Downton Abbey: series 2 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: 16 October 2011, ITV.

Matthew is badly injured during the big push in France, leading to heartache for both Mary and Lavinia… William is also injured and asks Daisy to marry him, Vera Bates return to stir up trouble, and Mrs Hughes continues to help ex-maid Ethel.

When is it set? A caption says it’s 1918. We start at the Battle of Amiens, which began on 8 August.

Where is it set? Amiens in France. Downton Abbey. The village hospital. Leeds General Infirmary. Sir Richard’s office in London.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* We meet William’s father, Mr Mason (Paul Copley), for the first time when he comes to sit by his son’s hospital bedside.
* Former maid Ethel has had her baby since the previous episode. Major Bryant, the father, couldn’t give a stuff.
* Mrs Hughes interviews a new maid: Jane Moorsum (Clare Calbraith), whose husband died on the Somme. Despite it being unconventional to hire a woman who has a child, she gets the job. She then makes a quick impression on Robert, bursting into the library with brush and bucket in hand.
* Local vicar Reverend Travers (Michael Cochrane) needs some convincing before agreeing to marry William and Daisy.
* William dies at the end of the episode, having recently married Daisy.

Best bits:
* The opening is a dramatic sequence at the Front, full of death and danger. We then suddenly cut to both Daisy and Mary back home. Daisy thinks something’s passed over her grave, while Mary says she feels terribly cold.
* In the middle of the night, a telegram arrives: Matthew has been wounded and is coming to Downton to recuperate. Everyone upstairs and down, it seems, gets up to hear the news.
* The Dowager, against type, argues for ex-servant William having a place at Downton’s recuperation home. But Dr Clarkson says no, so Violet arranges a place at a Leeds hospital instead. (She’s generally less acerbic and more kind this week.)

Worst bits:
* We get some more prime Downton Abbey plotting. For example, events keep happening off-screen. O’Brien drops into conversation that she’s written to Bates’s wife, which is a plot development of huge significance, while the scene of Mary telling Sir Richard about the Mr Pamuk controversy is skipped over.
* Not to belittle any real-life cases (Matthew is fictional, remember) but it’s difficult not to titter when characters talk in euphemisms about how Matthew can’t get it up any more.
* Daisy’s dithering over whether to marry a man she doesn’t love is so boring. He’s dying, love! Have a heart! As William points out, if they do wed she’ll get an army pension.

Real history:
* The first scene is at Amiens. The battle was the opening phase of the Allied offensive that ultimately won the First World War.
* Branson has read in the newspaper than the Bolsheviks have shot Tsar Nicholas II (1868-1918) and his family. “Sometimes the future needs terrible sacrifices,” he says, lamely. The executions took place in the early hours of 17 July.
* Branson also mentions suffrage campaigner Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960).

Upstairs, Downton: Like Matthew, James Bellamy was invalided out of the First World War. It happened in the Upstairs, Downstairs episode Missing Believed Killed (1974).

Maggie Smithism of the week: She uses the phone to call her nephew-in-law Shrimpy, but struggles with the device. “Is this an instrument of communication or torture?” she snaps.

Mary’s men: She’s shocked by the news of Matthew’s injuries and insists on seeing him when he arrives at the hospital. He’s out on morphine, but has ‘probable spinal damage’ – and is permanently paralysed. On top of all that, Mary learns about Vera Bates’s plan to sell the Mr Pamuk story to the press. So she resigns herself to telling fiancée Sir Richard, who agrees to squash the story. He’s not doing it altruistically, though: it’s because it’ll mean he’ll have more power in their marriage. He tricks Vera into selling him the information and signing a confidentiality contract, but he has no intention of publishing. He then announces his and Mary’s engagement in the newspaper, without telling Mary he’s going to, and tells Vera to piss off. Mary, meanwhile, is mopping Matthew’s brow and holding a pan for his vomit.

Review: A downbeat, sombre episode with tears never far from the surface. There’s a grim opening of Matthew and William in the trenches, preparing for the big push, and the horrors of war reach home too. We’re not spared the details and visuals of the men’s injuries.

Next episode…


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