild. Lady Rose is 18. She is pretty. She is a flapper and a trendsetter, for her wardrobe is years ahead of its time. She is also a liar and a sneak and (blush) the girlfriend of a slimy married man with a house in Warwick Square. This minx’s sole reason for appearing on DA is to spice things up, and I must admit she is more interesting than that dishrag, Lavinia Swire. (Will she hook up with Branson, super man, in future episodes? Curious minds want to know.)

Before the nubile Rose is packed off to her family’s estate in Scotland in July, she will stay with Violet at the Dower House. When questioned if she was capable of keeping such a young girl gainfully occupied and interested, our stalwart dowager replied: “The thing is to keep smiling and never to look as if you disapprove.”

Somehow Rose finagles her great aunt into letting her go to London with Edith so that she can arrange a surprise for darling mummy. Matthew also needs to go there on some mysterious business, and so, like the lion, tin man and Dorothy, the three of them start off for Aunt Rosamund’s place.

Once there, Rose makes her escape in a taxi and disappears ’round the bend. The taxi driver, kind man that he is (and hoping for a fat tip), returns Rose’s scarf and relates the sordid tale of her escapade.

Gullible Rose is rescued at the Blue Dragon from the clutches of lying cad who has (if inferences can be read correctly) fornicated with the girl.

This story arc is so contrived that I felt myself getting mad, except for the fact that we see Matthew in heroic action and Aunt Rosamund look down her aristocratic nose at that dreadful two-timing Terrence.

Once Rose is safely deposited at her great aunt’s home, Violet, with a smile that could neutralize poison, announces that Rose will be trundled off to Scotland after the cricket match to stay alone with her Aunt Agatha.

The camera pans to Rose’s horrified face.

Do we really care? Except that this gives Julian Fellowes a perfect excuse for sending the whole troupe to Scotland for Episode Seven of this season. Stay tuned to find out what happens.

Edith, the not so invisible woman

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

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

Praise Saint Julian, for he has given Edith direction, a job, a nice wardrobe, and a splendid man. Although, let’s be realistic, life will never be perfect for our scrappy gal, who has learned to make do with her eldest sister’s cast offs. We first meet up with our heroine at her granny’s house for tea. Violet is aghast when she discovers that Edith actually means to accept the position of columnist for The Sketch. When Edith reminds granny that it was her idea that she find something useful to do, Violet retorts, “I meant running a local charity or paint watercolours or something!”

At dinner Edith announces that she accepted the job as journalist and her plans to “get the 10 o’clock” and meet her editor for tea. Violet seems quite supportive, saying “I don’t think a woman’s place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there”, but then she turns her thoughts directly on Edith. “”Edith isn’t getting any younger, perhaps she isn’t cut out for domestic life.”

And so Edith goes off to London. Her first glimpse of Michael Gregson, the editor of The Sketch, is that of a smiling, strapping man who is looking for “a mature female voice” (and perhaps something else on the side).

They make a date for lunch next time she’s in town, and our Edie takes care to look especially pretty. As she talks of journalism and being jilted at the altar, she mentally rearranges Mr. Gregson’s clothes off his body.

Charmed as she is, our Edie wasn’t born yesterday! Back at the Abbey, this smart cookie checks her man out. And hies back to London blazing mad.
Donning a serious working hat, her best pearls, and killer lipstick, Edie rushes to Gregson’s office to QUIT her one opportunity to make something of herself.

I had the impression, SIR! that you were flirting with me and found me attractive! Only to find you are MARRIED!”

“Yes, uhm, well, let me explain.”

“I find the idea repugnant! No, I find YOU repugnant. I quit!!

“No don’t go yet. You haven’t had your clotted cream and fresh raspberries! You see, my wife is in an asylum. Lizzie was wonderful when she could cook and clean and sew, but she is gone. And I can’t divorce a lunatic. I’m tied, I tell you, TIED to a madwoman, but I’m MAD about you! Just seeing your feisty words in print lifts my spirits. Having lunch with you …”

“Do I look stupid? My cousin, who is MUCH younger and more nubile and prettier, bought that line off some toff on Warwick Square, but I’m not having any of your deceitful and hateful and untruthful lies.”

What if I said, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry?”

“Oh, well, then. If that’s the case, see you next week.”

The Passion of Mary and Matthew

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

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

One more open-mouthed smooch and the passionate scenes between Mary and Matthew will receive an x-rating. We catch Mary saying such seductive things as, “You’ll make me untidy,” “We’re trying for a baby,” and “While we make our little prince.” I shudder at her passion.

Even the doctor is predicting an increasing amount of sexual activity, saying that Lady Mary will be pregnant by 6 months. Gasp. This is too much for me to bear. I am positively getting red in the face thinking about the lustful way in which these two are cavorting all over creation in order to follow their DUTY to God, country, house, and earldom.

Oh, what the heck. I’m a 21st-century girl. Go team Matthew and Mary. Bring that next heir on!

The sacking of Thomas, or how O’Brien tightens the noose

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

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

The long arm of forewarning and prophecy made it’s first appearance with this statement: “I expect you’ll find something to do, Mr. Barrow, now that Mr. Bates is back.” Viewers have wondered since the first episode when O’Brien would crank up her evil conspiracy against Thomas and it seems the time is at hand. Thomas is in a precarious situation and knows he’ll be given his notice as the earl’s temporary valet. If anyone was rooting for Bates to rot in prison, it was our erstwhile valet cum footman cum bad guy. But the earl promises Thomas that he won’t be left in the lurch. “We’ll sort things out.”

The fiendish O’Brien, divining the right moment, strikes up a friendly conversation with Thomas and makes this observation about James: “You make a cozy couple I must say. Alfred says [James is] always going on about you. Silly sloppy stuff.”

Thomas stops smoking long enough to retort: Youre quite wrong Miss O’Brien He’s a proper little ladies man.”

“Oh, if that’s how you want to play it.”
“What are you going on about?”
“There’s no need to bark. I only know what Alfred tells me.”
“Well, if he says Jimmy’s interested in me he’s lying.”
“Oh dear, was it supposed to be a secret?”

