Downton Abbey: series 1 episode 2


SPOILER WARNING: Plot points will be revealed in this episode-by-episode discussion of ITV period drama Downton Abbey.

Written by Julian Fellowes. Directed by Ben Bolt. Originally broadcast: 3 October 2010, ITV.

Matthew Crawley, now the heir to Downton, moves into the village with his mother, Isobel. While he struggles to adapt to a new way of life, she takes an interest in the local hospital. Elsewhere, Mr Carson has an unwelcome visitor…

When is it set? Mary says that Matthew and Isobel were strangers ‘a month ago’, so it’s no earlier than May 1912. Online sources say it’s September.

Where is it set? The big house, the dowager cottage, the estate and the village (which has a pub called The Dog and Duck). Crawley House is seen for the first time – it’s where Matthew and Isobel now live – as is Downton’s cottage hospital.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* We meet Mr Molesley (Kevin Doyle) for the first time. He’s Matthew’s butler/valet and is clearly known to the servants at Downton. Distressingly for Molesley, though, Matthew doesn’t want a manservant.
* Dr Clarkson (David Robb) runs the local hospital, of which Lady Violet is the president. He butts heads with Isobel, who thinks she knows better when it comes to a severely ill patient.
* Charles Grigg (Nicky Henson) is an old friend of Mr Carson’s, who turns up unannounced trying to fleece money from him. They used to be in a music-hall double act called the Cheerful Charlies!
* Mr and Mrs Drake (Fergus O’Donnell and Cathy Sara). He’s a patient at the hospital suffering from dropsy; she’s his wife.

Best bits:
* Matthew is moaning about how the family will no doubt push one of the daughters onto him… when Mary swans in, looking very fetching in riding gear, and knocks him for six.
* Later, Robert is aghast that Matthew intends to have a day job.
* A stuffy dinner scene is intercut with the servants larking about downstairs.
* Daisy, who’s smitten with William, says he’s not like (the secretly gay) Thomas. “No, he’s not,” says Mrs Patmore, knowingly.

Worst bits:
* There’s more clunky, “As you know”-type dialogue to explain the entail, a complicated legal mechanism.
* Carson’s storyline is solved rather swiftly by Robert getting his chequebook out.

Real history:
* Robert refers to “Mr Lloyd-George’s new insurance measures”. David Lloyd-George, the Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer, had overseen the 1911 National Insurance Act, one of the foundations of the UK welfare state.
* Isobel says she studied nursing during the Second Boer War (1899-1902).

Upstairs, Downton: A storyline showing an uncharacteristically comical side to the uptight butler can also be found in the 1972 Upstairs Downstairs episode Your Obedient Servant (in which Mr Hudson pretends to be a self-made man in order to impress his brother).

Maggie Smithism of the week: Friendly Isobel meets the dowager and asks what they should call each other. Violet replies haughtily: “Well, we could always start with Mrs Crawley and Lady Grantham.”

Mary’s men: She meets Matthew in this episode. It’s a deliberately arch meet-cute in which they clash (see Best Bits). Mary later tries to embarrass Matthew in front of the family, but he copes with it okay. That the two characters take against each other and represent such different worlds can only mean one thing, of course… However, there is the hint of another romance too. Edith finds a letter to her sister from a guy called Evelyn Napier.

Doggie! This is the first episode with a title sequence, the opening image of which is the Downton dog’s arse as he/she walks alongside Robert.

Review: It’s all about class snobbery, this one, both within the family and among the servants. Both sides of the divide have their doubts about Matthew’s credentials, for example. Middle-class Matthew doesn’t want a valet, insists on carrying his own bags, and hangs up his own coat – surely not the makings of a future earl! Here’s where the show’s small-C conservatism rears its head. The moral of this story is ‘everyone knows their place’. Lady’s maid O’Brien is reprimanded like a child in front of her colleagues; Molesley finds his worth in his subservient job; even Matthew learns to adapt to his new position. So if you’re looking for progressive politics, this ain’t the series for you. That aside, however, it continues to be breezy fun. The script contains a lot of short scenes so many characters and storylines are given time and space. This week, we even get a comedy subplot. Also worth mentioning is Kevin Doyle, who makes an immediate impression as the likeable, downtrodden Molesley.

Next episode here…



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