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Posts Tagged ‘Matthew Crawley’

Poor Matthew died as Season 3 ended. We all sat in our seats as if dumbstruck, certain that Season 4 would begin with a resounding bang, including our attendance at his funeral and wake. Instead, viewers have been treated to a season of tepidness. Julian Fellowes has taken us on a journey in a Sargasso Sea of his own making, circling around familiar story lines and swirling his characters in a holding pattern until he can find a way to break them out.

Indiana fireworks explosion @Daily Mail

Matthew’s death surprised us and set the stage for cataclysmic changes in the Crawley household. (Image: @Daily Mail)

Where are the high stakes conflicts? Where are the intriguing story lines that kept us on the edge of our seats from week to week? (And, no, the rape scene does not count. Sorry, Julian.)

Ian McKellen (King Lear), William Gaunt (Gloucester)

We were expecting epic upheavals. (Image: Ian McKellen (King Lear), William Gaunt (Gloucester))

Granted that Fellowes was not given enough time by ITV to rest on his laurels and breathe before meeting the next season’s writing deadlines.  Granted that the goings on at the Abbey still provide some of the best TV drama on our schedules, but none of us could have predicted the steady decline in the riveting story lines from earlier seasons. (Before I continue, I must share that my friend, Hillary, who watched each episode with me, thinks that I am being much too harsh on this season, and that my neighbors, whose judgments I trust, found this season to be an improvement over Season 3.)

Including a lack of time to develop his stories and characters, Fellowes’ decision to remove the writers who helped to make Season One a resounding success didn’t help matters. So, let’s examine the state of Season Four’s tepitude (Episodes 3-6 ), shall we? It is 1922, 6 months after Matthew Crawley’s death.

The Crawleys

The earl’s a nice old-fashioned man who gives a tenant farmer’s son a chance to pay back his daddy’s bills, but, then, in Epidsode 6, he’s shipped off to America to help his brother in law. We’ll see him in the Christmas special, but, still, tepid.

Cora is showing more backbone, but she still has no taste in ladies maids. She loves having her grand babies in the house, although Tom is threatening to move himself and baby Sybbie to America. Cora has no control over Rose, or Edith, for that matter. Tepid.

Rose is a flapper who likes to rebel. Her romance with beautiful Jack Ross (love his voice and brilliant white teeth) is, well, predictable.

Violet and Isobel are becoming strange bedfellow friends. Neither woman is given much to do, which has been disappointing. Violet’s been obsessed with petty theft of her things by a new young gardener (Pegg). She has very little proof, but she hates to be wrong and her stubbornness leads us into familiar territory. In the end she shows her good heart by rehiring Pegg, whom she had fired.  Then she gets sick and is nursed back to health by Isobel, whom she slowly starts to accept as a friend. Not a major story line, to be sure. And what happened to the hints of romance between Isobel and Dr. Clarkson in Season 3? He’s not even listed as a major character on PBS’s site for Season 4. Tepid. Tepid. Lame.

Belowstairs

Thomas is still a snake, but one without a riveting story line. He’s lost O’Brien, his ally in nasty schemes, and has been reduced to plotting behind the scenes via Baxter, Cora’s new ladies maid. Baxter’s obviously reluctant to play along. She’s capable and willing (showing others how her sewing machine works), but, frankly, her story line so far is … diddly, insignificant. You get the drift. As for Thomas, he’s been shipped off to America along with the earl, so we can assume that they’ll both show up in the final installment. Lame

Mrs. Hughes is a nice motherly figure with whom all can share their secrets. Mr Carson remains an old-fashioned fatherly figure who keeps everyone in their place. And Mrs. Patmore is anything but a futurist. No change here. Their story lines are predictable, but, in this case, is that a bad thing?

Bates learns of Anna’s rape, relieving her of the guilt of omission but raising her anxiety that he’ll eventually go out and shoot the bastard, which he will, if Bates’s dark ruminations are an indication. “Your husband’s a brooder, and brooders brood.” Every time we hear their “theme”, we are reminded of the dark side to their story line.  (They can never be happy for long. Even their night out is fraught with difficulties, except for Cora’s interventions.)  Episode six ends with an image of Bates casting an evil eye in Mr. Green’s direction, leaving the viewers with a sick feeling that Seasons Two and Three are about to be repeated in the Bates/Anna “woe is us” story line. These star-crossed lovers are still rotating in a Sargasso Sea of repeated plot lines.

