Downton Abbey: series 4 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 Catherine Morshead. Originally broadcast: 6 October 2013, ITV.

Anna is traumatised after her brutal attack, though is refusing to tell her husband about it. Elsewhere, Tom Branson feels out of place, Mary faces an uncertain future, Alfred wants to be a chef, and Michael Gregson prepares to leave for Munich…

When is it set? The episode begins the day after the previous episode ended: a Monday in spring 1922. We then progress over a few days.

Where is it set? The house. The local churchyard. Lady Rosamund’s house, the Lotus Club and Michael Gregson’s flat in London.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* When a group of characters go to The Lotus, a London night club, there’s an American singer performing there called Jack Ross (Gary Carr). Lady Rose dances with him, which shocks her family… because he’s black.
* After sleeping with Tom Branson, Edna gets a big stalkery. She asks if he’ll marry her if she’s pregnant. But it’s just a rouse to wheedle some money from him, which Mrs Hughes rumbles. Edna loses her job and leaves.
* Michael Gregson leaves for Germany. He intends to write a novel while he waits for citizenship and the ability to divorce his sectioned wife.
* Thomas Barrow has someone in mind to replace Edna. Someone older, he says.

Best bits:
* Anna’s turmoil is so well played by actress Joanne Froggatt. Not only has Anna been through an awful experience, but she feels she can’t talk about it. Her attacker, the vile Mr Green, is also still working at the house.
* Likewise, Penelope Wilton continues to never be anything less than excellent as Isobel, who’s still mourning her son and feels uneasy about Mary getting on with her life.
* Edith spends the night at Michael Gregson’s – it’s their last chance for some rumpy-pumpy before he emigrates – then has to do the walk of shame in the morning. She’s seen by a maid as she creeps up the stairs with her shoes in her hands. Later that morning, Rosamund takes Edith to task. “Please don’t say you were talking and lost track of time,” she says.

Worst bits:
* Various servants are moody at breakfast. “What’s the matter with everyone this merry morn?” asks Thomas. How did the actor keep a straight face during that line?
* Tom Branson and Edna discuss their night of passion – which he now regrets – and are overheard by… that’s right, Thomas Barrow. He’s always nearby when there’s plot-driving eavesdropping to do.
* More stuff about the younger servants fancying each other. Snooze!

Real history:
* The character of Jack Ross is loosely based on Leslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson (1900-1969), a cabaret star of the 1920s and 30s who was, for a time, the highest paid entertainer in Britain. He had affairs with society women including Edwina Mountbatten (1901-1960), the wife of the current Queen’s second cousin.
* To make sure she won’t get pregnant, Edna reads Married Love by Marie Stopes, a hugely influential 1918 book that openly discussed birth control.
* Edith mentions the story of Lady Warwick ringing the stable bell at 6am so everyone had time to get back to the right beds before the maids and valets showed up. Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick (1861-1938) was the long-time mistress of Edward VII. The 1892 song Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built For Two) was written about her.

Upstairs, Downton: We see an establishing shot of Rosamund’s house in London. It looks remarkably similar to the Bellamys’ gaffe on Eaton Place in Upstairs, Downstairs.

Maggie Smithism of the week: Violet admits that there are times when Isobel’s virtue demands admiration. Robert says he’s surprised to hear her say that. “Not as surprised as I am,” says Violet.

Mary’s men: When he leaves after last episode’s house party, Tony Gillingham shares a nice goodbye with Mary. She’s still dressing in widow black, but his attentions have brightened her mood. The next day, Mary visits London and is surprised when her aunt arranges for Tony to see her. They dance with each other on a night out, but she tells him she’s not ready for another relationship. The *next* day, though, he follows her back to Downton – hope he gets a good deal on train tickets – and asks Mary to marry him. “It’s no good, Tony,” she says. “I’m not free of [Matthew] and I don’t want to be without him. Not yet.”

Review: This episode has a fine line to tread. By introducing a black character, it must deal with racism. The young, relatively enlightened Rose shows no prejudice, but Mary, Rosamund and Edith all disapprove of her dancing with Jack Ross. Surely that rings true with what would have happened in 1922. However, the episode was made and shown in 2013 – so the nastiness is downplayed. Rosamund makes a pointed reference to Jack being a ‘black band leader’ but openly racist language and attitudes are avoided, which is probably a fudge.

Next episode…

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