Lovely stuff, this dialogue. O’Brien and Thomas dance around each other like two vipers. One hungers to kill the other, while the second is distracted by a desire that overwhelms his sense of caution.

And so the inevitable happens, with Thomas making a move on a sleeping Jimmy. (Does this make sense? Would he not wake him to see if the young man was receptive?)

Suddenly awakened, Jimmy is, like, totally spooked.

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

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

This happened during an age when homosexuality was criminalized and gays were literally living in the closet. Poor Oscar Wilde was sent to prison and hard labor, only to emerge as a physically and spiritually broken man. Thomas was putting everything on the line by showing his affection to James.

After the truth comes out, Thomas and Carson engage in a conversation that represents the attitude of most gay and straight people at the time:

Thomas: “I was very drawn and got the impression he felt the same way. When you are like me, Mr. Carson, you have to read the signs as best you can, because no one dares to speak out.”

Carson: “I do not wish to take a tour of your revolting world. You have been twisted by nature into something foul.”

Here is where Thomas quietly defends himself, saying, “I am not foul, Mr. Carson.”

Bravo, Thomas.

Jimmy and Alfred are guided by the puppeteer O’Brien, who manipulates the situation in such a way that Thomas is let go without a reference after ten years of service, a disastrous consequence that will lead him straight to the poor house.

There are twists and turns, with the end of the story sorted out by Bates, who, while he feels revenge is sweet, is a decent man. For the first time since his return from prison, Bates has been given an important task by Julian Fellowes – as the instrument of redemption for Thomas. All he has to do is lure a self-satisfied O’Brien to his house for tea and whisper in her ear: “Her ladyship’s soap.”

O’Brien turns paler than Bates’s whitewashed walls and leaves, promising to set things right.

In the end, all turns out well, with Thomas retaining his position in the house as an underbutler. This job is usually held by a former first footman who steps in for the butler if he is unable to fulfill his duties due to an illness or absence. Thomas as underbutler bodes well for further plot developments, and I cannot wait to see him manipulate his new position to his advantage in future DA seasons!

Tom/Branson, superman

Tom Branson emerges as the super hero of this season, able to grieve with the best of them, dandle a baby, divine how to run a great estate simply from observing his granddaddy, order his boozy brother, Kieran, around, deftly sidestep tricky matters of protocol so that he even gains Carson’s grudging respect, and learn to play cricket in the blink of an eye.

These tricks disguise the fact that Tom/Branson plot line often makes no sense. Where is his revolutionary fervor? Buried in the grave with Sybil? While most of the family calls him Tom, Violet and the earl insist on calling him Branson, which is meant to put him in his place. This does set up a running comic dialogue, with Violet constantly being admonished by Cora and her granddaughters. Remarkably, Mary, whose nose is pointed so high in the air that it attracts snow clouds, fully embraces Tom’s entrance into the family, even though the only thing they have in common is baby Sybbie.

Good old Cora comes to Tom’s rescue repeatedly, saying that “He’s our responsibility, he and the baby.” Frankly, the Bryans’ attempts to take their grandson from Ethel makes more sense than this sentimental claptrap. The Crawleys have the wealth and means to get rid of the chauffeur while keeping their grandchild. But the viewers are invested in the Crawleys as decent people. We would balk and leave in droves if the earl and his extended family went off the deep end and used their social muscle to push Tom/Branson out of the picture in order to retain Sybil’s child.

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

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

The Catholic christening is deftly glossed over, but provides some fun dialogue from the earl, who delights in poking fun at the clergy.

Recall that in episode 4 he suggested that Violet be placed next to a toffee-nosed prince of the church because she’d know how to handle him. The earl gets off another brilliant line at the dinner table, protesting that at a Catholic christening he…

And thus we come to the ridiculous situation in which forward thinking Matthew discovers that Tom’s granddaddy owned a teensy tiny Irish sheep farm, a fact that caused him to conclude that Branson must know how to handle the running of an enormous estate in Yorkshire.

Irish sheep farm. Image @kid's encyclopedia

Irish sheep farm. Image @kid’s encyclopedia

I was drinking wine during this scene and nearly choked with disbelief on that peculiar observation.

When Branson’s brother, Kieran, sensibly invites him to live in rooms above his garage in Liverpool, the upstairs gang just about keeled over from a collective heart attack.  Baby Sybbie in a garage? Over Violet’s dead body!

Kieran turns out to be a plot device upon which hangs our changing perception of Branson, whose super powers include diplomatic skills with which he convinces his brother to eat with the toffs, honors Cora, and impresses Carson. Branson lives in limbo, no longer able to socialize with the downstairs folks and unable to fit in comfortably upstairs. What’s a super hero to do?

Sweep out the old, bring in the new

My DA viewing party took the opportunity to take breaks any time Matthew, Tom, and Mary discussed farm improvements using a volume of Estate Farming and Stewardship for Dummies.

The earl and Jarvis are Downton Abbey’s benevolent overlords, using farming techniques that go back to the Norman Invasion. Murray, Matthew, and our super hero Branson, are forward thinking chaps who are unwilling to squander Swire’s fortune in the manner that Robert used to waste Cora’s inheritance.

It is telling that Robert now thinks of Downton as a dual monarchy, whereas Matthew looks upon his inheritance as an investment that must turn a profit.

Ponzi circa 1920 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ponzi circa 1920 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the young whippersnapper is starting to make sense a desperate Robert brings up a marvelous new American financial invention: the Ponzi Scheme. “I hear that you get a great return on your investment in 90 days.”

Jarvis, seeing his cushy, easy job vanish into thin air, asks for a good reference and sweeps out of the room, old broom that he is. This plot development stepped over the line of common sense too many times, but I understand Fellowes’ need to provide baby Sybie’s daddy with a raison d’etre for remaining in town.

Violet, as usual, gets in the last word, telling her son: “Think of the child. You cannot want your only granddaughter to grow up in a garage with that drunken gorilla. We owe it to Sybil.” Besides, as she sensibly remarks, we could call him Branson again.