The Clueless Chauffeur

In yet another moment of stupidity, Tom Branson beds Edna Braithwaite, the scheming maid who was laid off last season for bedding him in the first place, but who inexplicably returns as O’Brien’s  replacement as Cora’s lady’s maid.  Tom was a chauffeur, right? So what’s to prevent him from driving outside of the village to find nookie at a safe distance? This plot line is stupid to the nth degree. Plus, does anyone really think that we’ve seen the last of Edna? Tom’s entertained the idea of taking himself and baby Sibbie off to America for a new life, which leaves Cora in a tizzy. We do get a whiff of a new romantic interest when Tom attends a political rally in Ripon. Despite many possibilities, Fellowes has poor Tom whirling around a Sargasso Sea of repeated plot lines. Where is the old Tom’s political fire? We miss that.

Edith. Oh, poor, poor Edith.

Edith finally gets her man, but then he disappears into the bowels of poverty-stricken, post World War One Germany. In his absence, she’s worried that she might be pregnant after a night of illicit love. What was Fellowes thinking? This season was Edith’s chance for a breakaway story line that would turn her into a strong and independent woman, instead we merely get … the same old, same old. Edith’s chance at happiness is snatched away when she finds out she’s pregnant and staring at the possibility of carrying a bastard and facing society’s censure. Fellowes missed a major opportunity to elevate Edith’s growth as a character to another level. He has her rotating around a Sargasso Sea of repeated plot lines – that of the loser sister. Disappointing.

Lady Mary’s story arc: a trio of men and a passel of pigs

Mary, Lord Gillingham, Evelyn NapierGood grief. What made the Mary/Matthew romance riveting was the sexual tension between the two characters. They were attracted and repelled at the same time, and viewers sat on the edge of their seats waiting for their fights to end, their first passionate kiss, first reconciliation, first breakup, second reconciliation, second breakup … well, you get the drift.  Their romance was played out against a backdrop of serious, catastrophic events – the sinking of the Titanic and loss of Downton’s heir, the possibility of losing the entire estate due to bad investments, World War One, Matthew’s engagement to another, the influenza epidemic, etc. When the couple finally married we all sighed a collective breath of relief. Aaaah. And then they conceived the heir, George. Aaaah.  But then a truck drove into Matthew’s path and splat! – the end of an epic romance and abrupt end to Season 3.

At the start of Season 4, we were not even privy to his funeral (bad decision), but given just a glimpse of his grave. This season began six  months after Matthew’s death, with Mary walking around the Abbey like a zombie. She’s sad. She’s grieving. She can’t move. Her lower lip is as stiff as the upper. Tepid and predictable.

Then a  childhood friend waltzes in (Lord Tony Gillingham) and she sorta, kinda perks up. No spark. No sexual tension. This new beau is no Matthew.  I was expecting an actor on the order of a Benedict Cumberbatch or Richard Armitage.  What we got instead was Anthony Foyle, a handsome man, to be sure, but one who’s chin I find worrisomely on the weak side. He’s in love with Mary, who’s still in love with Matthew, so, realizing she’s not about to budge, he puts Mary on the spot and says something like:  Before I leave, promise to become my wife. If you do,  I won’t get engaged to Mabel, a woman I don’t love. If you say no,  you know my situation, I must get married. Mary resists. Smart woman. She manages a twinge when she thinks about her lost opportunity, but we suspect it was just indigestion. This lifeless story line can’t compare to the real character conflict offered up in previous seasons.

Yorkshire pigs wallow in mud at the poplar spring animal sanctuary in Poolesville, Maryland/ Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Yorkshire pigs wallow in mud at the poplar spring animal sanctuary in Poolesville, Maryland. Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Then there’s Evelyn Napier’s return. He who is interested in Mary but introduced her to Pamuk. ‘Nuff said. His interest in Mary is still palpable, but she rebuffs him at every turn. Napier never was an interesting character to begin with, except in his role as facilitator. This time he brings a guest in the form of Charles Blake, his boss and a government administrator. Blake, who served during World War I alongside Tony Gillingham, studies whether large estates can adapt and survive in a post-war society. He frankly doubts whether this can be accomplished, especially at the Abbey. Worse, he fails to share Napier’s enthusiasm for Mary, who, to give him credit, comes off as stiff as an ironing board. But there is chemistry between the two, which was sorely lacking with the other two gents. Sparks fly twixt Mary and Blake as they disagree on every topic, and while they might be failing to “connect” socially, they are surely noticing one another.

