Downton Abbey: series 1 episode 6

branson_and_sybil

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

Written by Julian Fellowes and Tina Pepler. Directed by Brian Percival. Originally broadcast: 31 October 2010, ITV.

Rumours about Mary cause a stir, but she’s realising that she’s in love with Matthew… Elsewhere, Sybil attends political rallies with Branson, but is injured in a fight, while Bates and Barrow’s rivalry leads to Bates offering his resignation…

When is it set? An on-screen caption tells us it’s May 1914. The episode takes place over a few days.

Where is it set? Rippon, country lanes, the house, the dowager house, and Crawley House.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Lord and Lady Flintshire are mentioned for the first time. Susan is Robert’s cousin, so therefore also Violet’s niece. Hugh is a minister at the Foreign Office.
* Sir Anthony Strallan appears for a second time, intending to woo Mary but ending up making a connection with Edith. He talks about his late wife, Maud.

Best bits:
* While they get ready for bed, Robert apologies to Cora for losing his temper over dinner. “Next time you want to treat me like a naughty schoolgirl,” she says, “you might do it in private.” So, *that’s* how it is in their marriage!
* Edith having a bit of happiness with Sir Anthony is very sweet.
* Mary and Matthew’s flirting. She says she likes a good argument. He replies that if that’s the case “we should see more of each other.”
* Sir Anthony arrives to say he has two tickets to a concert in York. Mary starts to make some excuse… but then he says he talking to Edith.

Worst bits:
* Robert is annoyed that his daughter Sybil went to a boisterous political event without his permission. “I confess I was amused at the idea of an Irish radical for a chauffeur, but I see now I have been naïve,” he quips, naturalistically.

Real history:
* A man in a street is giving an impassioned speech about Emily Davison, who “last June” was crushed to death under the hooves of the king’s horse during the Epsom Derby. May 1914, meanwhile, saw a spate of suffragette protests: in separate incidents, three portraits at the Royal Academy were defaced, while a planned march on Buckingham House was stopped by the police.
* A by-election is due, and Robert assumes the Tory will be returned. (The Liberals had been in government since December 1905, but presumably Downton is in a safe Conservative seat.)
* Sybil is due to be ‘presented’ to King George V (1865-1936), who’d been on the throne for four years by this point, and Queen Mary (1867-1953) the following month.
* Sir Anthony Strallan has recently been to Austria and Germany. Mary says that’s interesting. “Interesting and worrying,” he says. He tells Edith that Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941) is “such a mercurial figure: one minute a warlord, the next a lovelorn poet.”

Upstairs, Downton: The subplot of outsiders knowing about Mary’s indiscretion with Mr Pamuk reminds us of a pair of episodes of Upstairs Downstairs from 1972 – Magic Casements, where Lady Marjory has her head turned by a younger man, and The Property of a Lady, where someone tries to blackmail her about it.

Maggie Smithism of the week: When the Dowager is aghast that Sybil has been canvassing for a potential MP, Mary sticks up for her sister, saying she’s entitled to her own opinions. “No, she isn’t,” snaps Violet, “until she is married, then her husband will tell her what her opinions are.” Also worth mentioning is the scene where a shocked Violet learns that Cora helped Mary move a dead body.

Mary’s men: Rumours about Lady Mary and Mr Pamuk are now doing the rounds in London. (In the previous episode, we saw Edith write to the Turkish Ambassador, presumably telling him about what happened.) Cora even has to admit to mother-in-law Violet that the stories are true. Mary is unaware of all this, though, and her face lights up when Matthew comes for dinner. He later proposes – incredibly oddly, he pops the question off-screen. She tells her mother she’s thinking about it…

Doggie! Robert’s pet is spotted sitting by his feet as he writes at his desk.

Review: Adding Branson to the mix (it’s odd that he wasn’t already there in episode one) brings Downton Abbey’s attitude to revolutionary politics into the light. He and Sybil are both radicals who want to challenge the status quo, and the Edwardian/pre-War era of these stories was a time of upheaval and change. But Downton is nothing if not cosy. It’s a Sunday-night period drama on ITV, so the script is constantly checking the bolshiness. Branson might be for an Irish uprising and votes for women, but he still has to admit that Lord Grantham is a decent man and good employer. Also questionable from a political point of view is the scene where the announcement of the by-election result descends into a punch-up – because, you know, working class people can’t be trusted to act reasonably. Elsewhere, the show’s idiosyncratic attitude to the passage of time continues. Nine months have passed since the last episode yet characters behave like it’s only been a few days. But because it’s spring, the women often wear very pretty dresses.

Next episode…

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