Dang right and experience be damned. And so at the end of Episode 6 the new estate manager is … Ta, Da! Drum roll, please – Sybil’s darling Tom, the grandson of an Irish sheep farmer.

The depths of Branson’s super powers have not been plumbed. When the earl, in a moment of self pity, declares “It’s time for me to take a back seat”, our hero comes to the fore with this observation, that Robert knows the people on his estate backwards and forwards and that this knowledge is priceless.

Hearing this, Robert’s face shines with delight and he declares in a Sally Field moment – “You like me, you really like me!”

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

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

It’s cricket time!

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

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

I almost thought I was watching a replay of the Ravens and 49ers when the villagers took on the folks at the Abbey in their yearly cricket match. The scenes were so action-packed and unbelievably tense that I missed quite a few details.

The village folk (including Dr. Carson) were up for a thrashing, having won too numerous times to count, and the earl and Moseley were just the right men to bring VICTORY to Downton Abbey. Of course their team was missing two men, mere bumps in an otherwise smooth landscape.

Matthew had to hurry up and get Branson up to speed and teach him cricket in like 30 seconds …

… and the earl had to find a way to keep Thomas, a talented cricketer, on. Fellowes, clever fellow that he is, solved all of Episode 6’s problems in a mere 10 minutes.

Branson will stay on with baby Sybbie at the mansion, which has Cora crowing with delight. Mary and Matthew continue their pornographic display of affection in plain view in the hope of conceiving a little replacement male Crawley. Edith basks in the thought of being loved by an honourable married man and having a paid position. Violet has been reassured time and again that she is perfect, which does not surprise her at all.

And then there’s Branson. He, who has NEVER played cricket before, catches the WINNING ball! Those of you who were not convinced of Branson’s super powers must now agree – the man is unstoppable!

And so, all is now well in Downton Abbey land. See you next week, gentle readers. Same time, same blog.

In leaving your thoughts, please NO PLOT SPOILERS about the last installment.

Images courtesy PBS Pressroom.

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Downton Abbey lovers, it is important that you NOT continue to read this post if you have not seen Episode Four of Season 3. PBS is streaming each episode one day after it airs at this link. Do watch it and then come back to share your thoughts.

As many of you know, a major character is killed off during this season (perhaps more). It’s been all over the Internet for months. In fact, some headlines in the U.K. have totally spoiled the surprise for some U.S. viewers. Fear not. For the first time in the 3rd season the writing is up to snuff. While some of us already know who has died, the writers have managed to create scenes that stir us, make us laugh, or promote the plot. More importantly, we are able to react with disbelief, grieve alongside friends and family, and still be stunned by our reactions.

Why did the writers kill off such a popular character? Downton Abbey has made the cast uber famous. Who can fault the younger ones from jumping ship to what seems to be a more promising land for their careers? Us! For we oldsters know this is a big mistake 90% of the time.

Actors are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. Some who stay with a successful series are never able to rise above their stereotypical roles and quietly drop out of sight after their run is over. The same fate happens to most actors who drop out prematurely. Only a lucky few manage to carve a solid career for themselves.

Take Dame Maggie Smith, for example. While hanging onto her meaty role as Violet, she’s performed in the following films during the same time period: Nanny McPhee Returns, Gnomeo & Juliet, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and Quartet. Maggie, who’s no spring chicken, dug deep inside herself, found a few extra hours in the day, and decided to go for the gusto, staying with Downton while accepting other film projects. (Take that, Leonardo Di Caprio. That poor tired old/young soul is takinga break after making 3 films in 2 years.) Dame Maggie could show him a thing or two. She has proven her acting chops, which is where she has a leg up on the young’uns.

It is no secret that offers are raining down upon some of the more popular Downton actors. Godbless’em for being tempted and providing the writers with marvelous ways to “Auf” them, but all I can say is “Sayonara, darlings. You’re not doing yourselves or your careers a favor.” To make my point, visit IMBD to see the projects for which our much lamented expired cast member left Downton.

Now that I’ve had my rant, on with reviewing the show!

The Battle of the Physicians – or a standoff at the Downton corral

It all started normally, with Dr Clarkson assuring the family that Sybil is a healthy young woman going through normal childbirth.

The earl solicits a “society doctor”, Sir Phillip, to oversee the birth of Sybil’s child, explaining to Cora: “We can’t risk her welfare to soothe Clarkson’s feelings. I like the old boy, but he did misdiagnose Matthew and he did miss the warning signs with Lavinia.”

When Dr. Clarkson notices Sybil’s alarmingly thick ankles and muddled mind, Sir Phillip puffs out his substantial chest. “You are upsetting these people for no reason at all!” and warns Clarkson off, telling him not to interfere with doctoring or his much superior social skills in schmoozing with the ladies at the dinner table. We know Sir Phillip is not too swift for 1) He probably received a second-rate education in a first-rate institution simply because he’s upper class, and 2) He disses our pretty Sybil by accusing her of having fat ankles in the first place, which back in those days was considered a major physical defect. Had I been Papa Crawley, I would have decked Sir Phillip.

But Clarkson won’t be put off: “I think she may be toxemic with a danger of eclampsia, in which case we must act FAST!”

Gasps all around. By now the viewers are reaching for their medical dictionaries (click here for explanation of the condition).

Two factions emerge: On one side is the Cora/Clarkson contingent, on the other side the Robert/Phillips naysayers. Clarkson continues his portents of doom, despite Sir Phillip casting dagger eyes at him: “Her baby is small, she’s confused, and there’s far too much albumen in her urine.”

This is TMI for Robert, who reminds Clarkson that the Crawley matriarch is in the room listening.

Violet, godblessher, retorts, “Peace! A woman my age can face reality far better than most men.”

Continuing with his gloom and doom predictions, Clarkson warns that an immediate delivery is Sybil’s only chance. He urges the chauffeur to hie his wife off to a hospital, where they may yet save Sybil and the baby and deliver it by Caesarian.

Sir Phillip puffs up his chest again and declares that a caesarian will be surely kill Sybil and ruin her flat tummy for life. All eyes turn to Clarkson, who reluctantly agrees that as things stand, a caesarian might just do Sybil in.