Image of scrambled eggs @wikimedia

Image of scrambled eggs @wikimedia

The pigs arrive just when Tom is attending a rally in Ripon and no farmer is around to care for them. During an after dinner walk, Blake and Mary discover that the pigs, who are hopefully going to save the Abbey’s bacon, are dehydrated from lack of water. For hours Mary and Blake toil to save them. Mary mired in muck attracts Blake’s interest. They have a mud fight. They laugh. The fact that she can scramble eggs really twirls his cookies. By this time, Mary, a six-month widow, has acquired three suitors. Napier’s obviously out of the running. Gillingham piques her interest now that he’s engaged. But Blake? Well, his indifference-turned-to-admiration is sure to earn a widow’s heart. Or will it?  Isn’t all this romantic intrigue  over Mary while she’s still grieving for Matthew too soon? You decide.

Belowstairs again

Good grief. How sad is the quadrangle Fellowes conconted? Daisy’s angry. Daisy’s sad. Daisy mopes around. All because of Alfred, who aspires to be a chef now that he realizes he can’t have Ivy, a very uninteresting scullery maid. Jimmy’s story line intersects with theirs and it’s … you guessed it, tepid. He’s just another humdrum character. Alfred, who, as he leaves, acknowledges to Daisy that her romantic interest in him will never be returned, says goodbye to them all. Ho-hum. Yawn.

Where’s William’s daddy when you need him, and why hasn’t he come around to visit Daisy and tempt her with the real possibility of running her own farm and becoming a woman of substance? Hints were made all last season, but the result up to Episodes 6  is … nothing. I had imagined that our resourceful Daisy would make a success of herself this season and haggle with Mrs. Patmore over the price of fresh produce. A missed opportunity – big time.

The costumes. Do the 1920’s costumes really compete with Edwardian clothes? Click on my Pinterest boards and decide for yourself. I rather think that the Crawley women look dowdy compared to seasons past.

Reading the PR spin on PBS’s website, one would have thought that our high expectations would have been met. Were they? Have I left out anything important? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment? Feel free to leave your thoughts, pro or con.

Now, let the sparring begin!

Image links and attributions:

Image, Indiana Fireworks Explosion@ Daily Mail

King Lear Image, McKellen.com

Image of Mary, Lord Gillingham and Evelyn Napier

Pigs wallowing in mud, Wikipedia

Scrambled Eggs, Wikimedia

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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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The anticipation is over for American fans. PBS has aired the first two-hour installment of Downton Abbey Season 3 and we have had 6 days to digest the goings on of the Crawleys, their friends, relatives and spouses. All week people have been asking me: What are your thoughts?

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

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

Let me confess, I saw the entire series before Christmas and have since dithered. How to review a program that contains a minefield of plot spoilers? I decided to share my thoughts one week at a time. So, without further ado, I’ll break down the first 120 minutes.

Shirley Maclaine as Martha Levinson

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

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

I salivated, I yearned, I couldn’t wait for Shirley’s appearance KNOWING that she would be Maggie Smith’s equal in retorts and sarcasm. Boy, was I wrong. My dreams of epic verbal sparring between two battle axes were dashed, leaving me feeling as flat as a bottle of Champagne left open for too long. The best line was Martha’s opening salvo when she first sees Violet:

Martha: “Oh dear, I’m afraid the war has made old women of us both.”
Violet: “Oh, I wouldn’t say that – but then, I always keep out of the sun.

I expected more zingers between these two characters, but alas they were few and far between. Martha is a brash American who wears her fortune on her person and looks a bit too newly-minted. She also apes her youngers in dress and fashion, a species whom Violet refuses to acknowledge as her sartorial betters.

Martha lacks proper manners, and here is where the Brit writers got her wrong, for Martha lives in Newport, Rhode Island, one of the snobbiest enclaves for the rich in early 20th century America. As Edith Wharton so brilliantly attested in her novels, there is nothing snobbier than a New York/New England socialite. A nouveau riche American trying to make a dent in that upper strata would have to learn to behave. Martha might be gauche and her money might be fresher than yesterday’s salmon, but she would have known about proper etiquette and manners, make no mistake about that.

My biggest surprise was Shirley’s physical presence. Maggie looms large in every scene, whereas Shirley’s hunched figure seemed diminished in contrast to Maggie’s stiff upper lip and upright posture. Worse, there was no connection between Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and Martha (Shirley). The viewer was left to wonder about the back story between mother and daughter. A short but marvelously written scene could have given us insight as to what makes Cora tick, but this never happened. An opportunity lost? You betcha.

