Downton Abbey: series 2 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 Ashley Pearce. Originally broadcast: 25 September 2011, ITV.

Footman William is called up, while Lord Grantham is jealous of the men who can go to war. Also, Mrs Patmore gets an upsetting letter, O’Brien engineers a job for Thomas at the hospital, Edith wants to work as a driver on a local farm, and Mary’s new suitor comes to visit…

When is it set? A caption at the start says April 1917. The episode takes place over a couple of weeks.

Where is it set? The house. The Western Front. The cottage hospital. The Drakes’ farm. The Dowager House. Downton train station.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* There’s a new valet, Henry Lang (Cal Macninch), who’s recently been invalided out of the army and is suffering from shell-shock. (Robert, however, is clearly missing Mr Bates.)
* Mr and Mrs Drake, last seen in episode two of the first series, return to the show. They run a local farm but all their farmhands have been called up. Edith helps them out as a kind of proto-landgirl.
* Sir Richard Carlisle (Iain Glen) appears for the first time. He’s a self-made newspaper baron who likes to read his own publications. He also has some kind of history with Matthew’s fiancée, Lavinia, who doesn’t like him.
* Thomas and Sybil are caring for a blind patient called Lieutenant Edward Courtenay (Lachlan Nieboer). However, desperately unhappy at having to leave the hospital, Courtenay then kills himself.

Best bits:
* Poor Mr Molesley, a man suffering from eternal bad luck. He clearly wishes he’d been considered for the post of valet when Bates left a few months previously. “I never got the chance,” he replies pointedly when O’Brien says he didn’t apply for the job. Not only that, but he’s also making a romantic play for Anna, which obviously will go nowhere… It’s a really endearing performance from Kevin Doyle.
* Anna explains why food is not served to ladies first at the dining table: “That’s how it’s done on the continent. And we don’t like foreign ways here.”
* An under-pressure Carson keels over while serving dinner. All the family immediately leap up to help him… except the Dowager, who simply sits and watches. Sweetly, Mary later goes to visit Carson while he’s recuperating.

Worst bits:
* Because there are so many characters to be serviced in each 50-minute episode, some scenes have to be incredibly brief. Matthew in the trenches, telling a colleague that he’s going back to England for a few weeks as aide-de-camp to General Sir Herbert Strutt, is rushed through in 23 seconds. It’s the episode’s only scene at the Front.

Real history:
* Dr Clarkson says that all his hospital beds are needed for the injured and dying from Arras – ie, the Battle of Arras, a British offensive against the German lines that took place between 9 April and 16 May 1917.

Upstairs, Downton: Lang, the servant with shell-shock, is reminiscent of Upstairs, Downstairs footman Edward Barnes, who returns from the First World War suffering from the same condition.

Maggie Smithism of the week: Violet is aghast at Edith’s plan to drive a tractor. “You are a lady, not Toad of Toad Hall.”

Mary’s men: She invites Sir Richard Carlisle to stay for the weekend, and seems pleased to see him. But she then visibly quivers with happiness when Matthew arrives too. At the end of Sir Richard’s stay he asks Mary to marry him. She promises to think about it, but is still pining after Matthew.

Review: The war means we can see characters really changing – especially the younger ones. Sybil, Edith, Matthew, William and Thomas are all evolving into different people because of their experiences. Even the house is set to change: much to Violet’s chagrin, plans are afoot to turn it into a convalescence home. Another good episode.

Next episode…

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