“Honesty at last,” intones Robert in his best Yul Brynner as Rameses voice. I will NOT put Sybil at risk. I am the master of Downton Abbey and my decision (even though I co-own the place with Matthew) shall stand. So let it be written, so let it be done!

“The decision lies with the chauffeur”, Violet says sensibly, cutting through the bullshit with a rapier voice.

Branson is summoned. Poor man. All he can hear is If… If…If… If… If… If. He looks this-away way, he looks that-away and … stands paralyzed like a pillar of salt.

Meanwhile, what of the lovely Sybil, she of the slim ankles now thickened? We begin to understand why Jessica Brown Findlay’s role was so minor in the first 3 episodes, for the viewer is starting to realize that she is doomed – that it is Sybil, the most popular and most beloved sister, who is about to DIE. But is she?

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

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

The next thing we know, Sybil has successfully delivered her baby. She’s radiant! Tom is bursting with pride. They ooh and ah over their little girl.

The servants rejoice. The family is happy.

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

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

Cora apologizes to Robert for doubting him. Sir Phillip’s chest is now so puffed he looks like a mating pigeon just given a come hither look.

My friend, who watched Episode 4 with me, kept sighing with relief. “Ah, she lives. Good, she lives. I thought they were going to kill her off.” I started braiding my tongue to remain quiet.

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

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

Back to the cozy little post-labor scene: Jessica Brown Findlay has all of two lines, which was more than she’d been given all season.

She then nuzzles into her sheets, ready for rest, which leaves the viewers sighing with relief and thinking, “All is well. Someone else besides our beloved Sybil is going to die.”

Tick tock tick tock.

The denizens of Downton Abbey are fast asleep when Mary sounds the alarm. Wake up! Wake up. It’s Sybil!

Lady Sybil, we hardly knew ye.

And now it’s time to lay my tongue-in-cheek tone aside, for Sybil’s death bed scene was as splendid a bit of writing and acting as I have seen. Like you, I sat on the edge of my seat and cried. Every one, from a desperate Cora and Tom, to the disbelieving sisters, father and witnesses, to the resigned yet horrified face of Dr. Clarkson, tugged at my heart.

Sybil, convulsing and unable to breathe, dies swiftly, but the reactions of family members take longer to settle in.

The camera lingers on each face, all showing the same horror and disbelief that I felt.

Elizabetth McGovern could not have been more perfect as the grieving mother. Her last talk with Sybil “( my baby, you will always be my baby”), was heart breaking.

Even though I knew that Sybil would die in this episode, this scene with McGovern’s superb, restrained acting was a revelation. I could not watch it without crying a bucket of tears.

Sybil was the glue that held the three sisters together and now she is gone. The reality has set in for the two remaining sisters:

Mary: She was the only person living who thought that you and I were such nice people.

Edith: Oh, Mary. Do you think we might get along better in the future?

Mary: I doubt it. But since this is the last time that we will all be together in this life, let’s love each other now, as sisters should.

Thank you Julian Fellowes, for giving us back the Downton that we have come to love.

We are even given a foreshadowing of events to come when Cora has the earl sleep in his dressing room.

The next day, she can barely contain her civility, saying in a hasty, tight-lipped phrase:

“I must apologize to [Dr. Clarkson]. Because-if-we’d-listened-to-him,-she-might-still-be-alive.-But-Sir-Phillip-and-your-father-knew-better,-and-now-she-is-dead.”A devastated Cora cannot forgive Robert for his part in promoting Sir Phillip over Dr. Clarkson, and who can blame her?

While most of the hour concentrated on Sybil’s tragic end, there were other plot developments, believe it or not.

Lady Edith flexes her career muscles

Edith can’t win for trying. Arising early in the morning to join the men for breakfast, she happily discovers that she has been offered a regular once a week column in The Sketch to discuss problems faced by the modern woman. Wondering if she should use her name, Robert retorts that this is exactly what they want: her name and title. When Matthew rises to her defense, she says with resignation: “Don’t bother, Matthew, I’m always a failure in this family.”

Violet’s response at dinner is hardly better: “When may she expect an offer to appear on the London stage?” This prompts Edith to mouth – “See?” Yet we’re rooting for her. Let’s hope this sister gets her chance to prove herself and find her niche in the world, as middle children are often wont to do.

Ethel Cooks Badly for Isobel

Isobel finally has a meatier role to play, however minor, in which she tries to rehabilitate Ethel into a respectable servant.

Her good Samaritan gesture results in Mrs. Bird walking out the door and Isobel reaching for the pepto bismol any time Ethel serves up one of her culinary disasters.

Downton Servant Merry Go Round

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

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

Daisy, likes Alfred, who is O’Brien’s nephew. He likes Ivy, the new kitchen maid, which prompts Daisy to behave super bossy towards her, which sinks her in Alfred’s eyes. Ivy likes Jimmy, or James, the wannabee footman, which gives Alfred a hang dog look and prompts him to help Ivy out of kitchen scrapes. Sound complicated? Yeah, well, this story line is like watching puppies tussle. Cute at first and then a little boring.

Thomas is falling into O’Brien’s trap …

O’Brien’s jealousy of Jimmy and hatred of Thomas sets her in motion to do both of them in. When it looks as if Jimmy and Alfred will have to vie for first footman, O’Brien sets a trap for him. “Want to wind the clocks? You’d better ask Mr. Barrow,” she advises the gullible young man. And so he does. Thomas is only too happy to oblige and explicitly sets out to teach James a new skill.

After his lesson, O’Brien attempts to pry some details from a reluctant Jimmy. “What are you implying?” she prompts, “Nothing unseemly I hope?”

“No, nothing like that,” he mutters before scurrying away. Our last glimpse of O’Brien has her wearing a Chesire cat smile and rehearsing the next bad thing for Thomas.

This concludes my review of Episode Four. I am so over Bates’s predicament and Mary’s non-chemistry with Matthew, that I am happily skipping over their story lines.