Sad violin music for Bates and Anna

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

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

As a member of Team Bates I’ve had enough! Will someone please break Bates out of prison before I start rooting for Thomas? I’m sick of watching Anna and Bates making moon eyes at each other across a prison table. Anna does show some moxie in that she’s determined to sleuth in order to free her man. And who knew that Bates could be so ruthless with his cell mate? No patsy he! Still … I yearn to see Bates and his Anna in a more uplifting story line and it isn’t happening anytime soon.

The dissolution of the finest villanous couple in PBS history

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

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

I’m at a loss for words. Who’d have thunk that the writers would mess with Thomas and O’Brien? I never thought of them as separate entities but as ThomasanObrien. They were always plotting in back corridors as we watched in glee. The reason for their estrangement is so piddly it’s barely worth a mention. Thomas is worried about keeping his job at Downton Abbey and O’Brien’s wants to promote her too tall nephew to footman. THAT’s the conflict. It’s llike asking circus lions to perform a kitten’s trick, or akin to morphing The Clash of the Titans into a bitch fight at a “Real Housewives” party.

The truncated wedding of Mary and Matthew

If you blinked at the wrong time you might have thought that you time travelled. One moment Matthew is making goo goo eyes at his bride at the altar and in the next they are dashing around the countryside in an automobile. No I do’s. No kisses. No tossing of rice, and no cavorting under the sheets in wedded bliss. When the wedding scene was cut short, a gasp went around the room (7 of us viewed the first episode together) and then we shouted – “We wuz robbed!” Anna and the viewers do get a glimpse of Mary and Matthew in bed — much much later. All I could think was: “What if Anna had walked into the room while they were doing IT?” To paraphrase Cher Horowitz in Clueless – “Ewwww.”

Lady Edith, shameless hussy

World War One and influenza did more to reduce Europe’s male population than untold centuries of starvation, hunting accidents, duels, or bar brawls ever did. After 1918, there were a gazillion fertile young women for every man. No wonder Lady Edith set her sight, hooks, and clamps upon Sir Anthony Strallan. While considerably older than the nubile Edith, he’s not all that decrepit a specimen of British aristocratic manhood. He still has his teeth and hair, and can offer her a fine house. While one of his hands can no longer do the job for which it was intended, the other can still unhook Lady Edith’s underthings if Sir Anthony so desired. What else would a young lady of breeding age want? With her biological clock ticking and her eggs shriveling by the minute (and with nothing much else to do), Edith hones in on Sir Anthony like a heat seeking missile, which makes Papa Crawley’s innards crawl The viewer is asked to wonder why, since historically young aristocratic British maidens were SACRIFICED on the altar of land and wealth with nary a blink of an eye by their doting papas.

Tom Branson and his Sybil

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

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

Our former chauffeur turned newspaperman wears ill-fitting suits and cannot let go of his political fervor even at the dinner table. The servants sniff and snort within his vicinity, unable to withhold their disdain for a man who married his BETTER. The servants resort to the tools they know best to put him in his place. When serving him at table, the footmen hold platters of food too high or low for comfort, or for too short a time. Others sling sideway looks and lift their noses as if smelling a putrid excrescence. Violet shows much more tolerance towards Branson, for in her book he has become FAMILY.

As for Saint Sybil, she’s turned into the invisible woman. Branson leaves her in danger in Ireland to save his own hide, and when she finally shows up at the Abbey, she’s pregnant, dowdy, and all but mute. What’s happened to our feisty miss? I’m not feeling her this season and apparently she’s not feeling it either..

Violet, the Inviolate

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

In this instance the writers have not messed with perfection. Either that or Maggie Smith is able to rise above hasty script writing. She’s given fewer zingers this go-round, but every utterance is platinum in my book. Do not criticize my Maggie or you will be banished from my blog forever.

In Conclusion

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

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

Let’s face it, the first episode is off to a slow start. The writers are juggling too many story lines, but the main problem with season three is the lack of real conflict. Season One featured the sinking of the Titanic, which killed off Downton’s heir, and Season Two played against the backdrop of World War One. The only thing Season Three has going for it thus far is that the earl has lost Cora’s money out of sheer stupidity by investing all of it in one railway, and that Matthew refuses to save the day with Lavinia’s dead daddy’s money because of his tiresome high-mindedness about having let Lavinia down. Mary’s still willing to marry him and not pull a Clytemnestra, which boggles the mind. Meanwhile, as Daddy Crawley is forced to contemplate selling his books and his beloved dog Isis, and firing all the servants in order to make ends meet, his daughter Mary is spending money on her trousseau like no tomorrow.

