Downton Abbey: series 3 episode 7

Main_Image_Christening

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 David Evans. Originally broadcast: 28 October 2012, ITV.

Bates is released from prison, Edith agrees to write for a magazine, Matthew flexes his muscles in running the estate, Tom plans to christen his daughter at a Catholic church, and Thomas makes a fool of himself with Jimmy…  

When is it set? Not long after the previous episode, so spring or summer 1920.

Where is it set? HMP York and the street outside. Downton and its estate. Isobel’s house. The village. Violet’s house. The London offices of The Sketch.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Robert and Matthew have a meeting with Downton’s land agent, Mr Jarvis (Terence Harvey). Now that Matthew is part-owner and co-manager, he’s suggesting new ways of running the estate. Jarvis is reluctant to the ideas and eventually quits in protest. He’d been in the job for 40 years. (Branson is his replacement.)
* Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards) is the editor of London-based magazine The Sketch. He wants Edith to write a column for him and also invites her to lunch.
* Tom Branson’s brother Kieron (Ruairi Conaghan) comes to stay for his niece’s christening. He causes a ruckus by having a laugh with the servants rather than sitting with the family upstairs. He later shocks everyone by asking for a beer.
* A priest called Father Dominic christens baby Sybil.

Best bits:
* Mr Bates finally returns home and is welcomed by all (except Thomas, of course, who fears he’ll now be out of a job).
* Tom asks Mary to be baby Sybie’s godmother. Aww. The relationship between these two is very sweet these days.
* Violet surprises everyone by sticking up for Edith at the dinner table and saying she should live a little. “Have you changed your pills?” teases Isobel.
* Having allowed himself to believe that Jimmy likes him, Thomas Barrow sneaks into Jim’s room and tries to kiss him while he sleeps… Straight-as-they-come Jimmy is furious. The servants’ breakfast the next day is a decidedly frosty affair. Jimmy even makes forward comments to Ivy, just to reassure everyone on which side his bread is buttered.
* Michael Gregson says he saw a picture of Edith’s sister Mary in the newspaper: “She looked very glamourous.” Edith dryly replies, “People say so.”

Worst bits:
* The ‘love square’ between footmen Jimmy and Alfred and kitchen maids Daisy and Ivy is not only hard to follow – which one fancies which again? – but rather dull.
* Downton Abbey convenient plotting klaxon. The post of estate manager becomes vacant just as Tom Branson is looking for a job.
* The photographer at Sybil’s christening just happens to suggest that the anti-Catholic Robert poses with Father Dominic. Sides splitting.

Real history:
* Alfred mentions that a new film is being shown at the village hall: Way Down East, a 1920 silent directed by DW Griffiths (1875-1948). It starred Lillian Gish (1893-1993), who Ivy says she likes. Alfred tells his colleagues it’s about a wronged woman who survives in the wilderness on her wits and courage. Miss O’Brien sarcastically adds: “Blimey. They’ve stolen my story.”
* After Alfred and Ivy have been to see Way Down East, they discuss the differences between English and American actors. Ivy Close (1890-1968) is mentioned, as is her film The Worldlings (1920). Close’s great-grandson is Gareth Neame, Downton Abbey’s executive producer and the man who suggested the idea for the series to writer Julian Fellowes.
* When Alfred laments that there are no film stars with his name, Ivy says there was a king: “the one who burnt the cakes.” Alfred (849-899) was King of Wessex from 871. He was the first ruler to declare himself king of all Anglo-Saxons, essentially making him the first English monarch.
* Michael Gregson is the editor of The Sketch, a weekly magazine about high society that ran from 1893 until 1959.
* While in London Edith also visits the offices of The Lady, a magazine founded in 1885.
* Michael takes Edith to Rules, London’s oldest restaurant. It was established in Covent Garden in 1798.
* While discussing Ethel, Mrs Hughes mentions The Scarlet Letter: A Romance, an 1850 novel by Nathanial Hawthorne (1804-1864). Violet has never heard of it.

Upstairs, Downton: Thomas’s storyline – an odd, unlikeable footman who struggles being gay because of the attitudes of the era – is reminiscent of the Upstairs, Downstairs character Alfred. 

Maggie Smithism of the week: Former prostitute and now maid Ethel tells the Dowager that her cooking is coming on. “I’m studying, my lady. These days a working woman must have a skill.” Violet replies: “But you seem to have so many…” 

Mary’s men: Matthew tells his wife that she wanted him to take an interest in the estate… and now doesn’t like how he does it. “You can’t have it both ways,” he says. “I can if I want to,” she replies. They then talk about their failure to have children. They’ve only been married a few weeks, but Matthew is assuming that the problem is because of his wartime injuries. He plans to see a specialist.

Doggie! Isis sits by Robert’s side as he has breakfast and is later seen in the drawing room.

Review: Bates had been in prison for over a year so it’s a relief that storyline is over. More positively, the character of Michael Gregson makes a good impression straight off – it’s a fine performance, and he and Edith have immediate chemistry. Also, the fact that Thomas is gay is remembered.

Next episode…

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