What did you think of this week’s DA and Sybil’s death? Please, no plot spoilers on future developments.

My other Downton Abbey Season 3 posts: Click here

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Inquiring readers: Chris Stewart from Embarking on a Course of Study, has been submitting posts to this blog for over two years. As we discussed Downton Abbey, we realized we had very similar views, including a snarky streak. Chris has graciously submitted her take of Episode 3, which is right on the money (in my book.) Enjoy!

If you have not seen Episode 3, click here to see a streaming video online provided by PBS Masterpiece Classic. Warning: Plot spoilers if you continue reading on.

3D Glasses image - movie theaterDownton Abbey, Season 3, Episode 3: Not Enough Noses Out of Joint

This week, except for the copious use of the P word and the discussion of women’s right to vote, there was very little to learn here, both historically, or about the characters. I kept wanting “Downton Abbey 3-D.” Give me some glasses to put on so I could find the depth.

Anna and Mr. Bates: The Case of the Missing Letters

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

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

Carson hands out mail. No letters for Anna from Mr. Bates again. She’s worried. Cut to letters handed out at the prison. None for Mr. Bates. He looks upset too. So clearly someone is holding both their letters back at the prison. There’s a quick end to a possible source of tension for the hour.

Anna tells Mrs. Hughes about the letters. Is Mr. Bates being gallant and trying to set her free? Why else would he be silent and stop her from visiting? Whoa there! If this happened, we should have seen her go to the prison and be turned away. Much better than missing letters.

While at work, another prisoner whispers to Bates, “They know you tricked them.” Bates: “What that’s to do with me?” He thwarted their plan to pin something on him so they’re angry. I find the prison drama both too low-key and vague. Apparently, Bates was reported to the Governor for violence and is considered dangerous. This is why no letters and no visits. “Thank God, I thought she’d given up on me,” Bates says. “Don’t thank God until you know what else they’ve got in store for you,” his fellow prisoner warns. Ho hum. I admit, though, the look of relief and happiness on Bates’ face, got me. More of what we love Bates for, please!

Later, the guards enter his cell and search it, go through the bedding again. According to plan, Bates has hidden the object previously hidden in his bed, in his cell mate’s bed. They take the cell mate away. He tells Bates that he’ll be sorry. Cue ominous music.

Matthew and Mary, Still Married to the House

Mary and Matthew discuss Matthew’s role as co-owner of Downton. He doesn’t want to go into every detail of the running of the estate or challenge Robert’s authority. Mary says he has to pull his weight.

Matthew and Mary meet in nursery to look over wallpaper. Matthew asks if that’s all she wants to talk about. They are in the nursery after all. What about that trip to the doctor? Is she announcing she’s pregnant? No, she had trouble with her hay fever. Matthew leans close behind her and says suggestively, what will they use for a day nursery if the need arises? Mary looks very uncomfortable and says they can worry about that further down the line. Whoops! Did they not have the Kids Talk before marrying? Mary looks like the subject is distasteful to her.

More of Matthew being warm and loving with his wife, and more of Mary being a wet sock. Boy did marriage kill this love story.

Saving Ethel (Isobel and Mrs. Hughes)

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

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

Isobel visits Mrs. Hughes and gives her a letter from Ethel (um, when did this take place? Correct me if I’m wrong, but the last time we saw Ethel she closed the door in Isobel’s face). Isobel confirms Ethel is a prostitute. Mrs. Hughes is surprised. “That’s not a word you hear in this house every day.” No kidding. Even I felt uncomfortable at the use of the word in those hallowed halls. Isobel asks Mrs. Hughes to let her know if she can help. Mrs. H says Ethel will be too ashamed to face how far she’s fallen. I have to disagree. Ethel sees clearly how far and it’s given her a kind of grace and nobility that it’s a pleasure to watch. She’s certainly much more interesting than our beloved Anna of late. Dare I say Ethel is the new Anna? Someone needs to be since Anna’s going in circles.

Ethel asks Isobel to write to the Bryants. They can have Charlie. The Bryants come and meet Ethel at the Crawley house. They know what she is. It’s not difficult to find out about a woman like her. Mrs. Bryant says they can offer money to help. Mr. Bryant seems to bond with the boy. Ethel wants her son to have the opportunities Mr. Crawley had.

She says goodbye to Charlie, hugs and kisses him. Mr. Bryant carries him off to the car. Mrs. Bryant says she’ll write to her. Ethel’s reaction is heartbreaking. This story line was the best of the episode.

Robert and Matthew: The Bromance May be Over

Once Carson knows of the Robert-Matthew partnership, he gets to the point, asking if the staff can be brought back up to snuff? Matthew says the world is different now than before the war. Mr. Carson is immediately indignant and booms out, would Mr. Crawley like him to continue doing extra duties as a footman? Robert steps in and says Matthew didn’t mean it. Matthew looks chastised. I wouldn’t want to cross Carson either. When he lowers those impressive eyebrows at you, watch out.

Robert asks Matthew to help with estate accounts. Matthew does and tells Mary there are some issues. Rents are unpaid or too low. No maintenance scheme. Half the assets are unused or ignored entirely. Mary says a country estate isn’t a city business. She bristles and defends her father. True to stereotype. Sigh.

Matthew goes to the Dowager Countess for advice. How can he fix things without putting people’s noses out of joint? She says do what must be done but a great many noses will be out of joint.

Well, that was pointless. Maybe she’s hoping for some trouble to liven things up. I found her ambivalence annoying and confusing. She’s always been so particular about the estate and tradition, yet she doesn’t give Matthew a lecture or advice. Somebody took the zing out of the Dowager this week. I hope it’s found before next. Her comments were boring and repetitive.

Edith, Post-Jilting

Edith shows up at the breakfast table. Matthew remarks on it and she says she’s an unmarried woman so can’t have a lie in like her married sisters. She prefers to be up and about. Note how we’ve moved from ‘spinster’ to ‘unmarried woman’. Robert reads aloud from the paper that all American women will have the vote. Edith says it’s ridiculous that women don’t vote in England. Matthew suggests she write to the paper to give her opinion and she says she might. Robert seems alarmed at the prospect. We all know Edith will write a letter. And there’s Edith all sewn up now. No lingering ill effects from being dumped at the altar. She’s got a cause. That’s all a woman needs to completely forget about her broken heart and abject humiliation. Edith had her fifteen minutes last week, apparently, let’s move on.