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

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

With tepid fare like this, the 120 minutes seemed to drag on. At the end of the first episode, I sang in my best Peggy Lee voice, “Is that all there is?” Well, no. There is more to come and the season does gain momentum. There will be plot twists and turns that will leave viewers stupefied, howling with grief and laughter, or wanting more. Too bad that the first episode barely hinted at the drama to come.

I did a quick survey among friends and colleagues this week and tallied up the scores. Half the people I talked to loved the first episode, the others felt like me. All were let down by Shirley MacLain’s performance, except for one. The best line regarding saving Downton Abbey from bankruptcy came from Market Watch, which asked: “Desperate times call for desperate measures. If you were Earl and Countess of Grantham, what would you do?” One person answered, “I say buy life insurance on Mary and knock her off. Ghastly woman.”

Hah!

Please, in your comments, NO plot spoilers.

The New York Times has an interesting take on the phenomenon that is Downton Abbey

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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

lady mary

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

Downton Abbey Series 3

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

mary sybil anna

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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We’re well into Season 2 of Downton Abbey and some obvious patterns in coupling are beginning to emerge in this historical or historic melodrama. Let’s examine how some of our favorite characters are getting on, shall we? (Caution: there will be spoilers for those who have not kept up with the series. Some might also be offended by the language in parts.)

Bates and Anna: The Daisy Saw Chain of Desire

Yes, we will, no we won’t Yes we will, no we can’t. Yes we hope, darn she’s back!

It’s hard to remain on Team Bates when all this couple is allowed to do is react to circumstances beyond their control. We want to root for them, don’t we? The lovely maid Anna and stoic Bates have won our hearts from the start. After becoming sweethearts against his will (for he is married, after all, a minor matter), they give each other romantic looks and sighs, and confess their modest dream of starting their own inn and family.

Bates and Anna. Image courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for MASTERPIECE

Then a nasty surprise in the shape of the very inconvenient Mrs. Bates arrives to dampen their plans (but not their ardor).

The wickedly delicious Vera Bates lights up the small screen with her foul plans to destroy the couple and the Grantham family because of her intense hatred for her husband. Bates turns into such a milquetoast when she spouts her venom that you just want to kick his butt to force him into action and whack her one. Alas, he remains a milquetoast.

It is up to Sir Richard to use his nouveau riche power and slap the woman down. Vera more than meets her match in Sir Richard, and frankly, these two spark more fire in their short scenes together than Anna and Mr. Bates ever could.

Poor Bored Lord Grantham

Being the head of a landed estate and master of a multitude of subordinates just isn’t enough to keep him busy, thus poor Lord Grantham is shown reading the newspaper in half his scenes in Series 2. His disappointment at not being given an active commission and sent to the front, where he would stand a 50-50 chance of being killed or maimed, sends him sulking to his small corner of the library.

To make matters worse, now that Cora has won her war of wills over Isobel, she has more important matters on her mind than to keep his lordship entertained. The soldiers must be taken care of: Lists made, sheets folded, accommodations planned, meals ordered, and the day in general organized.

Poor pitiful Lord Grantham is starting to feel neglected and lonely. Rather than working with his steward to reorganize his farms to grow vegetables for the army, and mobilizing his workers to do all they can for the cause, the earl behaves like a spoiled two-year old and attends to matters that are best left to others – namely that of hiring a comely war widow as the new maid. To be fair, Carson consulted him first, but shouldn’t this be Mrs. Hughes’ decision, plain and simple?

The Mary-Matthew-Lavinia Triangle

First Mary didn’t want Matthew. Then she wanted him. Then she changed her mind. Then she changed her mind again, which is when he left her, suspecting that she only wanted him for his eventual title not his humble self. Their parting in Season One gave satisfaction to noone but Mary’s sister Edith.

So Mary had to search in other quarters to snag herself a man. He’s not as pretty or accommodating as Matthew, but boy-oh-boy does her new rough-around-the-edges, no-nonsense and ruthless tycoon promise an exciting romp in bed. In the high stakes game that is the marriage mart, love played absolutely no role in Mary’s decision to bind herself to Sir Richard.

Woebetide Mary.

After rejecting his one true love, Matthew hied away from Downton Abbey, only to return two years later with a fiancee named Lavinia. His choice for a wife is as exciting as a crumpled piece of paper. On their first meeting, Mary sidles up to Lavinia with a polite but fixed stare and welcomes her to the Abbey. Lavinia, in awe of her surroundings and the fact that she will one day rule as supreme mistress of the premises, fails to notice the electric looks of longing and passion that pass between Matthew and Mary.

