Downton Abbey: series 3 episode 4

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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: 7 October 2012, ITV.

Tom Branson shows up unexpectedly, having fled the authorities in Ireland. Also, Mrs Hughes and Isobel help former maid Ethel, Edith struggles to find a purpose, and Matthew takes an interest in the management of the estate…

When is it set? A historical reference to US politics tells us that the episode takes place not too long before 18 August 1920.

Where is it set? The house. Prison. Violet’s house. Isobel’s house. Dublin.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* The Archbishop of York, Dr Lang (Michael Culkin), comes to dinner. This is the first instance of a real person being portrayed in Downton Abbey. Cosmo Gordon Lang (1864-1945) was Archbishop of York between 1908 and 1928, then Archbishop of Canterbury until 1942.
* Mr Carson hires a new footman: Jimmy Kent (Ed Speelers). The female members of the household (and Thomas Barrow) are very pleased by this. He used to work for the Dowager Lady Anstruther, but she’s now gone to live in France.
* Ethel’s son, Charlie, is now a toddler and Mrs Hughes arranges for him to meet his grandparents. Mr and Mrs Bryant initially offer the down-on-her-luck Ethel some cash (“unless you don’t want to give [prostitution] up,” says Mr B cruelly). Then they agree to let Charlie live with them.
* Daisy has been moaning for ages about having too much work to do, so she’s promoted to assistant cook and a new kitchen maid is hired to work under her. Never happy, Daisy then begrudges that Ivy Stuart (Cara Theobold) is very pretty.

Best bits:
* The reactions of two characters to the word prostitute are neatly telling. Former nurse Isobel doesn’t flinch, while the more sheltered Mrs Hughes is uncomfortable. (They’re talking about Ethel.)
* The Archbishop says he doesn’t want to sound anti-Catholic. Robert asks, “Why not? I am… There always seems to be something of Johnny Foreigner about the Catholics.”
* During his job interview, Jimmy says to Mr Carson, “You know what women can be like.” Carson replies dryly: “Not, I suspect, as well as you do.”
* Mary’s description of footman Alfred: “He does look like a puppy who’s been rescued from a puddle.”
* Mrs Hughes uses a new-fangled toaster. And nearly burns the house down.

Worst bits:
* In prison, Mr Bates is actually sewing mail bags. It’s presumably historically accurate, but still… Again, this subplot frustrates despite having two strong actors. Both Bates and Anna worry because they’ve not heard from the other in a long time, then each get a bundle of letters all in one go. In the storyline’s favour, there’s then a lovely crossfade between the two characters reading their letters.

Real history:
* Robert reads in the newspaper that Tennessee is going to ratify the 19th Ammendment to the US Constitution, after which all American women will have the vote. Edith points out that, in the UK, only house-owning women over 30 can vote.
* Robert is urged to speak to Home Secretary Edward Shortt (1862-1935) after Tom admits he was involved in some recent terrorist activities. The upshot is that Tom will remain free but cannot return to Ireland, a deal reached because the Government doesn’t want him to be a martyr. Some real-life champions of Irish nationalism are namechecked during the discussion: Maud Gonne (1866-1953), Augusta, Lady Gregory (1852-1932) and Constance, Countess Markievicz (1868-1927).
* Violet is aghast that Edith has written to a newspaper in support of universal suffrage, saying that ladies don’t do that kind of thing. Edith counters with Lady Sarah Wilson (1865-1929), a member of the Churchill family who worked as a war correspondent in Africa.

Upstairs, Downton: Votes for women was the subject of the Upstairs, Downstairs episode A Special Mischief (1972).

Maggie Smithism of the week: Edith has bought some perfume on behalf of her grandmother, who isn’t pleased with the price. “A guinea? For a bottle of scent? Did he have a mask and a gun?”

Mary’s men: Matthew hears the pitter-patter of tiny feet when he’s asked to meet Mary in the nursery having recently heard that she’s been to see a doctor. However, Mary is simply converting the room into a sitting room and needed something for her hay fever.

Doggie! Isis sits attentively as Robert and Matthew have a cigar.

Review: Now we’re in season three, the regular cast is getting a bit of a spring clean. Footman William left last year and was replaced by Alfred, and now we get two further servants: footman Jimmy and kitchen maid Ivy.

Next episode…

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