Edith visits her grandmother and the Dowager Countess asks her how she is. Edith: “Being jilted at the altar, yes it is horrid, multiplied by about ten thousand million.” Actually, Edith, I give you a five on that scale in terms of how hurt you seem to be. Nowhere near ten thousand million, my dear.

Her grandmother tells her she has brains and ability and to “Stop whining and find something to do.” Wow. Ouch. Basically, “We saved you from the old guy. You’ve been enough of a bother. Get on with it.” Now, Edith hardly seems crushed over what happened. She’s back to her old self, but she didn’t deserve that. I wish Edith would go down to the village pub and get really drunk and dance on some tables, make out with someone in the street, and be brought home by the local constable. Yes, stiff upper lip and all that but, broken hearts have long-term effects. I’d love to see Edith go very, very wrong for a bit.

Edith does write to the newspaper about the vote. Robert says it won’t be published but it is. He’s horrified. Edith is pleased.

The New Footman and Dirty Looks from O’Brien

Jimmy Kent is hired as the new footman. I’d say he’s pretty, but not handsome.

When Carson tells Mary the maids want him to hire Jimmy, she says, “Do pick him and cheer us all up a bit. Alfred is nice but looks like a puppy rescued from a puddle. Tell the maids they can buy their valentines.”

This quip is so unlike Mary that it fell flat. Mary isn’t very humorous so it just doesn’t work for her. At dinner, when Jimmy, now called James, is introduced, Mary says, “Well done, Carson.” Felt a bit cougar-ish to me, Lady Mary. Maybe you could direct that sort of thing to your husband.

There’s some question/quibbling about who is first footman, Alfred or James. Carson takes Alfred’s side by spending time helping him with table settings, which spoons are for what.

Did this remind anyone else of “Pretty Woman”? Later, Thomas is passing James’ room and James asks if he can come to Thomas with questions and for help. Thomas says, of course. Game on!

O’Brien passes James’ door directly after, looking menacing. O’Brien did a lot of walking and glaring this episode.

Not much else. I think I’m going to start calling her Mrs. Danvers. I feel a bit sorry for her. Who is she left to plot with? Moseley? She’s being wasted right now.

Tom and Sybil, the Runaway Revolutionaries

It’s a dark and stormy night. A man runs through the streets. Back at Downton, Edith takes a call from Sybil, who says she’s all right and out of the flat and hasn’t been stopped. She hangs up before Edith can get any more information. Edith tells Cora and Mary about the call. Everyone is appropriately worried.

Tom bangs on the door during dinner, is hidden in Matthew’s rooms until the guests have left, and tells them he was witness to the burning of an aristocrat’s house, one that the Grantham’s knew. The Dowager Countess says, “The house was hideous, of course that’s no excuse” which seemed completely out of touch with the emotional tone of the scene so no score there, Dame Maggie.

The police think Tom was one of the instigators. That’s why he ran. Robert is, of course, furious. “You mean, you gave them Sybil to save yourself!” Tom says that when he saw the family turned out, with their children, in tears, watching their home burn. “I admit it – I want a free state but I was sorry,” he says.

But what’s happened to Sybil? Their plan was that he’d leave at once and she’d follow the next day. Robert explodes. How dare he leave a pregnant woman to fend for herself? Everyone else seems too subdued. More worry and emotion was exhibited when Matthew was missing in the war than for Sybil now. Robert will decide what to do in the morning. Tom goes to his room, cries. No pity from this quarter. A real man would not follow through on such a ridiculous plan, leaving his wife in such danger, pregnant or not. Another coward. First Sir Anthony, now Tom. Is Matthew next?

This whole Tom and Sybil escaping Ireland story was badly done. No adequate story preparation, just dumped on us, so didn’t register emotionally with me. Meh.

The next day a woman walks into Downton. We don’t see her face. Tom runs to her. Big dramatic make out session with the camera circling them. Really? Please. We know it’s Sybil. We never saw her in any danger, so the mysterious arrival and dramatic kiss is pretty pointless.

Robert returns from seeing the Home Secretary on Tom’s behalf. Tom can’t go back to Ireland or he’ll go to prison. He didn’t tell them that he attended Dublin meetings where the attacks were planned. Sybil, whose been holding her husband’s hand, drops it at this news. Later Sybil is upset. What else hasn’t he told her? Tom says he won’t stay at Downton for long. Sybil says they must stay for the baby’s sake. Poor Sybil. For all her independent thinking, she’s just traded one trap for another.

Daisy Gets Frisky

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

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

Daisy asks again about the new maid. Mrs. Patmore says they’re working on it. Alfred compliments her on speaking her mind. Daisy is about to say something to him but Mrs. Patmore cuts her off. Daisy visits William’s father and asks what he would think if she’d met a man she liked. He is supportive and wants her to be happy. Again, Daisy tries to say something to Alfred, but is interrupted by Mrs. Patmore (enough with the interruptions! Get on with it!) who introduces Ivy Stewart, the fresh-faced new kitchen maid. Daisy is now assistant cook. “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes,” Alfred says to Ivy, and offers his help if she needs it. Daisy stares daggers at her. Ivy smiles at her and says she hopes they’ll get on.

“We don’t have to get on. We have to work together,” Daisy says. Meow! I kind of like Daisy jealous and possibly plotting against Ivy. This turn of hers will be entertaining, but makes her seem a little nutty. She and Alfred haven’t had much interaction. I could easily see Daisy going off the deep end.

The third episode ends with Mrs. Hughes brings Anna a packet of Bates’ letters. Cut to Bates in his cell. A guard brings him all the withheld letters from Anna. He’s back in favor so can have them. Bates sits reading Anna’s letters. Cut to Anna in bed reading his letters. Both smiling and crying. Swelling music.