Masochistic Mary, who’s stiff upper lip is firmly planted in front of her clenched teeth, actually tries to be supportive of Lavinia while pretending to be a mere friend to Matthew.

C’mon, Mary! Fess up! One word from Matthew and you’ll drop Sir Richard like a hot potato and jump into Matthew’s sack. Mary experiences a hiccup in that desire when she discovers that Matthew’s unfortunate paralysis has resulted in his inability to perform those rites of passage that turn a blushing young bride into a woman of the world. But then she consoles herself with the thought that, thanks to Pamuk’s manly charms, she has already crossed that heavenly threshold.

Upon seeing Matthew lying prostrate in bed and learning that his prostate is of no use whatsoever, Miss Swire, who still hasn’t figured out that bees come from bees and birds from birds, cries her virginal heart out. She senses that whatever Matthew is trying to tell her must not bode well for their marital relations (whatever that means!).

As for Matthew’s steadfast love for Lavinia: I scoff. I laugh. I guffaw. Honestly, if both women competed in The Dating Game, Lavinia wouldn’t even come in third.

Upstairs Downstairs Love

First he drove her, now he wants to ride her. Branson’s a brash young Irishman who knows his worth. It’s a new age, and social unrest and the war have turned the world topsy turvy. It’s not unusual for a healthy young servant buck to turn his lascivious eyes on the master’s nubile daughter, but to act on his emotions and dare to declare his love? Now that’s awfully balsy of him…n’est pas?

Branson’s object of desire, Lady Sybil, is no namby pamby miss. She was all for the suffragette movement before the war, and actively supported Gwen’s right to improve her life with a typewriter. Sybil’s become a VAD, or volunteer nurse, and washed men’s bloody stumps and tended to their most intimate ablutions. She’s even seen their parts! (Our lovely Sybil has come of age in more ways than one.)

Still, her attraction to Branson, and his to her, is a social taboo that defies the world order as Lord Grantham and his mama know it. Will they find out? Will our hapless couple overcome all obstacles on their path to true love? Or will they part in sweet sorrow? Stay tuned as their world churns.

Lady Edith and Uh, Uh, Uhm ….

Lady Edith on her fine piece of equipment. Image courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for MASTERPIECE

Poor Lady Edith. As if it weren’t bad enough to be caught in the middle of two dynamic and beautiful sisters, she was born with neither personality nor looks. It was Sybil who advised Edith to find her special talents. Well, we know all about one of them – to make Mary’s life hell. But then the war interrupted her favorite sport of baiting her sister. What to do? Drive a tractor, of course, and make sport with the farmer’s wife’s husband after digging deep furrows in his fertile ground. A discreet romp on top of the hay (with all their clothes on) and a joining of moist lips was all it took for the farmer’s wife to aim her proverbial pitchfork at Edith and order her off her man and the land she was plowing.

Poor Edith. Now what? She starts wandering around the house like her papa, with wide vacant eyes, making me wonder if Season 2 is turning into Downton Abbey and Zombies. Then, all of a sudden, Edith discovers the joy of letter writing and transcribing the thoughts of injured soldiers. She plumps up their pillows, fetches their newspapers and books, and takes lessons from the family dog to learn how to become a loyal and useful shadow.

Edith’s good deeds garner her accolades and she blushes from the unexpected glory. Can Edith be saved? Will she turn into an interesting character? So far she’s fooling everyone except Lady Mary, who turning bug-eyed keeping her eyes on both Matthew and her back-stabbing sister.

Yo Mama Wuz Right and U Wuz Wronged

We kind of liked Ethel from the moment we met her, didn’t we? Cheeky and uppity, a bit selfish, too assured, and totally clueless. She’s going to move up in the world and nothing, not even a maid’s position, is going to stop her. When O’Brien plays her tricks on Ethel we laugh,while feeling sorry for her. It’s our first glimpse of the young maid’s vulnerability. She’s all bravado and not too smart.

Caught by Mrs. Hughes in bed with an opportunistic snake, Ethel is cast out of Downton’s downstairs with nothing but the clothes on her back and a growing surprise in her belly. Alas and alack, Ethel’s story arc reflects events that actually happened in the past.

While the Lothario walks away with impunity, the seduced young woman must pay a steep price and become a social pariah.

This Marriage Makes Kim Kardashian’s Seem Eternal

William loves Daisy. Mrs. Patmore loves William like a son. Daisy adores Thomas, but he’s, like, TOTALLY unavailable.

