Downton Abbey: series 2 episode 7


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 James Strong. Originally broadcast: 30 October 2011, ITV.

Now that the war’s over, Downton Abbey is returning to normal…. Thomas plans to move into black-market profiteering, Matthew has a pleasant surprise, Ethel causes a scene, and Sybil does a runner with the chauffeur… to Gretna Green!

When is it set? A caption at the start says ‘1919’. Lavinia hopes her upcoming wedding will be in April.

Where is it set? The house. A nearby shed where Thomas has stockpiled some secondhand goods. The Swan Inn, a country pub where Mary and Edith find Sybil and Branson. Isobel’s house.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Mr and Mrs Bryant (Kevin McNally and Christine Mackie) are the parents on the late Major Charles Bryant. They come to Downton to see where their son lived when he was injured. Mrs Hughes arranges for former maid Ethel to be there too so she can introduce the Bryants to a grandchild they knew nothing about. Mr B reacts badly.

Best bits:
* The first scene shows a single Army van packing up the last of the hospital equipment and driving off – a neat way of saying that phase of the house’s history is over.
* Robert’s boundary-crossing friendship with maid Jane is nicely done. The story has taken its time to build up speed, then this week he kisses her in a moment of madness. He’s distraught, embarrassed and refuses to accept her resignation: “The fault was entirely mine.”
* At last, Sybil agrees to run away with Branson. “I’ve waited so long to hear those words,” he says. Us too, mate. This storyline has dragged.
* Mary and Edith drive off into the night after Sybil, who’s run off to Gretna Green with Branson. (It brings to mind an episode of sitcom Your Rang, M’Lord? in which two couples dash to Scotland to get married.)

Worst bits:
* We get another example of Downton Abbey’s odd relationship to time. We’re in 1919, so even if it’s only January, the war’s been over for at least six weeks – yet every character acts like it ended yesterday.
* Did anyone have any doubt that Matthew – permanently paralysed after a broken back – would recover fairly quickly? The moment where he surprises Lavina (and himself) by suddenly standing up is rather silly. You half expect him to do a jig and burst into song. There then follows a scene where Dr Clarkson weakly explains why Matthew was misdiagnosed.
* The show is now doing a murder-mystery plot… off-screen and in retrospect. We learnt last week that Vera Bates had died, presumably by suicide. But now there are furtive chats between Bates and Anna where it becomes clear that he might be accused of killing his ex. Clues such as letters and poisons are bandied around, but it all feels very perfunctory.
* We’re told that Sybil is 21 years old. Which means she was 14 in episode one. Blimey.

Real history:
* “Have you seen the boys’ haircuts the women are wearing in Paris,” says Mary when the family discuss how the world is changing. Is the 1920s on its way, by any chance?
* Mr Carson references film star Theda Bara (1885-1955). She starred in over 40 films, most of which are now lost, and was nicknamed the Vamp. Mrs Hughes is surprised Carson knows who she is.
* Thinking Sybil’s ill in bed, Cora says, “The stories of this Spanish flu are too awful.” The disease spread across the globe between 1918 and 1920 and claimed about four per cent of the world population.

Upstairs, Downton: Thomas, a former footman, has to find a new place in the world now that the war is over. In Upstairs, Downstairs, footman Edward leaves Eaton Place after the war – but struggles to earn a living and has to return.

Maggie Smithism of the week: Cora announces that Major Bryant’s parents want to see everyone who knew him when he stayed at Downton. “That lets me out, thank heaven,” says the Dowager.

Mary’s men: Without Mary’s knowledge, Sir Richard asks Anna to spy on her and report back. Being the good sort that she is, Anna says no. Meanwhile, Matthew is struggling with being paralysed – but mysteriously asks Bates what he should do if he feels a ‘tingle’ in his legs. Mary is then given a dilemma when Matthew regains the ability to walk: should she stick with bully Sir Richard or pursue Matthew again? The question is taken out of her hands, however, when the latter announces that he and Lavina will get married. In a few months. At Downton. So Mary – with precious little enthusiasm – agrees to marry Sir Richard in July. He out-right asks her if she’s still in love with Matthew. “Of course not,” she says, unconvincingly.

Doggie! Isis is seen early on, bounding along with Robert as he chats to his wife. (They both ignore the dog. Rotters.)

Review: In many ways, this is prime Downton Abbey. We get high melodrama, stilted dialogue, moving moments, comedy, predictable plot twists, surprising plot twists… It’s good fun.

Next episode…

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