I vacillated between thinking it was sweet, nice to get back their original romantic vibe, but also another easy a wrap up of a conflict and a pretty unearned level of sentimentality since the ‘drama’ wasn’t made enough of. And why couldn’t we hear a voice over from both of them as each read the other’s letters?

What worked:

Ethel’s parts, anything with Thomas, Daisy’s surprise turn, Matthew trying to make sense of the books and figure out what to do.

Otherwise, mostly a bit blah, with the usual leaps and inadequate back story. I did some calculations, and I counted about 48 scenes in the episode. Some were the same ongoing scene interrupted by cutting back and forth to other scenes, making everything too fragmented so you’re not allowed to settle into the emotion, the tension, the characters. You’re continually whisked away, getting 1-2 minute sections at a time of the same scene as we cut back and forth. The show would fare much better if that stopped and if three story lines were picked per episode and developed and followed the whole show, rather than the 7 or so we have here.

Let the debate begin!

To read the rest of this blog’s Downton Abbey’s Season 3 links, click here. 

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The third year of Downton Abbey Mania is about to commence. I am fully prepared to devote the next 7 Sundays sitting in front of PBS to join the Crawleys, their friends, and relatives and watch this high-end dramatic soap plot unfold (January 6th – February 17th).  The action has moved from the Edwardian Era and the carnage of World War I and entered the 1920s – the jazz age, the flapper age, and the first generation in which youth held sway in music, the arts, and fashion, influencing their elders in the process.

The lawn in front of Downton Abbey is getting crowded!

The lawn in front of Downton Abbey is getting crowded! Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Scores of young men are now dead and mourned in burial grounds across Europe. The young, angry at the carnage and destruction and irreplaceable loss of life and limb, turned away from their parents’ rules and adopted a looser, more flamboyant lifestyle. Women voted, drove cars, drank, had affairs, attended jazz clubs, and skirted convention.  The youth culture was in full sway, and for the first time adults began to ape their youngers.

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The Edwardian fashion silhouette included restrictive corsets, long skirts, and trussed up bosoms. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Adolescence became the new standard of beauty – youthful adolescence, or the “garconne” look. Thin was in, and the idea was to appear small bosomed, small hipped, and boyish.

The prepubescent girl look became popular, including flattened breasts and hips, and bobbed hair. Fashions turn to the “little girl look” in “little girl frocks”: curled or shingled hair, saucer eyes, the turned-up nose, bee-stung mouth, and de-emphasized eyebrows, which emphasize facial beauty. Shirt dresses have huge Peter Pan collars or floppy bow ties and are worn with ankle-strap shoes with Cuban heels and an occasional buckle. Under wear is fashionable in both light colors and black, and is decorated with flowers and butterflies. – Women’s Fashion 1920

Gabrielle Chanel, Evening Dress in Crepe Georgette with Silver Lamé Sash. France, c. 1923.

Gabrielle Chanel, Evening Dress in Crepe Georgette with Silver Lamé Sash. France, c. 1923. Image @canalblog.com

Hems rose, bras were condemned, and fabrics swayed and shimmered. Unchaperoned dates became de rigueur. And hair was worn short or bobbed.  Gone were the restrictive corsets of their mothers and grandmothers. Hemlines began to rise so that by 1924, skirts stopped at the knee (displaying the entire lower leg) and waistlines dropped below the hips.  Slits, pleats, and skirt gathers allowed for freedom of movement. Fabrics for evening wear shimmered with metallic thread, beads, and sequins. Dance clothes were made of gold lame or flowy fabrics cut on the bias. Fringes showed movement, and the craze for new dances like the Charleston and Tango, was in full swing.

Fashion silhouette for 1922

Fashion silhouette for 1922. Image @Pauline Thomas  fashion-era.com

 

How did the women of Downton Abbey fare in this new liberated age? Let’s look, shall we?

Lady Edith

First, Lady Edith, who we last saw straddling a tractor in pants and learning to drive an automobile, is still trying to find a relevant place in the world. Stuck in the middle of two beautiful sisters, she has yet to find her unique position.

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Lady Edith wears a relaxed, straightlined look popularized by Chanel. The outfit is early 1920’s, before the hemlines started to rise dramatically. Her cloche hat closely fits her head, and she wears her crimped hair short. As skirts shortened, shoes and hose began to play a more important role in fashion. Edith’s outfit is a bit clunky. Will she do better with time? Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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Lady Edith’s dinner dress exposes her arms and much of her shoulders, but does not emphasize her waist or bosom. The rich fabric and color is typical of the 1920s. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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The gorgeous shimmering fabric with panels hangs loosely over Lady Edith’s fit frame. Madeleine Vionnet was especially adept with the art of bias-cutting and diagonal seaming. This sleeveless dinner dress is typical of the era. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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

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Close up one can see the beautiful shimmering metallic thread details. Lady Edith’s crimped hair is fashioned to look short. Note the delicate long necklace. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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This Callot Soeurs gown reminds me of the cut of Lady Edith’s dress. You can find it on my Pinterest Board: http://pinterest.com/pin/236509417903111924/ Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Coco Chanel strongly  influenced fashion throughout the 20th century. Her dresses for working women and women on the go sported functional features and lacked superficial decorations. Her fashions were clean, sleek, and monotone. In the image below, Edith, who has found a job as a columnist, visits her editor in a practical yet fashionable gown.

Lady Edith in her work outfit, London

Lady Edith in her “little boy” work outfit, London. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Lady Mary

Unlike Lady Edith, Lady Mary has everything, including access to funds. In order to become rich, she has to look the part. It helps enormously that Lady Mary’s figure is thin, elegant, and small-bosomed. Her future assured, she spends no time worrying about the cost of her wardrobe and indulges herself royally before the wedding.

