Downton Abbey: series 1 episode 4

group-at-fair

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

Written by Julian Fellowes and Shelagh Stephenson. Directed by Brian Kelly. Originally broadcast: 17 October 2010, ITV.

In the week of the Downton Fair, the family continue to explore whether Mary can inherit the estate… Meanwhile, Mrs Hughes meets an old friend, Mr Bates surprises Anna, and a new chauffeur causes a stir…

When is it set? A poster in the village tells us that Downton Fair starts on Thursday 29 May and lasts until Sunday. The episode begins the day before, the Wednesday. It’s 1913, so we’re already more than a year on from the first episode.

Where is it set? The village, where a fair is being held (complete with fortune teller, coconut shy, hoopla stall and helter skelter). The house and the estate. Crawley House. The hospital. Matthew’s office.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Tom Branson (Allen Leach) is the new chauffeur; the old one has retired to run a teashop. Branson is an Irishman with an interest in history and politics, and he’s soon questioning whether the aristocracy could do more for the needy than sending them unwanted clothes. Three days into the job he strikes up a conversation with Lady Sybil as he drives her around. (His addition to the cast means, of course, that there are now two regular characters called Thomas.)
* Joe Burns (Bill Fellows) is an old friend of Mrs Hughes who she meets at the fair. They were dating years earlier when she got a job at Downton, but then drifted apart. Now his wife has died, he asks Mrs Hughes to marry him, but she turns him down.

Best bits:
* Violet goes to see Matthew, hoping to talk him into using his legal expertise to break the entail (and therefore do himself out of the inheritance!).
* Just because it’ll rankle William, who fancies her, Thomas asks Daisy to the fair. “You bastard,” says Bates.
* Molesley has a rash on his hands, which Isobel diagnoses it as Erysipelas and prescribes nitrate of silver and tincture of steel. But then Violet smugly deduces that it’s actually a rue allergy, brought on by Molesley gardening without gloves. Violet actually laughs to herself as she walks out of the room.
* Mrs Patmore tries to hint that Thomas is not a good match for Daisy. “He’s not a ladies’ man,” she says. “I don’t know what you mean,” replies Daisy, so Mrs P gives up.
* Sybil – the rebellious member of the family – dresses for dinner in daringly modern pantaloons. Branson watches with approval through the window.

Worst bits:
* Joe asks Mrs Hughes what her plans for the future are. “Suppose if the family sell the estate,” he says. “Suppose there’s a tidal wave,” she scoffs. “Suppose we all die of the plague. Suppose there’s a war!” (Ha ha, a character in 1913 wondering if there’ll be a war.)
* Sybil says her corset is too tight and moans about having to wear one. It’s a metaphor for women’s rights, don’t you know.

Real history:
* Matthew mentions Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), a US president and the chief author of the Declaration of Independence.
* Branson and Sybil are both supporters of women’s rights. Emily Davison was killed the month after the events of this episode when she deliberately stepped out in front of a racehorse. Women over 30 weren’t given the franchise in the UK until 1918.

Upstairs, Downton: The subplot of Mrs Hughes being offered a life away from service but turning it down – partly through fear, partly because of loyalty – echoes Rose’s dilemma in a 1971 Upstairs, Downstairs episode called A Perfect Stranger, which coincidentally was also set in 1913.

Maggie Smithism of the week: In her chat with Matthew, Violet suddenly lurches violently in her seat. “Good heavens, what am I sitting on?” Matthew tells her it’s a swivel chair, which was invented by Thomas Jefferson. “Why does every day involve a fight with an American?” she laments.

Mary’s men: She’s now being noticeably kinder towards Matthew. While saying good night, they shake hands and hold on a beat too long… Robert later suggests she could marry Matthew and stay at Downton. She replies that she’d never marry someone she was told to. And she later breaks down in tears when she thinks her parents are happy that Matthew will inherit rather than her. Poor girl.

Doggie! Robert’s Lab follows him down the stairs as he and Mary chat about Matthew, then the two take it for a walk in the grounds. We still don’t know the dog’s name.

Review: After last episode’s Mr Pamuk hijinks, this one’s a bit of a holding episode. The central story is some more treading water about who’ll inherit the estate, but the subplots are more fun: Mrs Hughes and her secret, Anna and Bates’s burgeoning romance, William’s jealousy of Daisy and Barrow, Branson’s introduction and his wooing of Sybil, Matthew’s realisation that he wants a future at Downton, Gwen’s job interview… There’s a lot going on. 

Next episode…

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