Good old Mrs. Patmore, feeling sad about her nephew’s death, pushes an unwilling Daisy into William’s arm. “C’mon, luv”, she urges the young scullery maid, “It can’t hurt being nice to him – the poor sod is going off to war! What harm can it do?” So a reluctant Daisy goes along with the well-meaning cook and hands William her photo, which is akin to Britspeak for “engaged to be married.” Armed with her image, William knows that he can face a fearless death, which he does, for he returns from Amiens with shattered lungs and takes to his death bed.

Daisy is cattle prodded by the well-meaning staff to marry poor William, who is stoic with the thought that although he is unable to deflower her in his pathetic condition, he can keep her in flour (and butter and tea) for the rest of her life by bestowing her with his name and pension.

The Right Honourable Violet Crawley, Countess of Grantham, and Everyone Else

Whenever Violet encounters anyone, the two immediately become a couple, with Violet gaining the upper hand within a milli-second. Take Violet’s scene with the reluctant minister, for example. With a firm grip on her walking stick, a cemented half smile, and an implacable attitude, she twists his aging co hones by sheer force of her will until he succumbs and marries poor Daisy and the near-dead William, whose face has turned blue. Had Violet been born in another time and social strata, she would have become a dominatrix par excellence!

One other couple must be mentioned: Thomas and O’Brien. As thick as thieves, these two villains cannot get enough of each other and their machinations. Of all the couplings in Downton Abbey, surely this one is meant to last.

And now we can all settle in for the next installment of Season 2 and the goings on at the Abbey. From what I understand, Season 3 is guaranteed. Which coupling shall last? Which shall be fruitful and multiply? And which shall wither on the vine and remain barren? Stay tuned.

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Gentle readers, Downton Abbey, Season 2 will be shown on PBS through February 19, 2012. I will be writing a series of posts to help illuminate some historical details that might help the viewer who is not familiar with the events of this era. World War I’s connection to Jane Austen is poignant: soldiers in the trenches and those who were shell-shocked or recovering from injuries read Jane Austen’s novels to escape the horrors of war and relive a gentler, more civilized time. 

Warning: Minor plot spoilers

Downton Abbey’s more somber subtext this season is due to the reality of war. Season 2 opens with Matthew Crawley at the Battle of the Somme in Northern France, which lasted from July through November, 1916, and symbolizes the horrors of World War One for the British.

Lady Sybil reads about the death of a male friend. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for MASTERPIECE

The Great War was supposed to have lasted only a few months in the minds of British Generals, who were accustomed to quickly overwhelming poorly armed native fighters in the colonies. But this deadly conflict, triggered by Germany as its troops marched through neutral Belgium to invade France  (and which had been building up its cache of war equipment for a long time), lasted for more than 4 years. Casualties were so catastrophic that the numbers border on the unbelievable: Great Britain, 35.8% of the forces; France, 73.3%; Belgium, 34.9%; Germany, 64.9%; Austria/Hungary, 90%!

Battle of the Somme, 1916

Of the over 65 million troops fighting in that war from all over the world, including India and North Africa, nearly 60% were killed or wounded (PBS). Add to this total the killing of innocent civilians and animals, the destruction of villages and farms in Belgium and Northern France, the enormous debt and resulting poverty that European nations faced, and one can only shake one’s head and wonder how the world could have plunged into a second world war a mere 30 years later.

Here then are only a few features of a war which is still remembered for its destructiveness one hundred years later

Barbed wire

The Battle of the Somme was supposed to have gone smoothly after the British artillery spent a week shelling German trenches. Bombardment commenced on July 1st, 1916 and could be heard across the Channel in Britain: 1,738,000 shells rained upon German territory. It was believed that such continuous and massive bombing would open up gaping holes in the barbed wire that protected enemy lines, allowing British cavalry to rush through and overwhelm the Germans who survived the destruction of their trenches. This did not happen. German trenches were dug much deeper than was thought and were not pulverized. To their horror, the English immediately realized that the barbed wire also remained largely intact. This meant that soldiers could not storm the battlefield, but would be fatally delayed as they tried to cut through the barriers, allowing machine gunners to mow them down. And this is what happened. Over 60,000 British troops were lost that first day. At the end of the campaign, the British had lost 420,000 men (the French 200,000 and the Germans 500,000).

A wiring party going forward. Image @Daily Mail

Barbed wire had been used for the first time in the Spanish-American War and Boer Wars, but World War One brought its use in the battlefield to a new level. As soon as territory was conquered, a “wiring party” would go out to lay out barbed wire and protect their hard won land. Barbed wire was almost impossible to deal with until tanks were invented, although this piece of equipment was highly unreliable at first.

