Downton Abbey: series 1 episode 5


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 Brian Kelly. Originally broadcast: 24 October 2010, ITV.

It’s the week of the Downton Village Flower Show, but will the Dowager Countess win the prize again? Elsewhere, Mary and Edith spar over men, Daisy struggles with her huge secret, and an expensive snuff box is stolen….

When is it set? In an early scene, Sybil receives a letter that tells her Gwen has a job interview on Friday 1 August, and Gwen says that’s tomorrow. The episode takes place over a few days. We’re still in 1913.

Where is it set? The house and its grounds. Crawley House. The village and its village hall. The local countryside. The offices of a secretarial company in Malton, a town in North Yorkshire.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Robert’s sister, Lady Rosamund Painswick, is mentioned for the first time.
* Mr Molesley’s father, Bill (Bernard Gallagher) is entering his roses into the local flower show, but is keenly aware that convention dictates the Dowager will win.
* Sir Anthony Strallan (Robert Bathurst) is a boring, middle-aged man who’s been invited to dinner as a potential suitor for Mary. She couldn’t be less interested. Edith, however, strikes up conversation with him, partly as a way of needling Mary. So Mary responds by flirting with him out of spite.

Best bits:
* The one time that Daisy steals a couple of biscuits, which as Anna points out will only get thrown away at the end of the day, and Carson catches her. She nervously claims to just be cleaning the barrel.
* Gwen, having faked an illness so she can have the afternoon off, says that Anna would never betray her because they’re like sisters. “Then she’s not like my sisters,” says Sybil.
* On their way home from Gwen’s job interview, Sybil and Gwen’s horse casts a shoe and they can’t find a blacksmith. Cue scenes of them walking for miles, pushing their carriage through fields and falling in mud.
* A flustered Mrs Patmore drops a cooked chicken on the floor and a cat has a nibble at it. They don’t have anything else to serve for dinner, though, so Anna wipes it clean and says no one will notice. It’s a similar moment to a gag in Fawlty Towers, and in fact Mrs P says, “What the eye can’t see…” which is more or less what Terry the chef says in the sitcom.

Worst bits:
* More oh-it’s-funny-because-we-know-what-will-happen dialogue. Robert moans about every Tom, Dick or Harry owning a car nowadays. “Last time I was [in Malton] there were five cars parked in the market place, and another three drove past while I was waiting!”
* Edith and Mary’s squabbling is entertaining, but after their last bout of bickering Edith actually says to herself, “She who laughs last laughs longest.” If she had a moustache she’d twirl it.

Real history:
* Daisy talks about the Titanic disaster, which was 16 months ago fictionally speaking.

Upstairs, Downton: Rosamund is said to live in Eaton Square in London, which is just around the corner from 165 Eaton Place, where Upstairs Downstairs was set.

Maggie Smithism of the week: Violet’s rivalry with Isobel is just singing now. At the flower show, everyone praises Mr Molesley’s display. Violet pointedly says that, “Everyone is to be congratulated.”

Mary’s men: Robert has heard that Evelyn Napier – who we met in episode three – has given up any hope of marrying Mary and moved on to someone else. Cora suggests Sir Anthony Strallon, who’s about Robert’s age, but Mary continues to have warm chats with Matthew. However, he’s hurt when she flirts with Sir Anthony…

Review: The curse of this show’s format – lots of plots running over multiple episodes, but episodes being set months apart – is beginning to show. Stories have to stand still while the characters are not on screen. Gwen’s job hunt, the Mr Pamuk controversy, even Edith visiting local churches with Matthew – seemingly nothing has happened in these stories for months, yet these threads all get picked up again now. Admittedly, some are very touching – Anna and Bates share a conversation loaded with meaning without either actually saying they like each other, Sybil helping Gwen is fun, while Mary and Matthew are clearly made for each other.

Next episode…

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