Downton Abbey: series 3 episode 3

radiantedith

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 Andy Goddard. Originally broadcast: 30 September 2012, ITV.

Edith is preparing to marry Sir Anthony Strallan, while Robert is resigned to selling Downton. Also, Mrs Hughes awaits news about her health, Matthew inherits a fortune, and Isobel tries to help Ethel.

When is it set? Around a month after the last episode, so spring 1920.

Where is it set? The house. The village. London. York. A country house called Eryholme.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Mrs Bartlet (Clare Higgins) is a woman Anna visits in London. Mrs B grudgingly reveals some info about the day Vera Bates died, but says she’s sure her husband killed her.

Best bits:
* Penelope Wilton has been smashing as Isobel Crawley since day one. This episode sees the character at her crusading best, trying to teach fallen women how to sew and gamely deflecting their sarcasm.
* The family go on a picnic at Eryholme, a house they plan to move into and rename Downton Place. Mary worries that it’ll be too cramped; Tom Branson reasonably points out that most people would consider the house a “fairy palace”. The sequence is filmed in the kind of bright English sunshine you often get in ITV Sunday-night dramas.
* Reaching the altar on her wedding day, a clearly ecstatic Edith says, “Good afternoon,” to her husband-to-be, Sir Anthony…
* …who moments later admits that he can’t go through with marrying her. He’s decided he’s too old so jilts her!  

Worst bits:
* Anna’s quest to prove that her husband is an innocent man should be gripping. But despite actress Joanne Froggatt selling every moment, it just dawdles. Part of the problem is that no one else at the house seems that interested in what Anna’s doing.
* Similarly, the stuff with Mr Bates having a set-to with his bastard of a cell mate is dull.
* Turns out, Matthew’s late fiancée wrote a letter to her father “only hours before she died.” Both Mary and Matthew question how this is possible when Lavinia spent the day writhing around in sweat and no letter was found in her room after her clogs had been popped. It’s later revealed that – a bit implausibly – Daisy was given the letter when making up the fire in Lavinia’s room. This is fortunate as Lavinia’s deathbed missive means that Matthew is now about to inherit a huge chunk of cash.

Real history:
* Mr Molesley says he’s read about a shortage of servants in the newspaper.
* Anna reckons it won’t be long before all women have the vote. Two years before this, the Representation of the People Act 1918 enfranchised property-owning women aged 30 or over. It took until 1928 for all women over 21 (the same age as men) to get the vote.
* Happy because he’s found out Mrs Hughes doesn’t have cancer, Mr Carson sings to himself. He warbles a few lines of Dashing Away With the Soothing Iron, a 19th-century folk song about household chores.

Maggie Smithism of the week: “Isn’t it exciting?” asks Edith about the preparation for her wedding. “At my age,” replies her grandmother, “one must ration one’s excitement.”

Mary’s men: She’s still grumpy that hubby Matthew refuses to use his windfall to save Downton, but is – in her own words – putting on an act and pretending to be happy. When Matthew receives a letter written by Mr Swire before his death, he refuses to read it. So Mary reads it for him: his daughter Lavinia loved Matthew so much that, in her name, he has decided to make Matthew heir to his fortune. Matthew assumes the letter is a forgery, but Mary proves it’s not. So he finally agrees to accept the dosh and save Downton. Yay!

Review: This is the second episode in the last three to feature a wedding for one of the Crawley sisters (and Sybil recently got married off-screen). The twist that it doesn’t go to plan sneaks up on us effectively. Elsewhere, Mr Carson is worried about Mrs Hughes and tries to trick both Dr Clarkson and Mrs Patmore into revealing what’s wrong; the latter falls for it. But thankfully it turns out that Mrs Hughes doesn’t have cancer.

Next episode…

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