Downton Abbey: series 3 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 Brian Percival. Originally broadcast: 23 September 2012, ITV.

Mary and Matthew are back from their honeymoon, Violet tries to persuade Cora’s mother to save Downton, and Mrs Hughes finds a lump…

When is it set? 1920. Mary says she’s glad she went to Cannes before the summer takes hold. (Having said that, the scenes in York have an autumnal feel with leaves blowing around in the wind.)

Where is it set? The estate. The house. Isobel’s refuge for fallen women in York. Sir Anthony’s house. Prison. Dr Clarkson’s office. Violet’s house.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Ethel, the maid who left the series after falling pregnant, is back. Isobel finds her living on the streets of York.
* Cora’s brother is mentioned. His mother says Harold hates to leave America.

Best bits:
* Matthew has a spruce new car. Anachronistically, it’s a 1927 AC Six.
* Robert asks his new son-in-law how the honeymoon went. “My eyes have been opened,” says Matthew knowingly. “Don’t I know it,” replies Robert.
* Mr Molesley is asked to work at the big house as Matthew’s valet – he literally runs up the path to the house.
* Cora’s mother, Mrs Levinson, blithely says she’s not able to help Downton financially. She explains that both her and Violet’s husbands tied up their respective capitals tightly before they were taken. “Lord Grantham wasn’t taken,” says Violet, sadly. “He died.”

Worst bits:
* Mrs Levinson misunderstands a euphemism, thinking that Isobel helps women who have fallen over. (There’s a good punchline, though. When the reality is explained to her, she’s also told the women are sent away so they can rest. “I should think they need it,” she says.)
* Matthew, who once objected to having a valet, now embarrasses Alfred in front of everyone by revealing that he’s burnt a hole in a jacket. What an arse.
* Thomas Barrow takes against new footman Alfred and plays cruel pranks on him. Of course he does.
* On the night of a big dinner, the kitchen’s range fails. “We’ve twenty lords and ladies in the drawing room waiting for dinner and we’ve got no dinner to give them!” says Mrs Patmore. The spirit of a French and Saunders sketch is never that far away from this show.

Real history:
* Violet references the Prime Minster, David Lloyd-George (1863-1945), saying that surely even he wouldn’t want the family turfed out of Downton.
* After his posh shirts are stolen, Robert has to dress relatively informally for dinner. “I feel like a Chicago bootlegger,” he laments. The 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, which prohibited the sale of alcohol, came fully into effect on 17 January 1920.
* At the impromptu buffet caused by the kitchen range being out of order, Mrs Levinson leads everyone in a sing-song of the 1910 ballad Let Me Call Your Sweetheart by Leo Friedman and Beth Slater Whitson.
* Miss O’Brien jokes about Thomas sounding like “Tom Mix in a Wild West picture show”. Mix (1880-1940) was Hollywood’s first big Western star. He appeared in 291 films – all silent up to this point, of course, so how Miss O’Brien knows what he sounded like is another matter.

Upstairs, Downton: The Bellamys were in danger of losing everything in series two of Upstairs, Downstairs. Like in Downton, the saviour was a suitor of the household’s daughter: the character of Julias Karekin, who bought the house in The Fruits of Love (1973) and conveniently gave it back to the family.

Maggie Smithism of the week: After Mrs L suggests an indoor picnic to solve the dinner crisis, a shaken Violet turns to Robert, who’s not dressed properly for dinner. “You think I might have a drink?” she says. “Oh, I’m so sorry, I thought you were a waiter.”

Mary’s men: She and new husband Matthew return from honeymoon in the south of France. As it’s now the 1920s, Mary’s styling is changing – she’s got a very fetching, wavy-but-short haircut. But Matthew is still determined to turn down the money he’s entitled to from his late fiancée’s father’s will.

Doggie! Isis sits attentively and being stroked as Robert has a cigar with Matthew.

Review: As well as the plot to save Downton Abbey for the family – and Mrs Hughes having a cancer scare – romance is a theme of this episode. Sir Anthony and Edith’s relationship keeps flickering, for example. He feels guilty that he’s about 30 years older than her, and has a lame arm, so he and Robert agree that he’ll discreetly back away from the courtship. However, Edith refuses to let him go – and by the end of the episode they actually plan to get wed. It’s very sweet.

Next episode…

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