Modern weaponry

In my opinion, war has never been civilized or gentlemanly, but World War One raised the brutality to a new level that the stodgy British generals, in particular John French and Douglas Haig, were unable to fathom. The invention of machine guns allowed a single gunner to mow down hundreds of men within minutes. Flame throwers, known as Flammenwerfers in German, were portable and were first used by the Germans to terrify the British and French soldiers. The allies quickly learned to retaliate in kind.

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

Lady Sybil with soldier blinded by mustard gas. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for MASTERPIECE

In 1914, the French were the first to unleash poison gas on the enemy. This gas was more an irritant, much like pepper spray is regarded today, and did not maim or kill. In 1915, the Germans used chlorine gas on the unsuspecting British, which leads to a slow and torturous death by asphyxiation. There were other gases. Phosgene gas would first go unnoticed and by the time the damage was felt, it was too late to save the victim. Mustard gas caused blistering both on the face and inside the respiratory organs. Many who survived mustard gas were permanently blinded. The vagaries of the wind often carried gas back to the troops who had unleashed it on the enemy. Over time both sides learned to wear gas masks, providing them for their horses and messenger dogs as well. However, the gas cloud killed any animal indiscriminately – horses, birds, wildlife, rodents that happened to be in its path died horrible deaths. Airplanes made their first appearance, dropping bombs from the sky and on civilians, and the mortality rate of fighter pilots was extremely high, ranging in the suicidal. German U-boats (early submarines) were amazingly effective in sinking ships and preventing food and ammunitions from reaching the allies.

Trench Rats

The rats were as big as cats some soldiers swore. Millions infiltrated the trenches, running over sleeping men and raiding their pockets or foodstuffs. Rats swarmed the battlefields, feasting on rotting corpses, first going for the eyes, then gorging themselves on the rest of the body until their bellies were swollen.

There was no proper system of waste disposal in trench life. Empty tins of all kinds were flung away over the top on both sides of the trench. Millions of tins were thus available for all the rats in France and Belgium in hundreds of miles of trenches. During brief moments of quiet at night, one could hear a continuous rattle of tins moving against each other. The rats were turning them over.” – Private George Coppard, Royal West Surrey Regiment

Rats can multiply by the tens of thousands in no time (one pair can produce 880 offspring per year) and there was no way to escape them. Although ever present, soldiers never quite became inured to these bold, opportunistic rodents.

Matthew on leave, with his fiancee Lavinia Swire, greeting Sir Richard Carlisle. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for MASTERPIECE

In Downton Abbey Season 2 Matthew Crawley leaves the front and visits England quite frequently. The reality was that the men spent only part of their time in the trenches, rotating to different sectors. Typically they would spend 2 weeks in the trenches, a week in support lines or support trenches, two weeks in reserve, and then one week resting. Out of a year, a soldier would spend about 4 months in the front lines. This was about all they could stand. Living with the constant fear of death by shelling, sniper, or disease drove some men out of their minds. It must be added that as in all wars, the men spent countless days, even weeks, living lives of boredom which were interspersed with moments of sheer terror. The problem that many faced was that at any day their number could be up, and with odds worse than Russian Roulette, for there was a 1:3 chance that the next battle would be a British soldier’s last.

Thomas, now a medic, in the trenches. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for MASTERPIECE

Shell shock

A society known for its stiff upper lip would have a hard time admitting that its finest and brightest men could suffer from shell shock. During the early 20th century, shell shock was not yet clearly defined. Men suffering from shell shock exhibited a variety of symptoms, ranging from psychological blindness to stomach cramps and diarrhea, as well as facial twitches, uncontrollable sweating, nightmares, tremors, and an inability to eat or sleep. By 1917, as many as 1 in 7 men, or 80,000 British soldiers, were discharged from service for emotional disorders related to the war. Sadly, many were regarded as malingerers and sent back to the front. Some committed suicide, others deserted or refused to obey orders, in which case they were court-martialled or shot.

In Downton Abbey, Lord Grantham’s new valet, Andrew Lang obviously suffered from shell shock. O’Brien, Lady Grantham’s lady’s maid, shows uncharacteristic sympathy when she realizes Lange’s condition, because her brother suffered from the same malady and was misunderstood. Mrs. Patmore’s nephew, Archie, must also have experienced the same fear and panicked. He was not quite so lucky and was caught and shot for desertion.

Also read:

Life in the Trenches: Edwardian Promenade

Season 2, Episode One Recap on Austenprose

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

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