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The cloche hat, dropped waist, restrained colors, and well placed details of her day gown bespeak a quality that ready-made or homemade garments did not have. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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Rich, lush fabric, dramatic sleeves and neckline, and black embroidered detailing. Matthew’s suits are also beginning to look more relaxed and modern. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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An extraordinarily attractive day suit. The hat is dramatic (not cloche) and sports a feather. Note that clothes tend to be color coordinated. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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An utterly romantic and refined outfit. Mary is elegant, and certainly not a flapper of the speak-easy kind. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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With so many young men killed during WW I, Lady Mary is lucky to be married at all. This romantic wedding gown echoes the romanticism of the era. The tiara is an especially beautiful and authentic detail. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

1920 head piece

Simplicity and elegance are the hallmarks of early 1920s fashion. 1920 photograph.

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Long flowing lines and drop waist. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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Breathtakingly gorgeous gown. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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Mr and Mrs Matthew Crawley. Awww. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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Wide collared coat and cloche hat. Long beaded necklaces. How very elegant and modern. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Saturday Evening Post, 1922

Saturday Evening Post, 1922

Lady Rosamund, Isobel Crawley, and Lady Rose

Aunt Rosamund

Aunt Rosamund wears a dress with asymmetrical details and loose sleeves that allow for freedom of movement. Her dress echoes that of the younger set and she has most definitely discarded her Edwardian clothes. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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Rosamund’s 1920s gown looks downright dowdy next to Lady Rose’s youthful, modern sailor-collared dress. Her hat has more dash and elan than Edith’s simple monotone cloche. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Lily James as Lady Rose MacClare

Lady Rose is the youthful ideal. Her clothes are shorter and flowier than those of her elders. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James)4

Young and impetuous Lady Rose MacClare wearing a flapper dress. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (French, 1883-1971). Dress, 1925, crystal beads on silk chiffon. Collection of Phoenix Art Museum, gifts of Mrs. Wesson Seyburn. Photographs by Ken Howie.

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (French, 1883-1971). Dress, 1925, crystal beads on silk chiffon. Collection of Phoenix Art Museum, gifts of Mrs. Wesson Seyburn. Photographs by Ken Howie.

isobel crawley

While the older set, like Isobel Crawley, wore fashion influenced by the young, their outfits were decidedly conservative in comparison. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Martha Levinson

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Shirley Maclain as Martha Levinson, Cora’s American mother. Her clothes are expensive and extremely fashionable when compared to Isobel and Violet. Martha tends to overdress according to British standards. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Balenciaga Coat 1927

Balenciaga Coat 1927

dowagers

The contrast between Martha and Violet cannot be more stated than in this image. Violet wears old-fashioned clothes and a tiara that has probably been handed down for generations. Martha is a walking advertisement for nouveau clothes. Her headband is extremely fashionable and she wears an outfit dictated by the preferences of the young. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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Martha’s jewels and headbands match each outfit. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Martha's clothes are as flamboyant as her personality

Martha’s clothes are as flamboyant as her personality. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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This is a rather restrained look for Martha, who sports a short crimped haircut. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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Mary, Martha, and Cora: 3 generations. The clothes are simple in this scene, and the details are exquisite. While Lady Mary’s hair is long, the hairstyle mimics a shorter bob. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Cora, Lady Grantham

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Cora strikes the right balance between current fashion and her position as countess. The earl, who values tradition, wears traditional clothes. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

cora in black

Cora in black. Fashionable, yet restrained and somber. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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The Crawley women at Lady Mary’s wedding to Matthew. Note the elaborate hats. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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Cora looking regal in a richly colored and detailed gown. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Ladies of the night... Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern and Lily James

Characters as defined by fashion: Violet in Edwardian clothes, Cora in a conservative 1920s evening gown, and the very young racy Lady Rose in a flapper sleeveless evening gown. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Lady Sybil

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This interesting image shows the very elegant Mary standing next to Lady Sybil, whose wardrobe reflects her new status as the wife of a working man. Anna is in uniform. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Vionnet chiton dress

The lines of Lady Sybil’s simple gowns remind me of Madeline Vionnet’s chiton gown.

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Early 1920s fashions were influenced by many cultures – Egypt, Greece, Japan, and Mexico.The monastic style was also fashionable. Tom Branson’s suits are ill-fitting in comparison to the earl’s and Matthew’s suits. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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Lady Sybil’s pregnancy was easily accommodated in this loosely flowing gown. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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Tom and Sybil spruced up for Lady Mary’s wedding to Matthew. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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Lady Sybil’s gown is made of fabric with an exotic fabric. This was an era that harmonized art with fashion. Rayon, known as “artificial silk”, gained great popularity with the public. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Team Bates

One simply cannot ignore the servants, although a uniform is a uniform. Let’s see what else the hoi polloi wears, shall we?

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Poor unfortunate Bates. Forced to wear prison garb. Oh, woe is he. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Brendan Coyle Bates in prison

This grey ensemble does poor Bates no justice. When will he be released? Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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Mrs. Bates in a fighting mood for her man. She will move heaven and earth to prove his innocence. Her version of 1920’s flapper style is somber indeed. Her clothes are probably homemade and sewn from a pattern. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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With only modest resources, Anna Bates manages to look primly stylish. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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Detective Anna Bates prying information from a reluctant witness. Her coat is conservative and long. And is she wearing clogs? Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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Another woe is me character – Ethel. Poor poor Ethel is trying to make do in life while taking care of her bastard son Charlie. She still manages to afford a cloche hat. Ethel’s colors of choice are somber, sober, and solemn. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Phyliis Logan as Mrs. Hughes and Lesley Nicol as Mrs. Patmore

Phyllis Logan as Mrs. Hughes and Lesley Nicol as Mrs. Patmore. Very little in their wardrobes has changed. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

For those whose interests in 1920’s fashion has reached new heights, click here to visit my Pinterest board entitled 1925: http://pinterest.com/janeaustenworld/1925/. For more about avant-garde dresses of the 20’s, google Coco Chanel, Madeleine Vionnet, Lavin (and his robes de style), Paul Poiret (who lost his leadership position in fashion during this era, but who was heavily influenced by Japanism), and Liberty and Co. of Paris and London.

Next week: My review of the first 3 hours of Season Three of Downton Abbey. PLEASE, in your comments do not reveal spoilers. We in the U.S. have not yet seen the series. Thank you!

More on the topic. 

Images courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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