Downton Abbey: series 3 episode 8

boys-bonding-at-cricket

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: 4 November 2012, ITV.

As everyone prepares for the annual house vs village cricket match, Mr Bates wants to return to work and Edith writes a provocative magazine column. Also, a young relative comes to stay and causes a fuss…

When is it set? The cricket season of 1920. It’s not yet July. (Sadly, during the cricket scenes, it looks like a fair amount of post-production grading has been done to make a cloudy day look bright. Shadows come and go.)

Where is it set? All over the shop… The local cricket green. The house. The village and the surrounding countryside. Isobel’s house. A nearby cottage where Anna and Bates want to live. Also lots of places in London: Lady Rosamund’s house, the editorial office of The Sketch, and the Blue Dragon nightclub.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Molesley’s father returns for his first appearance since the first series. He’s a big cricket man, we learn.
* Violet’s 18-year-old great-niece, Lady Rose (Lily James), comes to stay in Yorkshire because she hates London. She’s the daughter of the Lord and Lady Flintshire we’ve heard mentioned before. Flighty Rose soon nips back to London and heads to the Blue Dragon, a jazz club on Greek Street in Soho, with a male friend…
* …Terence Margadale (Edward Baker-Duly), who soon gives away that he’s married. Matthew convinces Rose to give him up.
* Mrs Bryant, the grandmother of Ethel’s child, shows up again. She’s been uncomfortable about keeping Charlie away from his mother – so agrees to a plan for Ethel to work as a maid near where they live.

Best bits:
* Downton Abbey is cosy, Sunday-evening drama. But this episode doesn’t shy away from the harsh homophobia Thomas would have faced in reality. While not being totally unkind, Mr Carson still calls him “revolting” and says he’s been “twisted by nature into something foul.” (Later, Mr C objects to being called a liberal. No shit.) In comparison, Mrs Hughes and Mr Bates have more live-and-let-live reactions to Thomas being gay.
* Matthew makes a misjudged joke, saying that Mr Bates must be pleased he doesn’t have to take part in the cricket match. Anna teases him: “I think he’d like to walk normally, sir, even if playing cricket was the price to pay.”
* Walking into the nightclub, Matthew says it’s like the outer circle of Dante’s Inferno. “The *outer* circle?!” replies Lady Rosamund.
* When Jimmy is angry at Thomas making a pass at him, Robert says, “If I shouted blue murder every time someone tried to kiss me at Eton I’d have gone hoarse in a month.”
* A nice bit of dramatic irony: Bates feels sorry for Thomas Barrow so fights his corner. But he accidentally goes too far: rather than just getting Barrow a good reference, Bates saves his job. And Thomas now outranks him.
* Edith wears a very fetching cream-and-green outfit with beret when she confronts Michael Gregson about being married.

Worst bits:
* Miss O’Brien is a very one-note character now. All she does is act cruelly. She’s currently dripping poison in Jimmy’s ear, manipulating him into punishing Barrow for making a pass. Jimmy tries to blackmail Mr Carson into giving Barrow a bad reference. So when Mr Bates finds out he then threatens to expose O’Brien’s part in Cora’s series-one miscarriage.  

Real history:
* For the people in the cheaper seats, Mr Carson points out that in 1920 homosexual acts were illegal in the UK.
* Robert mentions a new type of business practice in America: the Ponzi scheme, which pays investors back with money from other investors rather than generating legitimate profit. It was named for Charles Ponzi (1882-1949), the American who popularised the idea.
* Miss O’Brien makes a sarcastic reference to poet and wit Oscar Wilde (1854-1900).

Upstairs, Downton: The scene in a 1920s London nightclub bring to mind the Upstairs, Downstairs episode An Old Flame (1975) in which James Bellamy paints the town red.

Maggie Smithism of the week: Isobel suggests that, when they were children, Robert and Rosamund had to be starched and ironed in order to spend an hour with their mother. Violet bristles: “Yes, but it was an hour every day.”

Mary’s men: She’s been to London since the last episode. Then Matthew overhears Mary and her mum discuss a doctor. (“What are you talking about?” “Women’s stuff.”) Later that night, she declines a bit of rumpy-pumpy. Then Matthew visits a doctor in London about his failure to father a child… and bumps into Mary, who’s also there for an appointment on the same topic (using her mother’s maiden name as an alias). She learnt a few weeks ago that the problem was with her, though can’t bring herself to go into details. It meant a minor operation, but now all is fine.

Review: With Sybil’s dead, we need a replacement: so here comes Lady Rose. So brings with her the roaring 20s and scenes of young people jiving to jazz in a downstairs nightclub. Elsewhere, Edith and Michael’s flirting is fun, then takes a turn when she learns that he’s married. His wife has gone insane, so he is unable to legally divorce her. The episode also has a good running gag about Molesley. He keeps talking about his cricketing expertise, then when he finally goes into bat… he’s clean-bowled. 

Next episode…

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